01 August 2010

peru is possible on a shoestring budget

When I embarked on a river voyage down the Amazon two years ago, nothing could have prepared me for the otherwordly beauty of Peru and its people. I was on assignment at the time, and the fine folks at International Expeditions picked up the tab for my adventure (thank you 100 times for a trip of lifetime). I’ve since returned to Peru twice in a work slash play capacity and have had to fend for myself financially. Since I like to make my travel adventures last as long as possible, when flying solo, I subscribe to a budget travel style.

Peru is perfect for travelers on a shoestring budget, and not just the backpacker hordes. Its currency is the nuevo sol (S/) and compared to other South American countries, traveling costs are low – it’s easy to survive on $20-25 USD a day. Here are seven tips to help stretch your soles.

Photo courtesy of kudumomo

Timing is Everything
Depending upon when you decide visit Peru, prices can make or break a budget. The dry winter months of June and July are peak season in Machu Picchu and prices rise accordingly (and Inca Trail reservations are scarce for last-minute planners) Tourists flock to the sun-soaked coastal regions during the summer months of December and January. The best bargains can be found during the fringe months of April and May or September and October.

Photo courtesy of Zug55

Take a Tour
Although I tend to be a DIY solo traveler, there are some sights in Peru which require a tour operator – like hiking the Inca Trail or flights over the Nazca Lines. It is, however possible to explore Peru without paying inflated prices. Karikuy, the organization I’m currently volunteering with in Lima, for example, offers a wide variety of tours throughout Peru at budget-friendly price points. They also work to promote responsible tourism, social development and give back to the people and communities of Peru. Do your homework and ask questions and you're more likely to find the perfect fit tour operator.

Photo courtesy of Ivoinperu

Get Out of Town
Lima, Cusco and Puno are Peru’s top tourist hot spots, but venture beyond these towns and prices drop significantly for budget travelers. Think about exploring Ica, Peru’s top wine-producing region on its southern coast, the colonial city of Trujillo and its sunny beaches or hiking in the highland town of Huaraz, near the Cordillera Blanca Mountains.

Cheap Sleeps
Prices for accommodations in Peru vary from dirt-cheap, backpacker hostels to luxury boutique hotels. My head has hit the pillow at every price range in Peru, but when I’m traveling on my own dime (a.k.a. not on assignment), I’ve found several decent mid-range hotel deals. In Cusco, I highly recommend Hotel Rumi Punku (around $50 a night during peak season). It’s a family run, 2-star hostel within three (steep) blocks of Plaza de Armas. Hotel Rumi Punku is safe for the solo female traveler, clean and has free Wi-Fi and continental breakfast daily. Another Cusco property I’m excited about is the just opened, Yamanyá Backpackers Hostel. They had me at heated stone swimming pool and poolside bar, but more practical travelers will probably like their free breakfast, Wi-Fi, airport or bus-stop pickup, TV room with high-definition LCD, huge guest kitchen, comfortable beds and hot, hot water.

Photo courtesy of Muy Yum

Eat Like a Local
As a rule, I try to steer clear of restaurantes turistica. They’re easily identified by oversized menus or chalkboards posted by the entryway with English translations and seats filled with folks who don’t quite look like the locals. Sure, there’s comforting about pointing to a menu item and knowing roughly what you’re getting in a land of language barriers. But I pinky swear promise that if you put the tiniest bit of effort into dining at a non-touristy destination, nine times out of ten, you’ll reap the benefits of lower prices and far superior food.

The name brand liquors you know and love at home are pricey in Peru. For example, a pour of Johnny Walker will run 20 soles – or about $7 USD. That may not seem outrageous by US standards, but if you’re imbibing on a budget in Peru, you can make your bar-hopping dollars stretch much further with a few smart choice. If you insist on drinking cocktails, swap your spirit of choice for a pisco-based beverage. Pisco is a South American liquor distilled from grapes, and cocktails tend run about half the price of American cocktail counterparts. Plus, Pisco packs quite a high octane punch. If you’re really cash-strapped, stick to local beer brands like Cristal, Pilsen Callao or Cusqueña, which rarely cost more than the equivalent of $2 USD.

Photo courtesy of ChrissyJ

It’s hard to travel pretty much anywhere and not want to take some tsotchkes home, especially in Peru. There are a few basic rules of the retail road that will help you get the best deal. Avoid buying souvenirs near bus stops, where prices tend to be higher. Be sure to bargain – the price on the tag is rarely the final price. Have a maximum price you’re willing to pay in mind and don't be tricked by discounts for multiple purchases. Also, keep in mind that souvenir prices at the airport can triple, so if you see something you can’t live without, grab it. Last minute buyer’s remorse is no fun.

There are a lot of great goodies to take home from Peru, but it’s best known for:

  • Baby alpaca woven goods, not just sweaters, but rugs and wall hangings (be sure to check the label – many products incorporate acrylic)
  • Silver jewelry with enamel and gemstones, many with Incan and Peruvian imagery
  • Pisco, the national drink of Peru
  • Small embroidered purses made out of manta cloth
  • Chullos (woolen hats with the earflaps)
  • Huayruru seed jewelry and keychains – this seed is found in the Amazon and is red with a black spot
Since I’ve helped save you all sorts of money in your travels to Peru with this nifty blog post, be sure to pick up a little something for me. Or send a postcard. I swoon for handwritten mail.


Beverly aka TravelMaestro said...

Peru is on my short list and while I do like upper-end hotels, I usually like to travel slightly off season to avoid crowds and take advantage of better pricing. Thanks for the great tips for saving soles. - Beverly

Charyn Pfeuffer said...

Thank you for your comment, Beverly! This is my third visit to Peru and I really adore this country. But what I really love about Peru is that you can pretty much make it fit any travel budget. I've stayed in $1100USD/night hotel rooms in Cusco (lovely, but not really my travel style) and perfectly charming $17USD/night bungalows in Sacred Valley. If you're a food lover (like me), you can eat really, really well for super cheap. And Peruvian hospitality cannot be beat. You have my short list endorsement!

Camden Luxford said...

Charyn, I can't tell you enough how awesome you are! Thanks for the plug on Yamanyá Backpackers (must stress that the pool is still empty. Still empty! But coming soon...). We're very stoked to finally be open, although there's plenty of details still to be ironed out.

I see Mexico's scheduled for August - when are you off?

Charyn Pfeuffer said...

You are so welcome! I'm rooting for you all and really wish I could've made it to Cusco on this trip. Congrats on opening! Yamanyá Backpackers is gonna be a huge success!

I go home for a quick week in between projects and then back out to Mexico on the 18th for the remainder of the month. Nothing like going from Peruvian winter to 100 degree temperatures in Mexico : )

Connie said...

Hi Charyn, AMAZING that you are doing all this! I'm also currently traveling and volunteering around the world, but certainly not at the scale that you are. You are an inspiration! I voted for you as well! Good luck in the competition!

Happy trails, Connie

Charyn Pfeuffer said...

Hi Connie,
Nice to meet you. LOVE what you are doing as well. Really awesome! Smart to have a "What You Can Do" page on your site. You are an inspiration, as well. I'll continue to follow your travels/volunteer work...Best of luck to you and thank you for voting. It's always nice to meet like-minded women. Who knows? Maybe our volunteer paths will cross at some point?!
Safe travels to you!