“Hey, wanna go to Peru in a few months?” my friend texted me eight months ago. “I found some sweet deals on flights.”
Any sane person probably would have said no. But luckily, I am not a sane person, and so of course I said yes.
But—lest you think I am a total idiot—I did not enter into this lightly. I had been saving $50 per month into my travel fund. Since me and Zach are so busy, we hadn’t been using the travel fund to go anywhere. That cash was piling up faster than Paul Manafort’s overseas bank accounts (I wish).
Me and my friend are/were both broke biologists and couldn’t afford the big price tags associated with a lot of the more touristy Peru travel packages geared towards fancy-pants rich Americans. We are both severely lacking in the monocle, top hat, and cane departments.
So, if we were going to do this, we both knew we had to do it on the cheap.
The most expensive Peru trip costs: Flights and transportation
I was able to get my flight to Peru completely for free thanks to travel hacking (I recommend the free Travel Miles 101 email course if you’re interested in learning how I do this).
After flights, the next biggest cost was the bus tour. Apparently busses in Peru have a reputation for not being some of the safest places, and so we shelled out for a $199 ticket on the Peru Hop bus to take us from Lima to Cusco. This bus was totally safe (except for the time that armed men pulled us over and boarded the bus. I did not almost piss myself.).
Peru Hop is geared towards indie tourists, and it allowed us tons of flexibility in our itinerary. They even helped us book tours and our hostels. We got to see the Paracas wildlife reserves, the Huacachina oasis party town, the Nazca lines, and we even hiked up and down Colca Canyon—one of the deepest canyons in the world, and home to Andean condors. It was a biologists’ dream!
We generally avoided using cabs unless we absolutely had to thanks to a) my social aversions, and b) my friend almost getting kidnapped by a cabbie once in Vienna.
Related Post: The Ultimate Guide To The Cost Of Traveling The World
Cheaper expenses: Food and accommodations
The great thing about Peru is that there’s restaurants everywhere, and the waiters aren’t afraid to tell you about them in what sounds to me like gibberish (I don’t speak Spanish—d’oh!).
Once I figured out what the heck was on the menu, I was pleasantly surprised by the prices. Most meals cost between $5-$10. The exception was a local dish called cuy: fried, split guinea pig. It cost around $30, and while I’m all about eating meat, I just couldn’t stomach eating an expensive dish that still had its face attached, but was split in half and fried.
This trip was my first time staying in a hostel. I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, it was a little awkward at times, especially at the Casa de Bamboo in Huacachina, which has a glorious shower consisting of a pipe coming out of the wall spewing only cold water. (Not to mention the frequent water outages that affected the toilets, which led to me bestowing a new nickname on the place—the Casa de Poopoo).
But, I did not get raped and I was not the subject of a horror movie. The beds and the breakfasts were fine, and more importantly, it was cheap—about $10 per night. Staying in hostels in Peru even gave me the confidence to later stay at a U.S. hostel for the first time on my own when I went to a business conference in Chicago.
Other random expenses
Much of the time I spent interacting with non-English-speaking Peruvian people involved a weird dance of pointing, gibberish, and grunting.
I downloaded a Spanish translation app before I left for $5. It helped me out with useful phrases like, “Holy fuck I’ve been on a bus for 5 hours and I gotta pee like a racehorse.” But, the funny thing is, these apps don’t really prepare you to understand what the heck the people say in return. So, I’d usually just wander around and open random doors anyways until I found the potties.
Related: Lonely Planet Peru travel guide
Speaking of toilets—be prepared to pay for toilet usage in Peru. It’s always good to have a few extra soles (the Peruvian currency) on you in case you stop at a pay toilet (you do not want to have empty pockets and a full bladder at the last stop of the night).
The tourist markets are a bit..touristy, but the do have tons of reasonably-priced souvenirs. I picked up an alpaca blanket for $50 and a sweater for $25. I also got to practice the third-most-thing that terrifies me in the entire world: haggling. With someone who speaks a different language. (I learned the goods were overpriced when my friend got a similar blanket for just $30).
How much our Machu Picchu trip cost
The Peru Hop bus dropped us off in Cusco—the last big city on the stop to the world-famous Machu Picchu. From here, we had a few options to get there.
Most American tourists just suck it up and pay for a train ticket for a few hundred bucks. The more adventurous ones shell out several hundred or thousand dollars to go on a guided trek to Machu Picchu along the famous Inca Trail.
But, we were on a budget, and we opted for the super-cheap and only slightly illegal backdoor Inca Trail trek along a set of railroad tracks.
First, we had to get to the small town of Ollantaytambo. We spent the morning wandering around Cusco to find a collectivo (a shared taxi van) heading out to Ollantaytambo.
Since we didn’t speak Spanish, we could only do the hand gesture dance while repeating “Ollantaytambo” several times back and forth until we and the collectivo driver were both sure we knew where we were heading.
After we made it to Ollantaytambo we had to take another smaller collectivo to the train tracks to start walking. According to the blog post we were following, we had to skirt along the side of the town, but alas! A train guard was waiting for us there and quickly turned us back around with a tiny army of small Peruvian men.
Instead, we found out about another route that was still cheap and allowed a hike into Aguas Calientes (the town at the base of Machu Picchu). Once we got back to Ollantaytambo we booked another collectivo to another train station about six miles outside of Aguas Calientes for $30 each.
This collectivo was a long, scary ride with single-lane dirt roads over plunging gorges for about 5 hours. Once we reached the end we had another two-hour hike to Aguas Calientes, arriving just in time for it to get dark and for us to find out hotel for the night. Strangely, the train company seemed to encourage hiking along this set of tracks.
Despite all the hassle, it was totally worth it! I only wish we had more time to spend there.
We did a quick tour through the Machu Picchu site itself on the way to and from Huayna Picchu, the famous tall mountain in the background where we hiked up and down again. After that, it was time to hike back down the mountain so we could hike back out and catch the collectivo back to Ollantaytambo.
Fun fact: If you are stopping back in Ollantaytambo after your Machu Picchu trip, make sure the driver knows. Ours wasn’t aware we were stopping there and we were nearly whisked away to the next town before threatening to open the door and jump out of the collectivo.
All total? Even though we couldn’t make it on the super-cheap route to Machu Picchu, we only ended up spending about $30 to get to there anyways—not bad!
Total Peru trip cost
I spent just over two weeks in Peru and spent a total of $653.90.
This was eye-opening to me. I always thought travel had to be outrageously expensive. I thought me and Zach would save up for one good trip to Europe in our lives, and that’d be our one grand go at travel.
Have you ever been to Peru, or would you like to go there? How much did your Peru trip cost you? Leave a comment below!