While Peru is very much still on the well-worn “Gringo trail,” it stands alone on the trail in terms of value.
Columbia and Ecuador might be a little cheaper, but what separates Peru from their neighbors to the north is the fact that Peru has a cuisine. It has real food that’s actually unique. You go east to Brazil and prices sky-rocket, as they do in Chile to the south. Bolivia to the southeast, doesn’t have the ocean.
Peru is the best value on the gringo trail if you want to experience mountains, the beach, great food, and also one of the true wonders of the world, Machu Picchu.
Peru is a deceptively large country and with many natural barriers on the ground flying is usually the best way to get around. Be very wary when using taxis (carros), there’s no law in Peru regulating them so make sure you agree on a price before you get in the car. Combis are like private bus services – the bus goes from one end of town to the other with the fare collector shouting the route out of the window. Colectivos are similar but will always run on the same route and go when they’re full. Keep an eye on your belongings on these buses. Coaches are widely used for long distance travel, but if you want to keep things quick and easy, fly. It is essential to reconfirm your flight 72 hours in advance though or you will get bumped off the flight.
Peru to Bolivia
- Bus: Lima to La Paz (via Desaguedero) €50 | 26hrs
- Flight: Lima to La Paz €400 | 4hrs 40
To keep accommodation costs down look for Hospedajes – These are family run hotels and are the cheapest accommodation you can find.
To keep meal costs down look for “meal of the day” or “menu del dia” – these are set menu meals that you can get for $2.75 USD.
For a low-cost trip, the best times to visit Peru are the fringe months of April and May or September and October.
Arequipa is Peru’s second largest city and the gateway to Colca Canyon and Cotahuasi Canyon. Arequipa retains a small-town charm that is set against a backdrop of 3 majestic snow-covered volcanoes.
The cloistered world of the Monasterio de Santa Catalina is a miniature city within a city where you can meander along narrow, twisted streets admiring the buildings and tree-shaded plazas.
Cuzco and the Sacred Valley
An obligatory stop for those heading out to Machu Pichu but is a unique destination in itself. Cuzco was the birthplace and center of the Inca empire.
The Old City spreads in a 10 block radius of Plaza de Armas and is built on the stone foundations of Incan palaces and temples.
Just outside of town lie the towering ruins of Sacsayhuaman.
The Sacred Valley (Urubamba) stretches from the town of Pisac to Ollantaytambo; it is full of terraced farms and ancient ruins as well as atmospheric colonial towns and vistas of the Andes. At Pisac trek up to its ruins and the network of linked incan strongholds above the town; also visit the shimmering, terraced salt pans of Maras and the crop circles of Moray. At Ollantaytambo, visit the well preserved fortress. Ollanta town has retained its original street names, layout, irrigation system, and houses – which are, now, some of the oldest occupied buildings in the Americas.
This “lost city of the inca” is the supreme showpiece and one of the world’s most beautiful and haunting destinations.
There is no direct road from Cuzco to Machu Pichu but PeruRail has several train options (about 3.5 hrs each way). The trains take you to Aguas Calientes where you connect with shuttle buses that zigzag up to Machu Pichu.
The desert coast is the setting for the mysterious 193sqm expanse of geometric shapes.
THE PACIFIC COAST
Lima has been hailed Lima as the culinary capital of Latin America where centuries-old indigenous cooking is merged with European traditions, emboldened with Asian flavours, and then set to simmer in creole spices.
Countless chifas line the streets where you’ll find spicy dim sum. Line up for a table at a cebicheria for lunch.
Areas to consider for rental include: Miraflores, La Molina, Surco, and San Borja where 1 be apartments can be found for US$250-350 per month.
During a good portion of the year, Lima is covered in a dense fog known as the garúa. But come summer, the skies clear up and the sun shines hot and bright. Summer is from December to April, and it is when the beaches in Lima Peru really kick it into full gear.
From the neighborhoods of Miraflores, Barranco and Chorrillos you can easily head to the beach to cool off for a bit. But these beaches can be crowded.
But, most beach connoisseurs would agree that the best beaches are located about 1 hour south of the city. These are most popular with the young crowd, with plenty of nightlife activity in the summer. These include Pulpos, El Silencio, Caballeros, Punta Hermosa, Punta Negra, San Bartolo, Naplo and Pucusana. Here you can find restaurants and bars, and some pretty good surfing waves. Being that they are found on the Pacific Ocean, the Peru beaches are a wonderful place for catching sunsets. You might consider looking into a Peru vacation rental if you are thinking of staying on the coast.
NORTHERN BEACH TOWNS
The northern coast of Peru boasts the country’s finest beaches, biggest waves and warmest weather. The summer season between December and April is the best time to visit Peru’s beaches. Summers along the coast are hot and dry, while the winter season from May through October often brings overcast skies, heavy sea mist and slightly cooler temperatures. Only the northernmost beaches of Peru are warm enough for swimming all year round.
Another great beach town, surf, kitesurf, and general backpacker favorite, and a place where you can live well on less than $20 per day (you’ll have to get away from the beach to get those prices though – the beachfront is not for backpacker budgets).
I stayed at the Kokopeli hostel, across the street from what first appears to be an all-inclusive beach resort. It turns out that’s just another hostel (Loki) where you can stay for $10 a night (if you don’t care about sleeping).
I heard on the grapevine that a private apartment with all the amenities wouldn’t set you back more than $150-$200 a month.
Cooking also wasn’t necessary since the food in Peru is also incredibly cheap – $2 for an awesome menu del dia plate.
Las Pocitas (a bit south of Mancora) and Organos (a bit north) are more expensive but may be worth visiting off-season.
As with any popular tourist spot in a poor country… watch out for thieves… Drugs are very common here and there have been reports of girls being drugged at bars and backpackers who had a bit too much to drink being robbed once they left the bars.
It is best to stay either in one of the beach resorts or in hostels in the very center of town. The outskirts of town, where there are a few cheap hostels, are not the safest areas and the money you save staying there will be used taking taxis back and forth from the center of town where most of the bars and nightclubs are located.
Located 13 km / 8 miles north of the city of Tumbes (15 minutes by car).There are regular transportation between Puerto Pizarro and Tumbes city. Off the coast of Puerto Pizarro lie the islands Isla del Amor (of Love) has lunch restaurants and attractive swimming beaches and island Hueso de Ballena (whale bone) with excellent beaches.
Located 28 km / 17 miles southwest of the city of Tumbes (30 minutes by car). Is the biggest fishing village along the coast of Tumbes. It has a great boardwalk and some hotels and restaurants are located in the beach ocean front. This beach is made of fine, white sand and is stroked by continuous waves. The waters are warm (on average 26°C / 79°F). Zorritos is ideal for sports such as boating, surfing and fishing and for those seeking a quiet beach to relax.
Punta Sal and Canoas de Punta Sal
It is one of the most beautiful and longest beaches of the north coast of the country, ending in the town of Cancas the north. It is characterized by its warm, tranquil waters (average temperature 24°C / 75°F).
The beach is divided in two: the resort of Punta Sal Grande and Punta Sal Chica. The latter is an isolated, half-moon beach with white sand and protected by two small headlands. This spa has good hotels, accommodations and restaurants. Punta Sal is ideal for holidaymakers looking for sun, warmth and tranquility, it is also suitable for fishing, diving and between June and October for whale watching.
Possibly the most heavenly beach on Peru’s north coast. The beach resort of Punta Sal or Punta Sal Grande, as it is known locally, is one of the most spell-binding beaches on the Peruvian coast, and enjoys peace and sunshine all year round. There is excellent fishing and diving to be found in its warm and clear waters. Seafood lovers will appreciate the local shrimp, lobsters and the finest fresh fish to be found up north. Access and services: the beach is reached via a 2 km detour off the North Pan-American Highway at kilometer 1.187. The area teems with hotels and restaurants that throb with activity during the summer season.
Moving north from Lima, travelers arrive at the port of Chimbote with its popular Playa Tortugas beach. Slightly farther north lies the colonial city of Trujillo and the adjacent fishing village of Huanchaco.
Other great beaches in Peru that are found in the north include Paita, which is about 30 miles west of Piura.
Tourists in search of calmer surroundings may opt to head farther north to the beaches of Pimental and Santa Rosa outside the city of Chiclayo.
My Initial Thoughts…
- Anywhere on the Pacific Coast (especially the Northern Coast)
- Lima (particularly the popular beaches south of Lima)
I have always wanted to go to Peru. Let’s hope that it has some surprises that bring it into play as a retirement destination.
As with Ecuador, my plan is simply to wind my way down the coast.
The next stop in my journey will be Bolivia.