If you want to see a country and its sights at their best you should do a little planning before you go so you can make an itinerary, pack and budget for the best Peruvian holiday you can have. Get to know the local alpaca population in Arequipa, hike to ancient Incan ruins, visit the world’s highest navigable lake near the Bolivian border or wander down ancient cobblestone streets in Cuzco. There’s so much to see and do in Peru.
When to Go
There are two seasons in Peru. The dry season (May to October) is the peak tourist season and considered the best for trekking, climbing and biking. Of these months it is busiest in July and August so you might be best to travel on the edges of the season. The highlands can be visited all year round but from December to March are quite wet and muddy. Most travelers time their visit here between June and September, also the best time to visit the Amazon basin. Beach areas are better between December and March as at other times of the year they can be shrouded in fog, particularly in central and southern areas. The north is okay most of the year.
What to Budget
Depending on your travel needs you could spend anything from US $25 to 100 per day in Peru. Hostels range from about US $7-10 in cities and basic private rooms from US $12-16. In smaller towns prices tend to be a little cheaper. If you’re traveling as a couple or a group, shared rooms are more cost efficient than singles. Meals can cost anything from a few dollars through to US $20, you’re probably better to go for a medium range option but even for $2-3 you will get good options. Transport is not generally expensive, except the train to Machu Picchu. Buses are relatively inexpensive for getting around, but if you take flights they will make a dent in your cash supplies although they certainly will save you travel time.
If you’re keen to save money make sure you develop some good bargaining skills (particularly with taxis), always ask hotels for discounts, watch out for counterfeit notes, eat set course meals rather than à la carte, pay with cash not credit card and always keep small notes so there won’t be a problem getting change. Cuzco and Lima are probably the most expensive places you will visit. Hikes to Machu Picchu aren’t cheap either, expect to spend about US $400.
What to See
Peru needs a lifetime to explore and get to know and ideally 3-4 weeks is what you’ll need to cover a decent amount of it. If you don’t have that option you really need a week to see even the basic sights. Just remember when you’re planning your itinerary that distances in Peru are relatively large and you will need time to adjust to higher altitudes, these two factors alone can suck days from your itinerary.
If you are seeking to see the Peruvian jewel in the crown, Machu Picchu, you should allow yourself at least one week. This will include a day layover in Lima, a transfer to Cuzco and perhaps the chance to see one or two other Incan ruins at Ollantaytambo or Pisac before catching the train and bus to the ruins. Ideally you should spend the night nearby to appreciate the landscape without the huge numbers of tour groups, then head all the way back.
Of course if you plan to hike to Machu Picchu you need to add another three days and you will need to join a tour outfit. Other places to consider joining a guided trip include Arequipa and Lake Titicaca. In any case it is best to take some care when making a selection. Group travel comes with its benefits with everything arranged to enable quick and easy transfers between transport and accommodation, plus the wealth of experienced leaders to draw on.
However some things to look for when choosing a tour would be the size of the group. Usually a smaller group gives you a better chance of getting to know each other, receiving more individual attention and having expert guides. You should also select the activity level of the tour appropriately. If you like soft adventure then trips with porters carrying your equipment might be suitable, while a more hard-core adventure might suit a fitter, more experienced traveller.
If you have more than a week in Peru you could easily extend your trip to Machu Picchu with a scenic train ride south to Lake Titicaca from Cuzco. The wonderful floating islands are breathtaking and you might find yourself simply wanting to stay on here a few days for the rest of your time in Peru. It’s also possible to stay with families on Isla Taquile.
If you’re keen to move on, catch a flight to the beautiful “White City” of Arequipa. It has lovely colonial buildings made from a white volcanic stone and is within reach of the smouldering volcanoes themselves. From here you could make an excursion into Colca Canyon where it’s possible to see Andean condors, visit villages and bathe in thermal baths. You can fly back to Lima from Arequipa.