Peru Travel Guide for solo female travellers: my experience in 163 days backpacking the land of the Incas
Most of my time in Latin America was spent backpacking Peru and it was one of my favorite countries in South America. Despite its macho culture, the Peruvian people showed me nothing but love and hospitality.
I am not saying this is the best Peru travel guide there is but what I can say is that I’ve spent a lot of time in Peru enough for me to say that these recommendations are credible and are based on experience.
Now let’s get started! The timeframe of backpacking Peru is definitely up to you. Each city is distinct and has different activities so you will really enjoy jumping from one lifestyle to another. One piece of advice I can give you is don’t give a time limit for backpacking Peru — take your time because you will be surprised how much you will get to love this country. If you insist, I would say 3-6 months is a good timeframe. With this, you will fully get to know Peru’s wonderful culture, odd Spanish language, and their impressive gastronomic scene.
Why I love Peru
I traveled Peru for a total of 163 days, maxing the visa for Philippine passport holders. I traveled from north to south, then back to north again – honestly, I didn’t have a route in Peru. I just went wherever there was an opportunity for volunteering and visiting friends.
But most of my months here were spent in Paracas – a coastal town one (1) hour away from Lima where I spent four (4) months! In Paracas, I worked in a bar in a hostel. Some people skip this town but this is my favourite place in Peru! In here, I was able to make long-lasting friendships and up to now, I am still in touch with these people. We even went to Israel to attend one of our friends’ wedding!
Peru is where most of my formative years were spent and I will always choose to go back no matter what.
What’s in this post?
Before you go
Peru is a big country so it is very important to allot at least 1-2 weeks of traveling. More is even better! Most people’s Peru travel goal is to hike the Machu Picchu (I did it thrice) but there is so much more to Peru than the Machu Picchu! From beaches to mountains, depending on the type of traveler that you are, Peru is a good place for backpacking.
In the next parts of this post, I will also talk about the culture of the Peruvians but what I can say now is be ready to be loved! Like most Latin American countries, Peru is very friendly. You will receive a lot of hugs and kisses even from strangers!
Visas and entry requirements
As a Philippine passport holder, I am allowed to enter Peru for 164 days visa-free. If you want to know if you can enter Peru without a visa, you may refer to this article.
Upon arrival, immigration officials will give you 30 days minimum but you can ask for more if needed. The maximum is 183 days. For example, you can say that you will be volunteering for 3 months so you need 90 days in your passport. You cannot work with a tourist visa in Peru. However, you can easily apply for a work visa as long as you are sponsored by your employer.
One important thing that is often ignored by travelers in Peru is the immigration card given to you when you enter Peru. Please keep it because they will ask for it upon exiting the country. If you lose it, you will have to pay 30.00 PEN ($8.57 USD).
Wifi, calling and sim cards in Peru
As a Digital Nomad, I didn’t have a hard time looking for Wifi in Peru. I must admit, they don’t have the fastest Internet but it is tolerable. The only problem I encountered is the on/off WiFi in Peru – it’s not super consistent!
If you want to purchase a sim card, Claro and Movistar are 2 of the network providers in Peru. A sim costs $5 USD without data. You can top-up/reload in any convenience stores in Peru. I used Claro while I am in Peru (I availed a plan) but most of my friends are with Movistar.
Getting to Peru
I haven’t tried flying to Peru as I was traveling South America by land but I know very well that flights to Peru are expensive if you are coming from the other side of the globe, a.k.a. Asia. I know one person who flew from the Philippines for $1,500 USD.
Flights from the USA and Europe are relatively cheap. My English friends always fly from London for only $300 USD – $400 USD, one way. If you are flying through the USA, Miami, Texas and of course, Mexico are some of the good airports that offer a cheap price.
Traveling the whole of Latin America (from Mexico to Argentina) is really easy and cheap! The bus companies have made it efficient and convenient for travelers to do the gringo trail in South America and this is pretty much what I did.
I went to Peru by bus from Ecuador the first time and the second time was through Bolivia. You can even go to Peru through Argentina and Chile! Bus fares for long travels like this start from $80 USD to $180 USD, depending on the distance. I remember taking a bus from Buenos Aires to Lima for 72 hours – I kinda died but it was worth it!
Top things not to miss in Peru
You may not have the luxury of time in traveling Peru but here are the top things I ask you not to miss in Peru!
- Eat, eat and eat.. Quick trivia: did you know that the best restaurant in Latin America is in Peru? I was pretty shocked to know that gastronomy in Peru is really a big deal so I went to check out Astrid y Gaston and Central in Lima.
- Ballestas Island. I spent a lot of time in this coastal town in Peru called Paracas and this is where the Ballestas Islands lay. It is dubbed as the ‘budget Galapagos’ of South America because you will also see a lot of animals here.
- Pisac Market. Save your shopping for this market. This is where you will find all the best crafts from the Andes. The narrow street set-up makes the shopping experience more exciting!
- Huacachina. I lived an hour away from this place and never thought of visiting until I continued my journey to Cusco. Huacachina is a healing oasis where people from all over the world come for sandboarding. Ideal for a day trip but there are also hostels nearby if you want to stay the night.
- Cordillera Blanca. Experience the best of the Andes Mountains with breathtaking snow-capped mountain views. It is the second highest mountain range in the world and surprisingly, one of the most accessible.
- Colca Canyon. Dubbed as the Grand Canyon of the South, this is one of the deepest canyons in the world and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Peru.
- Machu Picchu. I did this hike thrice and every visit felt like it was the first time!
All the places you should visit in Peru
Mancora is close to Piura and is considered to be the party hub of Peru. Surrounded by beach bars, loud hostels, surfing/kitesurfing activities, Mancora is the most favorite stop of backpackers. I was here for 6 weeks volunteering in a hostel and it was difficult for me to leave as much as it was for my co-volunteers. You will not find very wild nights in other cities of Peru so this can be your break — be young and free. You can be an idiot and a child here for as long as you like. Nobody will judge you.
Mancora is a coastal area so most backpackers come here for surfing and Kitesurfing. You can take these lessons in between or even work in a surf hostel!
At this point, I would really encourage you to do work exchange in hostel bars as this is the most fun, most especially for young people. I did it when I was 22 and I had the best experience!
Where to stay in Mancora
- Budget: Loki del Mar – $10 USD/night per pax for a bed in a dorm room; shared bathroom
- Mid-range: Las Tortuguitas Bungalows – $36 USD/night for 2 pax; private room/bathroom
- High-end: Casa Mediterranea Mancora – $86 USD/night for 2 pax
Things to do in Mancora
- Take a surfing or kitesurfing lesson. Mancora is known for these water sports
From Mancora, head to Trujillo for a colonial city lifestyle. Travel time from Mancora to Trujillo is 9 hours. Make sure to take the night bus! Old mansions and colonial architecture tower the city with a dry climate or intense heat. Streets are Spanish-styled with surrounding greens.
If you’re looking to stay long-term, there are a lot of schools looking for English teachers in the area.
Where to stay in Trujillo
- Budget: El Mochilero – $15 USD/night per pax for a bed in a dorm; shared bathroom
- Mid-range: Hotel Alexander – $28 USD/night for 2 pax; private room/bathroom
- High-end: Casa Andina Premium Trujillo – $83 USD/night for 2 pax
Things to do in Trujillo
- Visit chan chan, the largest mud-brick city in the world.
- Huacas del Sol y de la Luna, another mud-brick city and is one of the must-see archaeological sites in Peru.
- Go to Trujillo Cathedral,17th-century architecture and is one of the notable sites in the city.
- Day trip to Huanchaco, a beach town near Trujillo.
- People watching at Plaza de Armas.
From Trujillo, travel time to Huaraz is 8 hours and bus prices range from $10.00 – $20.00 USD. Take a break from the city and experience the natural wonders of Huaraz. Often overlooked by backpackers, Huaraz is the best place to unplug! Mountains, rivers and beautiful landscape surrounding the region of Ancash which is highly advisable to your toxic lifestyle in Mancora. Trek and stay for days in the mountains in a tent with no social media attached.
Where to stay in Huaraz
- Budget: Andescamp Hostel – $5 USD/night per pax in a bed in a hostel dorm; breakfast included
- Mid-range: Arawi Pastoruri Hotel: $55 USD/night for 2 pax; private room
- High-end: Cuesta Serena Lodge – $250 USD/night for 2 pax; double room with breakfast
Things to do in Huaraz
- Hiking is the main activity in Huaraz. It is considered as one of the top hiking spots in the world.
- Go camping in one of the hikes!
- Visit local markets.
- Do not miss Lake Llanganuco and Huascarán National Park!
After some life-changing activities in Huaraz, head to Lima for an ultimate cosmopolitan vibe and city life. Travel time to Lima from Huaraz is 7-8 hours and bus prices range from $14.00 – $25.00 USD. Madrid was the first thing that came to mind when I saw the center of Lima.
Like most capitals, Lima is busy 24/7 but it’s not your typical bustling city. Most backpackers spend a day or 2 here as it is the flying hub or making a stop-over to see friends who are also leaving for their flights. What most people don’t know is that Lima offers the best gastronomic experiences in the whole of Latin America. 4 of the best restaurants in the world are located here.
Where to stay in Lima
- Budget: Hostel Kokopelli Lima – $13 USD/night per pax for a bed in a dorm; breakfast included
- Mid-range: Ife Boutique Hotel – $60 USD/night for 2 pax; private room/bath; breakfast included
- High-end: Atemporal – $190 USD/night for 2 pax; private room/bath; breakfast included
Things to do in Lima
- Make sure to experience the nightlife in Lima!
- Go on a free walking tour. All hotels offer this!
- If you don’t fancy walking, you can take the Mirabus, a panoramic tourist bus that will take you around Lima.
- There are also bicycle tours to take you around Lima. I think this is the best!
- Go shopping in Larcomar, a famous tourist shopping destination located in Miraflores.
A very small city and the one that holds a special place in my heart, the best chapters of my life in Latin America happened in Paracas. I volunteered, worked and lived here and I just couldn’t leave. I also met my best friends here so it’s really an important place for me! Paracas is a small town filled with expats, beaches and a very peaceful surrounding. It is also home to the famous Isla Ballestas and the Paracas National Reserve. Travel time from Lima is 3-4 hours by bus and costs around $12.00 – $20.00 USD.
Where to stay in Paracas
- Budget: Hostel Kokopelli Paracas – $10 USD/night per pax for a bed in a dorm; breakfast included
- Mid-range: San Agustin Paracas – $120 USD/night for 2 pax; private room/bath; breakfast included
- High-end: Aranwa – $200 USD/night for 2 pax; private room/bath; breakfast included
Things to do in Paracas
- Visit Isla Ballestas, Peru’s mini Galapagos
- Go to Paracas National Reserve for a stunning beach day by the dessert
A city considered superior from the rest of Peru, Arequipa is one of the cities I fell in love with because of its distinct culture. I stayed here for 3 weeks and enjoyed the combination of city and outdoor lifestyle. Arequipa has mountain ranges and at the same time, an amazingly beautiful city setting that is so far from the bustling Lima. Travel time from the Ica region (Paracas, Nasca & Huacachina) is 10-12 hours by bus and costs around $25.00 – $40.00 USD.
Where to stay in Arequipa
- Budget: Wild Rover Hostel Arequipa – $15 USD/night per pax for a bed in a dorm
- Mid-range: Palla Boutique Hotel – $66 USD/night for 2 pax; private room/bath
- High-end: Casa Andina Arequipa – $137 USD/night for 2 pax; private room/bath
Things to do in Arequipa
- Go people watching at Plaza de Armas, Arequipa
- Go to Yanahuara for colonial architecture
- Visit Colca Canyon, the Grand Canyon of the South
Famous for Machu Picchu, Cusco has a rather odd altitude so you have to be physically fit before heading here. Despite this flaw (and the very cold weather), I really loved my time in Cusco because I got to discover that the city is not just about Machu Picchu: it’s about the rich culture of the Inca Empire which I really found very interesting. Restaurants flock the city and the nightlife and undeniably imposing. Most of my I-don’t-remember-what-happened-last-night moments occurred here but I have no regrets. What happens in Cusco stays in Cusco — you can count on that. Travel time from Arequipa to Cusco is 10-12 hours by bus and costs around $25.00 – $40.00 USD.
Where to stay in Cusco
- Budget: Hostel Kokopelli Cusco – $15 USD/night per pax for a bed in a dorm; breakfast included
- Mid-range: Casa San Blas Boutique Hotel – $77 USD/night per pax for 2 people; private bath/room; breakfast included
- High-end: Aranwa Boutique Hotel Cusco– $157 USD/night per pax for 2 people; private bath/room; breakfast included
Things to do in Cusco
- Hike the Machu Picchu
- Eat at San Pedro Market. This is the place where I tried cuy (guinea pig) for the first time!
Getting around Peru
Peru is a big country so if you don’t have a lot of time, flying by air is reasonably priced. Arequipa, Chiclayo, Cuzco, Iquitos, Juliaca, Piura, Puerto Maldonado, Tacna, Tarapoto, and Trujillo.
LC Perú flies from Lima to Andahuaylas, Arequipa, Ayacucho, Chachapoyas, Chiclayo, Cajamarca, Huánuco, Huaraz, Iquitos, Trujillo and Huancayo (Jauja) on smaller turbo-prop aircraft.
I always use Viva Air because they are the cheapest in my opinion. They have a lot of promo flights, too!
Red Bus Peru is a website where you will get to see all the bus companies with prices and schedules. A private company that I highly recommend is Peru Hop where you can travel comfortably as it offers door to door pick up!
When to go
June to August is the highest season. This is the busiest time in Peru as a lot of tourists from the USA and Europe are on holidays. Prices are higher than the usual.
September to Nov and March to May are shoulder seasons. If you want a less crowded Peru, this is the best time to go.
December to February is the lowest season because of the rain. Machu Picchu is also closed for rehabilitation during this time of the year. However, prices will be cheaper than usual.
Currency, budget, cash, etc.
The currency in Peru is called Nuevo Peruvian Sol (PEN). 1 PEN = $0.30 USD. Below are some estimates for you to have an idea on Peruvian prices:
- Lunch in a business district restaurant: $4.48 USD
- Combo meal in a fast-food restaurant: $4.48 USD
- 1 bottle of red wine (good quality): $10.46 USD
- 2 liters of Coca-Cola: $2.09 USD
- 1 cocktail drink in a downtown club: $6.87 USD
- 1 package of Marlboro cigarettes: $3.29 USD
- Cappuccino in expat area of the city: $3.29 USD
The Peruvian culture
Like most Latin American culture, Peruvians are very friendly and are easy to talk to. In smaller towns and cities, you will find it harder to ask for directions as not everyone can speak English. They will try their best to help you but you better polish your Spanish!
Peru is not particular in clothing. Come as you are! Bring hiking boots and comfortable shoes. Peru is a very active country and has a lot of outdoor activities.
Also note that this country has different weather conditions. I had a last-minute (and abrupt) shopping spree on my way South because I didn’t expect the weather to change after moving to another city! [/us_iconbox]
Although Peru is a super Catholic country, they are very open to LGBTQs but are still not used to public display of affection from gay couples. In Peru, I have not heard of anyone who got assaulted or disrespected because they are gay. [/us_iconbox]
If you have more time in Peru and wants to experience a deep Peruvian culture, you can try a different travel method. You will find a lot of volunteering or work exchange opportunities in Peru. I came across a few and I want to share it with you.
Note: Work exchange is a way to immerse in local culture. You will work for 4-6 hours a day (max, not more than that) in exchange for a deep cultural immersion, food, and accommodations. This is one of the methods that lead me to continuously afford a life of travel.
- Teaching English in Peru is the most popular. There are many small towns and cities that run English schools for kids. I only did this once in Arequipa where I also finished my TEFL certificate.
- Volunteering in hostels in Peru is also big. Most hostels in this country are looking for help in bars. Service in hotels (changing lines for example) is offered as a paying job.
- If you want a more peaceful and quiet volunteering in Peru, you can work in farms.
Language in Peru
The language in Peru is Spanish. To feel like a local, below are some useful phrases. Please note that even though the whole Latin America speaks Spanish, each country has their own slangs.
- Bacán – cool
- Chévere – Cool/Great/Awesome
- Chamba – Work/job
- Chela – beer. You can say cerveza but chela is the slang in Peru
- Paja – Cool/Great/Awesome
- Pata – Friend
- Flaca/Flaco – Girlfriend/Boyfriend
Safety in Peru
I traveled the whole country for 163 days by myself and I never encountered any harm. But I heard there are still mugging in big cities like Lima. As usual, all you have to do is be wary of your environment. Busses often over speed but don’t worry, I think they know what they are doing — I sometimes just sleep it off!
I didn’t get sick in my time in Peru except for that one moment (nothing major) when my friends and I went to the Amazon Jungle. It was not life-threatening but being sick definitely ruins a trip. Note that Peru shares the Amazon with Brazil so you can imagine the number of species of mosquitos that you can only find in this part of the planet. If you are not the vaccine type of person, make sure to bring some malaria pills with you.
Peru requires a yellow fever vaccine from visitors only if you traveled to Africa and Brazil.
I was hospitalized once in Peru, due to the stupid habit of overdrinking and it wasn’t that expensive. However, if anything major happens to you while traveling in Peru, it is very important to have travel insurance. Sure, hospital bills are affordable in Peru but it’s better not to pay for anything! You may not know what will happen to you on the road! And believe me, I learned it the hard way.
Peru travel resources
- Visit Peru Facebook page is always packed with information. If you are traveling to Peru soon and wants some inspiration on your feed, make sure to follow them!
- Life in Peru is a blog about a couple who moved to Cusco and never left. They now have two kids!
- While traveling Peru, the book I had with me was Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time.
More Peru articles from P.S. I’m On My Way
Have you been to Peru?
If yes, please share your where to’s: things to do, where to sleep, where to eat, etc and help other travelers make the most out of their Peru trip!