Peru Backpacking Guide – Everything You Need To Know.

Updated June 28th, 2020.

EAT! Choclo, a large kernel corn. This snack is best enjoyed by individually picking off each kernel and eating it with an accompanying bite of soft Peruvian cheese.

DRINK! pisco sour. This delectable cocktail is made of lime, egg whites, and pisco (A local liquor). Be careful these drinks taste like melted key lime pie and I guarantee will make you want to drink far more than your fair share.

BEWARE! Street dogs run rampant in Peru (even hairless ones!). Most often these pesky guys are more bark than bite, but its never a bad idea to threaten clingers with a rock if you are unsure.

WEAR! A poncho. As much of Peru is covered by the Andes, nights can get surprisingly cold. Your best bet is to do like the locals and get cozy under an oversized poncho.

SANDBOARD! Glide down the enormous sand dunes of Huacachina in Peru for an adrenaline-fuelled experience like no other!

Peru Backpacking Guide

An Introduction to Backpacking Peru!

When I say Peru you say… Machu Picchu. For many, this iconic site is the first image to be conjured up in connection with Peru. The ruins truly are a marvel and undoubtedly worth a trip (there are actually eight ways to explore Machu Picchu!) but that being said Peru offers much MUCH more than just this one famous instagram stop!

A Trekking Group at Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu – The one reason many people come backpacking to Peru.

Red-roofed homes climb up the sides of mountains. Colour explodes from bags of spices and intricately woven textiles decorated with geometric patterns. Verdant mountains hug ancient pueblos in a misty embrace.

Little explored jungles beacon with unrecognisable murmurings. Lakes beg to be sailed and oceans to be surfed. Sprawling cities pulse with an unexpected modernity. Surprises confront even the most informed traveller – the world’s deepest canyon, islands made of floating Totoro reed.

Snow-capped mountains entice with the possibility of reaching opaque blue glacial lakes at their summit. Incan structures constructed with unexplained precision continue to provide the support for the ornate churches of the conquistadores.

Ancient ruins cover Peru, close to any roadside stop you are bound to find a unique glimpse into Peruvian history. Incan ruins abound, but so do remnants from such groups as the Moche, Wari, and Chimu.

Avocado waits to be devoured, guinea pig to be sampled, and Cusquena beers to be guzzled. Welcome to Peru, a country that can’t wait to wonderfully overwhelm you!

White houses with tile roofs, Cusco, Peru
The red rooftops and whitewashed houses of Cusco, Peru.

What is the Best time to Visit Peru?

Peru is a great country to visit and there’s no time of year that’s a bad time to visit. The best time to travel is the dry season, between May to September, especially if you’re planning on trekking and hiking at Machu Picchu or in the Cordillera Blanca. It’s warmer in Summer, between December and March, but there’s more rainfall then, making some activities quite dangerous.

Getting a Visa for Peru

Depending on your nationality, you will need a tourist visa for Peru. Citizens of most countries can get this pretty easily upon entry. You can get up to 183 days on a single entry visa, and it is possible to extend your tourist visa once you’re in the country. You will need at least 6 months remaining on your passport before the expiry date and have two free pages for the VISA. To check visa requirements and see if you need one, have a look at the Peruvian government website here (in Spanish).

10 Amazing Places to Visit in Peru

1. Lima

Known as the foodie capital of South America, you can’t miss Lima off your Peru adventure (especially if you fly into there). 3 of the world’s best 50 restaurants are based in the city, but you don’t have to go to one of these to get sublime street food, ceviche, or chifa (the Peruvian take on Chinese food). There’s more to the city than its growing reputation as a gourmet destination, with several museums, art galleries, and even beaches to pass away the time here.

2. Cusco and the Sacred Valley

Cusco, known as the navel of the world, is one of the most jaw dropping cities on the entire continent. This Andean city, once the capital of the Inca empire, is culturally and architecturally stimulating, Spanish colonial churches and cathedrals standing side by side with Inca temples. Tourists to Cuzco often spend up to ten days revelling in the delights it has to offer, but even that sometimes isn’t enough.

The nearby town of Pisac has an excellent market which is also worth a visit. As well as being the base for trekking or touring to Machu Picchu (it’s still over 3 hours away), there are a number of other stunning attractions within reach, such as the Sacred Valley and colourful Rainbow Mountain.

Hint: We recommend Palccoyo, The Alternative Rainbow Mountain for those of you who want to avoid the crowds.

3. Arequipa

Nicknamed Ciudad Blanca (the white city), Arequipa, Peru’s second most populous city is arguably the most beautiful in the country. The nickname comes for the volcanic sillar stones which were used to make many of the buildings around the Plaza de Armas in the historical centre, yet another of Peru’s UNESCO World Heritage sites.

The city is dominated by the El Misti volcano, which is over 5,800m tall. You can take great photos of the volcano looming behind the city’s magically beautiful cathedral. Arequipa is also a great base for hiking and rafting trips to Colca Canyon, and acclimatising before a trip to Machu Picchu and Cusco.

To get really off the beaten tourist track, make sure you check out the Salina’s Salt Lagoon – it is probably Arequipa’s best kept secret!

Colca Canyon, Arequipa, Peru
Colca Canyon, Arequipa Peru.

4. Huaraz

Not only considered as the best place to hike in Peru, but up there with the best in the world, Huaraz is a small town situated in the Ancash region, and the starting point for many of the most famous hikes in the country, such as Santa Cruz and Laguna 69. 

Situated at 3,000m above sea level, Huaraz is the gateway to Peru’s Cordillera Negra and the Cordillera Blanca, where you’ll find the country’s highest mountain, Huascarán, reaching 6,768m up into the clouds. The town itself has a number of tour operators, traditional handicraft shops, and outdoor rental shops for your treks into the mountains. Read more about the treks you can do in Huaraz in the hiking section below.

5. Chachapoyas

Chachapoyas, the capital city of the Amazonas region in Northern Peru, is one of the lesser visited destinations on Peru’s tourist trail. The fact that it’s at least 9 hours away from everything else shouldn’t put you off though – Chachapoyas is home to some of Northern Peru’s most important archaeological, cultural, and natural sights. See ancient ruins that are bigger than Machu Picchu at Kuélap, visit one of the world’s tallest waterfalls, la Cataracta de Gocta, or get acquainted with over 200 mummies in the Leymebamba museum.  

6. Puno and Lake Titicaca

Puno is known as the folkloric capital of Peru, due to the traditional dances and music that originate from the area. Most people however, come here to visit Lake Titicaca, which is the highest navigable lake in the world. At 3,830m, it straddles the border with Bolivia. There are a lot of activities you can do on the lake, such as kayaking, visiting the Uros floating islands, or staying overnight on Amantani Island. Away from the lake, the town has a lot of folk festivals, which are extremely lively and fun.

7. Iquitos

The largest city in the world that isn’t reachable by road, you shouldn’t be put off by the difficulties of actually getting to Iquitos. The city, located deep within the Amazon basin is an incredible mishmash of mansions, mud huts, and jungle life. Rainforest cuisine offers something a little different to the other foodie spots of the country, and a totally different experience on the whole to anywhere else in Peru.

Iquitos is a great place to base yourself for a boat trip to the Amazon and a few nights in a jungle lodge. The great news is that these lodges often practise sustainable eco-tourism, and at the same time, offering the opportunity to see a number of flora and fauna native to the area.

8. Trujillo

The third most populous metropolitan area in Peru, Trujillo is a coastal city that is full of life and the capital of the La Libertad region. It’s an intriguing mix of colonial Spanish splendour, which you can see in the Plaza de Armas, and traditional architecture of the pre-Incan Moche and Chimu cultures. Some of the most famous remnants of these cultures include the world’s largest Adobe city, Chan Chan, numerous temples and pyramids including Huaca del Sol, Huaca de la Luna, and Huaca del Dragón.

9. Nasca

Nasca is the capital city of the province with the same name, located in the Ica region of Peru. The main reason to visit this area is the ancient Nazca Lines, some of the most mysterious and unusual oddities on the whole South American continent. Carved into the desert floor are a number of giant geometric shapes and creatures, including a hummingbird, a monkey, and a human. To see the lines, which are a UNESCO World Heritage site, you can take a flight over them, or scale one of the surrounding foothills to see them from above. It’s not possible to see them from ground level.

10. Machu Picchu

No trip to Peru would be complete without visiting these Inca ruins, considered to be one of the New 7 wonders of the world. Amazingly, it was only discovered in 1911. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is also one of the most famous tourist attractions in the entire world, attracting over 1 million visitors a year since it opened in 1983. The journey to Machu Picchu begins from Cusco and there are many ways to reach the ruins which you can read more about in this article – 8 ways to reach Machu Picchu.

If you’re feeling really brave, take a hike to Huayna Picchu to get a different perspective on the ancient city. Be warned though, the track is narrow and not one for those afraid of heights!

Up to Date Travel Guides to Peru

6 Must Do Hikes in Peru!

Peru is a heaven for hikers and lovers of the outdoors. With the Andes rising up like a spine along the West coast of the country, the scenery is incredible and the adventure possibilities are endless. If you plan to pack your hiking boots, then you’ll want to check out the following epic trails…

You can read more here about the best hikes in South America.

1. Laguna 69 – 1 Day

This is one of Peru’s most famous day hikes and can be done by intermediate to experienced hikers. One of over 200 lakes in Huascarán National Park, Laguna 69 is a small glacial lake which is overlooked by a huge glacier. The hike is extremely rewarding, but it is not easy. The 7km round trip ascends at a rate of 100m every kilometre, eventually depositing you at the dizzying height of 4,604 metres. The round trip takes around 6 or 7 hours in total. Hikes can be arranged from the city of Huaraz.

2. Santa Cruz Trek – 4 Days

If you want more of a challenge, try the Santa Cruz trek which covers 50km in 4 days – doesn’t sound like a lot but the altitude is a killer! The above trek, Laguna 69 is actually a great way to prepare and acclimatise for this trek, as the highest elevation you’ll reach is only 56m higher than the Laguna. You’ll be hiking for about 6 – 8 hours per day, passing a number of the other 200 lakes in the National Park, and the highest point on the trek, the Punta Unión pass. You’ll have great views of the mountains and the opportunity to see Andean wildlife in its natural habitat.

Santa Cruz Trek, Huaraz, Peru
Best Trek in South America Number 1: Santa Cruz Trek, Huaraz, Peru.

3. Huayhuash trek – 8-13 Days

If you’re a real masochist, there’s the Huayhuash trek – between 8 and 13 days to complete and regarded by many as the best Alpine trek in the world. However, before you get excited about this make sure that you are prepared. The 130km trek takes you up to 5,490m. Extreme weather can cause many medical issues such as altitude sickness, nausea, headaches, loss of appetite, and even hypothermia.

Even experienced hikers should consider doing this trek with a guide. The rewards though, are infinite. There are natural hot springs on the route, which offers awesome panoramic views of the Cordillera Huayhuash. Keep your eyes peeled for mountain wildlife too, there are vicuñas, condors, pumas and vizcachas (chinchilla/rabbit like creatures) which inhabit the Cordillera.

4. Laguna de los Condores

Until 1996, Laguna de los Condores was completely unknown to the outside world. That all changed when a group of local workers, searching for precious metals, unearthed 219 mummies from the Chachapoyas people in mausoleums around the lake.

The mummies are now house in the museum of Leymebamba, the town closest to the lake. Each year, only 150 hikers complete the 3-day round-trip from Leymebamba, a total of 45km. You can’t do the trip solo, and must go with a guide. Doing this will make you part of a very exclusive club. Aside from the burial sites, the lake is beautiful, especially in the morning when it seems to reflect the mountains on its surface.

5. The Inca Trail

Of course, the Inca Trail couldn’t be missed off a guide to hiking in Peru! Regarded by many as one of the top 5 treks in the world, the final 26km of the Camino del Inca ends at the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu. In those 26 kilometres, you’ll pass through lush jungles, mountain scenery, magical cloud forests, and of course Inca ruins along the way. There are number of variations on the trail, including walking 83km from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes. The trek takes between 2 and 4 days, depending on which version you decide to do.

You need to be prepared fitness wise, but also administration wise too. The Inca trail is understandably extremely popular, and a restricted number of tourists are allowed on the trail at one time. You may need to book up to six months in advance to reserve your spot on this hike.

6. Salkantay Trek

Last but not least, the Salkantay trek is an excellent option for those who haven’t been organised enough to get their spot on the Inca trail. As with the Inca trail, there are a number of variations on the route, but the ‘classic’ Salkantay trek is 5 days where you’ll pass through lowland jungles, glaciers, and alpine landscapes before the trail deposits you at Machu Picchu.

Unlike the Inca trail, there are no numerical restrictions on the Salkantay trail, and it’s also fairly easy to reach the trailhead from Cuzco. According to National Geographic magazine, it’s one of the top 25 hikes in the world.

A trekker at the Salcantay Pass, Cusco, Peru.
It was as cold as it looks! The Salcantay Pass, Cusco, Peru.

Precautions when hiking in Peru

When hiking in the mountains of Peru, you should take a few precautions to deal with altitude. Spend a few days in a high altitude city or town acclimatising before tackling any big hikes, and consider some less strenuous day treks at 3- 3,500m altitude to get you started.When on the trek, do not over-exert yourself. Altitude sickness can make you really sick. Take plenty of water, sugary snacks and fruit, and coca leaves. Coca leaves are from the cocaine plant, but they are not a drug, and they’re perfectly safe. Chewing them helps with altitude sickness. And if you feel like you need a rest, take one.Take plenty of warm clothing and a good sleeping bag too, especially if you’re camping. Temperatures plunge below 0 at night. Tours usually work out the same price as doing it yourself, and they’re generally safer as you’ll be with a guide. The best time to trek here is between May and September.

Peru Backpacking Itinerary

Check out this one month Peru Itinerary to give you some ideas for how to plan your travels in the country. Also see our South America Travel Routes for advice on how to fit Peru into a backpacking adventure of the whole South American continent.

Peru Packing List – What to Pack for Peru!

Waterproof Jacket – Okay, so if you’re only planning on travelling to Nazca, you won’t need this as it’s one of the most arid destinations in the world. However, for hiking, there’s every chance that you’ll get caught in torrential rain, hail, and a snowstorm all in the same day. Luckily, a small and light foldable rain jacket won’t take up a lot of space in your luggage.

Walking boots – Peru offers some of the best hiking and treks in the world. Although it’s possible to rent them in trekking centres like Huaraz, it makes much more sense to bring your own. You really shouldn’t be tackling some of the day hikes in trainers, let alone those that last for 4 days to 2 weeks. On some of the mountains in the Cordillera Negra, there are points where tracks are loose shale and it can be difficult to get trip. But them before you travel – especially if you take a bigger size because they can be difficult to get hold of here, not to mention expensive.

Backpack – A much better option than a suitcase, it’s a good idea to have a large backpack for storing your clothes and essentials, then a day pack for taking on hikes etc. Try and pack light so you can stock up on alpaca jumpers and other traditional handicrafts while you’re here. On night buses, your large pack will most likely be in the luggage hold, but keep your day pack by your feet or under your chair. It’s much safer there than in the luggage racks up above. Especially if you fall asleep! Read more here about the best backpack for travel.

Sweatshirt/jumper – This isn’t necessarily something you have to bring with you – you can buy a cosy and warm alpaca jumper for a very reasonable price here (you can haggle down to the equivalent of about £10). Also, they look great and are a much more wearable souvenir when you get home than… let’s say Thai elephant pants.

Sun cream – Sun cream is an essential in Peru. Even on days when it’s cloudy and raining, you can still get burned, especially at high altitude. Don’t pack what you would for a European beach holiday, factor 15 and 20 won’t cut it here. You might get away with 30, but 50+ is best.

Spanish/Quechua/Aymara phrasebook – Spanish is the official language of Peru, but you will find people in the country who still speak the indigenous languages of Quechua and Aymara. You will be able to get by fine with Spanish – 84% of the population speak it, but in some areas it might be nice to know a few words in Quechua and Aymara too.

Swimsuit/microfibre towel – Great beaches, surfing, lakes, and hot springs mean Peru is a top place to get on your bikini/swimming shorts. A microfibre towel is a handy bit of kit, as it dries itself and you can fold it back so it takes up very little space in your backpack. Read more about microfibre travel towels here.

Camera – Why wouldn’t you bring a camera to Peru? Jaw-dropping landscapes, colourful markets, and of course, very Instagrammable food, means that a camera is a must on your trip. Just make sure you’re careful with it. A top tip for keeping your camera safe is carrying it in a non-descript plastic bag, rather than an obvious camera bag. If you want to take a picture of someone (or their alpaca), it’s always best to ask permission first as people will be more receptive to the idea than you snapping shots of them without asking.   

Refillable water bottle – Although Peruvians will tell you otherwise, water from the tap isn’t safe to drink here, and can contain chemical pollutants and damaging microorganisms. Buying water each day can be expensive, and it’s useful to have a bottle that you can fill up from purified water towers, which are common in hotels/hostels. Check out our article here on the best filtered water bottle for travel.

Insect repellent – Especially if you are heading to the jungle, insect repellent should be one of the first things that goes into your bag. It’s not a bad idea to have it on the coast either. As well as insect repellent, avoid going into the desert barefoot, and keep covered up in areas at risk of Chigger fleas. You really do not want to take one of these home as a souvenir.

Travel Money Card – It can be expensive to withdraw cash in Peru. Get a travel card – if it doesn’t have soles available, it’s likely to at least have US dollars. You can withdraw dollars at cashpoints and get them converted in most towns, which can sometimes end up working out cheaper than paying extortionate costs on your debit or credit card.

Vaccinations for Peru

According to the World Health Organisation, it is recommended but not mandatory to have the following vaccinations: Yellow Fever, Typhoid, Hepatitis A and B, and Rabies.

At the time of writing there is currently a risk of measles in the country. If you enter at the border crossing between Zumba (Ecuador) and San Ignacio, you will be given a free measles vaccination if you are not able to prove that you have already had one. 

There are many risks to travellers in Peru that cannot be avoided with prior vaccinations. The main one is diarrhoea, caused by organisms spread by faecal contamination when preparing food. Make sure that your hands are always clean before eating. Unfortunately, you can’t do the same for whoever is preparing your food!

Take malaria tablets with you if you’re going to be in the jungle, or travelling below 2,000m. At altitude, you should be fine. 

Is Peru Safe to Travel?

Peru is generally a safe country for travelers, but like everywhere in South America, you should be cautious, alert, and not taking any unnecessary risks. Violent attacks are rare, but you should be on your guard for pickpocketing above all. It goes without saying to take out a good travel insurance policy before you travel here (or anywhere) to cover your possessions, or any sicknesses or illnesses that might occurs.

The biggest cities are where you should be on your guard most, and don’t walk around Lima or Cuzco on your own at night. The reception of your hotel or hostel will advise you of any unsafe areas, which you’ll be able to avoid.

Also read our article – Is South America safe?

Top Safety Tips for Peru

  • Keep your belongings close and try to avoid having expensive valuables on show. Keep jewellery and designer clothing to a minimum.
  • Make copies of your passport and other important documents.
  • Don’t carry large amounts of money. Keep this and your documents in a money belt.
  • Watch out for muggings, ‘strangle muggings’, and express kidnap. These are rare, but most commonly happen to travellers who are alone on dark streets in bigger cities such as Lima, Cuzco, and Arequipa.
  • Allow yourself time to acclimatise. Also read this article about whether you need altitude sickness medication in South America.

Peru – Backpacker Travel Insurance

It goes without saying that before you travel to Peru you should invest in good travel insurance. We always choose World Nomads Travel Insurance, who specifically cater to adventurous travellers and backpackers. Their insurance policies are flexible meaning that you can buy while you’re already travelling, or, extend while you’re away.

Accommodation in Peru

Generally, accommodation is quite affordable in Peru and won’t set you back too much money. Cusco and Lima are the most expensive cities, and some high-end hotels may add as much as 28% to your bill as a service charge.

Hostels are widely available in big cities, although in smaller towns you might have to book into a hotel instead.

Peru is home to some stunning national parks, and a great place to camp. Make sure before setting up your tent that you’re permitted to camp at your chosen site. Bring professional camping gear if you are planning on camping in the cordilleras.

One of the things you should always check before committing to a room is if there are hot showers!

For stays in the jungle, consider staying in an jungle or eco-lodge. These are sustainable and responsible ways of travelling.

Some awesome hostels to check out in Peru are…

Check out more great hostels in South America!

Transport in Peru

A lot of travellers arrive in Peru without realising the sheer size of the place. It’s huge! This can sometimes impact on travel times, and journeys require more planning than in other countries. It really does seem that everything is at least a 7 or 8-hour journey! It’s guaranteed that someone will want to talk to you, you may end up making a new best friend or just having a really fun conversation on public transport here!

Travelling in Peru by Bus

The most common and cost-effective way of travelling long distances in Peru is by bus. There are some question marks over the safety of buses, so there are a few precautions you should take with your belongings. It’s a good idea to keep your belongings at hand, rather than in the overhead racks. 

Most cities have a central bus terminal, and certain companies will have their offices dotted around the city where you will be dropped off otherwise. The top end companies offer ‘VIP’ treatment, such as 180-degree reclining beds, movies, and even meals. Some of them are really more like aeroplanes. Although they’re a cheaper option, sometimes it is better to consider flying, especially if you have limited time. You don’t want to be losing 24 hours on a 2-week holiday just to travel between Lima and Cuzco, right? 

For shorter distances, it’s more likely that your ‘bus’ will be a Toyota or Nissan minivan. These are great if your legs are short. Otherwise, you’ll have a cramped journey. I’d recommend splashing out a little more on one of the fancier buses every time.

Travelling Peru by Train

Peru’s rail system is limited to the South of the country, and even then, they do not cover all destinations. They are generally more orientated towards tourists. PeruRail offers many services leaving from Cusco, leaving for tourist hotspots such as Aguas Calientes (the town before Machu Picchu), and Puno (Lake Titicaca).

For services from Lima, check out the Ferrocarril Centro Andino, where one of the services offered is the second highest in the world. Peru’s only international train is Ferrocarril Tacna Arica, a single carriage service which crosses the Chilean border.

Trains are great for tourism, but it’s much more practical to get long distance buses.

Travelling Peru by Colectivo

Sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish between a minibus and a colectivo, because at times they are exactly the same thing. Colectivo refers to any small vehicle that is a shared taxi service, and they usually leave when they are full of passengers from small terminal in the city, but not the main bus terminal. Sometimes you will be able to flag down a colectivo in the street if there’s space.

Travelling Peru by Taxi

Taxis are a great way to get around cities but do be careful as they’re a real lottery. You could be in a Mercedes one day, and a bashed hatchback with the bumpers hanging off the next. You can use Uber in Lima, but that doesn’t guarantee a better journey than picking a taxi up off the street. 

Travelling Peru by Mototaxi

Peru’s equivalent of the rickshaw/tuktuk. For me, this is the most fun way to travel in cities, and it’s super cheap. The only downside is it’s probably the least safe! Keep a hold of your belongings, as the ride can be bumpy and somethings may jiggle about.

Travelling Peru by Plane

As mentioned above, some of the journeys in Peru are ridiculously long, and it can be better to spend that little bit extra and fly, rather than spend a long time on a bus. Aeroplanes are especially good if you’re short on time and don’t mind splashing out a bit.

Lima is well connected to most cities in the country, and the launch of budget airline Viva Air Peru in 2017 can only be good news for travellers who want to travel swiftly and comfortably between the country’s cities.

Compare flight prices on Skyscanner.

Travelling Peru by Boat

This section is pretty much limited to the jungle, but boat is almost always the easiest way to travel in the Peruvian Amazon. The main routes are between Iquitos, Yurimaguas, and Pucallpa. 

Can You Travel Peru on a Budget? – The Cost of Travel

It’s possible to travel very cheaply in Peru, once you get your head round the difference between soles and your home currency! Tours here are quite cheap, and it means you can afford to splash out more on doing things like hikes, visiting ancient ruins, and doing just generally cool stuff.

Accommodation costs

In most cities, you can get a dorm bed in a nice backpacker hostel for 20 to 30 soles. A private hostel in a midrange hotel is usually between 60 – 80 soles.

Food costs

Many restaurants are markets offer almuerzo (lunch) for around 5 or 6 soles. This will usually consist of a soup, a main course, and a drink. International food is generally more expensive.

Transport costs 

Buses are a great way to travel, especially if you’re on a budget. Taxis and mototaxis are a cheap way to navigate cities.

Cost of Tours and Activities

Day tours are generally inexpensive and very affordable here. Often included is a guide, transport, lunch, and entry fees to museums/sites on the tour. If you are entering a national park though, this isn’t always included in the price of the tour. 

Food in Peru

Peru’s cuisine is regarded by many as the best in South America. Influences from Africa, Europe, and most evidently Asia, have blended into traditional cooking and have created a delicious fusion of flavours found nowhere else on the continent. It’s no wonder that Peruvian cuisine has become a part of the international culinary scene in recent years!

5 Must Try Peruvian Dishes!

Here are some of the most tantalising dishes you’ll find in Peru. Ceviche Peru’s national dish, and one that almost everyone immediately falls in love with. At its base, there’s fish marinated in lime juice, chillies, salt, and onions. There are many different variations, including trout, sea bass, prawns, and octopus. Crispy onion is added to give it a satisfying crunch, as are cancha (dry roasted corn kernels).

The origins of ceviche are very interesting and not as black and white as you would assume. Although they eat this dish all over Latin America, you can’t beat the traditional Peruvian version.

Ceviche dish in Arequipa
Delicious ceviche at Primer Puerto Cevicheria, Arequipa.


Not one for the faint of heart, lots of Western travelers are split on trying cuy. On the one hand, it’s a cute, fluffly, little guinea pig. On the other, it’s one of Peru’s most famous national dishes. Expect to work hard at getting the meat from your cuy. It mainly comes fried, barbecued, or roasted, and is served whole with potatoes. Read more about eating guinea pig in Peru here.


Just like cuy, a lot of westerners are split on trying anticuchos, aka cow heart. Although, is it really that different from eating a steak? Some people would say it’s better – there’s more flavour, it’s pretty lean, and you can have it grilled over the flame exactly to your taste. Marinated beforehand, and served on skewers, squeeze a slice of lime over and enjoy. It’s certainly worth a try during your trip.

Papas a la Huancaina

South American cuisine has a lot of different takes on the humble – after all, the Andes are the spiritual home of this versatile vegetable. Papas a la Huancaina are a popular side dish or appetiser in Peru, and consists of small, purple, boiled potatoes which are then drizzled in a spicy sauce made of cheese, chilli, garlic, amongst other things. 

Lomo Saltado

The most popular Chifa (Peru’s take on Chinese food) dish you can get in the country, Lomo Saltado is a delicious concoction of dish of soy-marinated beef (or alpaca), onions, tomatoes and ají (chilli) which is stir fried and served with rice and/or potatoes. You can find Lomo Saltado all over Peru.

Tipping in Peru – should you tip?

In restaurants, it’s customary to add 10% to the bill if you’re happy with the service. Some ‘gringo’ restaurants will automatically add on this service charge. In smaller local restaurants, it’s customary to add 1 or 2 soles onto the bill. It’s a good idea to tip tour guides too, especially if you’ve learned a lot from them.

Peruvian People

There are three official languages in Peru; Spanish, Quechua, and Aymara.

As diverse as the land itself the cultural variety within Peru is astonishing. In the Amazon alone there are more than 65 different ethnic groups. On the island of Taquile lives an entire population that shares all of their wealth and resources and as a result, has no need for any form of a criminal system.

In the south, meet the farmers of the Colca Canyon, a people who often live without electricity and running water. Then, at the opposite end of the extreme, there are the urbanites of Lima and Arequipa, a place where hustle and bustle have become the norm. And, did you know that Lima is home to South America’s largest China town?

In Cusco meet a group of people who worship in Catholic churches but simultaneously uphold the shamanistic practices of the Inca. (Did you know that after India, Peru has the second largest number of shamans in the world?)

The environments direct influence on the people who live here is astonishing and helps to create a dynamic and inspirational backpacking experience.

5 Final Tips for Backpacking Peru! 

1. Take your time

Don’t try to rush around Peru. It’s enormous, and if you keep trying to ‘do’ places in 2 – 3 days before taking a night bus to the next place, you’re going to end up exhausted and you won’t really appreciate what places have to offer. It’s especially important to take your time when at altitude, as you can do yourself damage if you don’t give yourself enough of a chance to acclimatise.

2. Know that there’s more to Peru than Machu Picchu!

Yes, it’s utterly stunning and on many travellers’ bucket lists. However, there are lots of important archaeological sites throughout the country that you will have almost to yourself, such as Kuélap in Chachapoyas and Chan Chan in Trujillo.

3. Try the local food

It’s easy to find good local food, and throughout Peru it’s delicious. Just try and make sure where possible that you’re in somewhere that looks clean. You don’t want to pay for a tasty ceviche by being up and down to the bathroom all night.

4. Travel Peru Cheap – Never pay full price!

At markets, a lot of the locals see westerners coming and immediately whack 20 or 30% onto the price. Haggle, but do it responsibly. Remember that although you might be a ‘poor backpacker,’ in comparison to a lot of Peruvians, you’ve got a lot of money. Don’t be selfish when haggling.

5. Relax and enjoy yourself

Don’t let South America’s dangerous reputation stop you enjoying your trip. Exercise the right amount of caution, but don’t be too afraid. Sometimes that even attracts danger! Peru is a beautiful country, and the majority of people here are friendly and absolutely don’t want to do you any harm. And get as many pictures with alpacas as you can!

Dan is an English teacher based in Ecuador. He's visited over 40 countries and lived in Thailand, Spain, Italy. He's currently on the trip of a lifetime in South America. Interested in becoming a writer for us?

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