Peru Travel Guide

© April 2017 YaninaTravels

Has Peru been on your bucket list for some quite long time? I hope the quote below, which I run into while I was in Lima, will inspire you to start planning your trip TODAY.

“Begin doing what you want to do now. We are not living in an eternity. We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand and melting like a snowflake” – Marie Beyon Ray

Most people associate Peru primarily with Machu Picchu, which is the new Seven Wonder of the World, a secret ceremonial center, built by the Inca civilization and one of the most famous tourist attractions on the planet. How about deserts in Peru? Sandboarding and dune buggy? Islands and marine wildlife? Jungle adventures? There is much more to Peru than Machu Picchu. This country has a lot more to offer in terms of various terrains and activities.

I ended up exploring that part of the world for 23 days as a solo female traveler, due to my Avianca bonus miles which were about to expire, combined with an opportunity to teach a couple of classes at Bikram Yoga Peru in Lima.


Food: $230 (average of $10/day)


Flight (USA – Lima, Peru) : $20 one-way  (+ 15,000 miles with Avianca )

Flight (Lima, Peru-USA) : $126 one-way (+ 20,000 miles United Airlines)

Flight (Lima – Cusco): $90 one-way (Peruvian Airlines)

Flight (Cusco – Puerto Maldonado) : $75 one-way (Avianca)

Flight (Puerto Maldonado – Lima) : $164 one-way (Star Peru Airlines)

Bus (Lima – Ica – Paracas – Lima): $50 (Oltursa Bus Company or Cruz Del Sur)


AirBnb in Lima: $155 for 9 nights ($18/night + fees)  (San Isidro AirBnb)

AirBnb in Cusco: $80 for 4 nights ($14/night + fees) 

AirBnb in Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu’s village) : $20/night

AirBnb in Puerto Maldonado: $80 for 2 nights ($37/night + fees)  (Wasai Eco Lodge)

AirBnb in Ica: $27/night 

Hotel in Paracas: 50$/night (Hotel Residential Los Frayles)


Cusco Sacred Valley Tour: 20$ (book with the street vendors in Cusco)

Dune Buggy and Sandboarding Huacachina Tour: 20$ (book your AirBnb host)

Paracas National Reserve Tour: 20$ (book with the tour shops vendors in Paracas or Ica)

Ballestas Island Tour: 15$ (book with the vendors at the port in Paracas)

Amazon Jungle Tour: 340$ for 3 days/2 nights (Inotawa Expeditions)


Cusco – Machu Picchu, Bus & Train (Bimodal Service) : $165 round trip (Perurail

Machu Picchu 2 Entrance Tickets : $124 ($62/each, booked through Ministerio De Cultura)

Machu Picchu 2 Shuttle Bus RT Tickets : $38 ($19/each, Consettur office in Aguas Calientes, where the buses depart)

At my AirBnb place in Lima


I researched a lot about this destination and the more I was reading, the more confused I was feeling. At some point, I decided to let go and to continue my planning once I arrive in Lima.

I had only a general idea of which sites I’m interested to see. I didn’t book ahead of time any internal flights, bus tickets, accommodations or tours. The only thing I did was to buy a one-way ticket to Peru and to secure my AirBnb lodging in Lima for the first couple of days.

If you want to know how I was able to fly with a one-way ticket to Peru, then you should read Expert Vagabond’s article How to Provide Proof of Onward Travel

The most important thing to decide is which sites you want to visit in Peru and if you have enough time to include all of them in your itinerary. Rushing through multiple sites is always stressful and in a country such as Peru, it’s not even possible. Example: if you decide to rush through Cusco on your way to Machu Picchu, without spending at least 2 days there to give your body a chance to acclimate, then you might get altitude sickness and spoil your trip.

If you travel on a budget and organize everything on your own like me, then you should plan for more time in each location, compared to if you have your trip organized by travel agency.

I must acknowledge that Peru was the most challenging trip to organize and the most difficult for me destination to explore as a solo female traveler. I don’t speak Spanish at all and the language barrier added another level of challenge. Also, many times I didn’t even know where I will be sleeping on the next evening, even on the same one. At times, I felt confused and stuck in messed up plans for the upcoming days. I felt so lonely and puzzled, not having anyone else around to rely on. In those moments, my thoughts were, “That’s it. I’m done here. I’m booking my return ticket back home for the next day!”

Nope, I didn’t do any of that. The support I received from my mom and friends over the phone, was much needed and priceless in those moments – “Don’t leave. You must get to Machu Picchu and see it! Who knows if you will ever go back to Peru!?” I made it ot Machu Picchu, didn’t leave Peru and kept on exploring that part of the world for entire 23 days on my own.

In front of my AirBnb place in Cusco

Peru’s sites which I visited (see them circled on the map below too):

  • Lima (use it only as an entry point)
  • Cusco & Sacred Valley
  • Ollantaytambo & Urubamba (near Cusco)
  • Aguas Calientes & Machu Picchu
  • Puerto Maldonado & Amazon Rainforest (Jungle Tours)
  • Ica & Huacachina Sand Dunes (Sandboarding & Dune Buggy)
  • Paracas National Reserve & Ballestas Islands (Marine Wildlife)

Peru’s sites which I didn’t visit but I wish I did:

Source: Google Earth


When you are packing for Peru, you should be prepared to bring clothes and shoes for all kinds of weather. Example: I used my lightweight winter jacket, vest and winter hat in Cusco every day and I was still freezing. Two days later, I was sweating from the heat and humidity in Puerto Maldonado. On the next day, I was wearing my rain jacket during a pouring rain in the Amazon Jungle. A few days later, I was using my sunbathing suit at the pool of my accommodation in Paracas, on the south coast of Peru.

I suggest you bring 3 bags for this trip since you will need them all for various reasons. You can fly to Peru with your main wheeled bag, where you will have the majority of your items. As a carry on bag, you can carry Osprey 40L backpack. Also bring a hydration daily backpack.

Once you arrive in Cusco, you can ask your AirBnb host to leave there your wheeled bag and you can pack what you need for a 2-day trip to Machu Picchu in your Osprey bag with your CamelBak inside. Once you arrive in Machu Picchu’s city Aquas Calientes, you can leave your Osprey at your local AirBnb accommodation and explore and hike Machu Picchu with your CamelBak.

The same organization system works for the jungle tour. Once you arrive in Puerto Maldonado, leave the wheeled bag at the tour company’s office. Bring only the Osprey and the CamelBak to the jungle lodge. That’s exactly what I did.

The ideal situation would be if you can avoid bringing a wheeled bag, but fit all your stuff in the Osprey and the CamelBak and travel with 2 carry-on pieces only!

Read my other post Traveling with Less: Travel Gear Guide


The winter (May – September) is the dry season in Peru and the best time to visit the country. I visited Peru in the month of April and the weather was still wonderful. April and October are off-season and the best months for budget travelers.


My one-way ticket with Avianca Airlines from the US East Coast to Peru cost me only $20, since I used 15,ooo bonus LifeMiles. I earned them by applying for Avianca LifeMiles Credit Card. You can earn 20,000 welcome bonus LifeMiles just by applying for their credit card, making just one purchase (can be a cup of coffee) and paying the annual fee of $59. The bonus LifeMiles will be good for at least one-way ticket to South America. You have an option to earn 40,000 welcome bonus LifeMiles if you pay $149 annual fee. Both offers are great.

To learn even more about flying with bonus miles, you can read my other article How to Earn Air Miles and Points for Free Flights.

I booked a one-way ticket to Peru since I wasn’t sure how long I will stay in the country. I was thinking that I might visit Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador and/or Galapagos Islands. However, I never made it to any of those places. After spending a month in Peru as a solo female traveler, I was so exhausted and so ready to go back home. The language barrier really tired me up as well. I flew back to the US with United Airlines. My ticket cost me only $126, since I used 20,000 United bonus miles. You can apply for United Mileage Plus Explorer Credit Card and earn 40,000 bonus miles after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months.

On the plane from Lima to Cusco


During my trip in Peru I used Uber, cars, planes, trains, buses, boats, sand buggy, motorcycles and tuk tuk to get around the country. If you never used Uber before, you can accept my invite to sign up and get a free Uber ride up to $5. I used Uber to get around in Lima. In the ‘My Budget’ and ‘Itinerary’ sections in this article, you can find a detailed transportation info.

Getting on Tuk Tuk on my way to Puerto Maldonado’s airport


Throughout my entire 23-day backpacking solo trip in Peru, I stayed at 6 different AirBnb accommodations and 2 of the other nights I slept in a lodge in the Amazon jungle. I spent only the last night of my stay at a luxurious hotel in Lima. That night felt pretty good I must say!

If you’ve never used AirBnb before, you can accept my invite to join and get $40 off towards your first trip.

At my AirBnb in Puerto Maldonado


The national currency is the Peruvian Nuevo Sol (PEN). 1 US Dollar equals about 3.23 Peruvian Sol. There is no real need to bring US Dollars in cash, since you are not going to get a good exchange rate. Throughout my entire stay in Peru, I was either paying with a credit card or was withdrawing cash using my VISA debit card at Scotia Bank ATMs throughout the country. The bank exchange rate is the best one you can get. US dollars are accepted, however if you choose that payment method, you will always end up overpaying. Also, every time you pay with a credit card which has no transaction fees (all good travel cards don’t have those fees), ask the cashier to charge your card in Peruvian Sol, rather than in US Dollars. This money saving rule applies everywhere you travel abroad.


The Peruvian food tastes amazing and it’s pretty cheap. In Peru, budget travelers don’t have to worry about saving money on food and preparing their own food. Just avoid fancy places, go to any restaurant where the locals usually eat and you can still fit within a $10 daily budget for food. Make sure you eat enough ceviche and causas! Don’t forget to try my favorite Peruvian street food – Choclo Con Queso (corn on a cob with cheese) and Dulce de Leche Churros!

Traditional Peruvian Food – Ceviche De Pescado, Causa de Atun, Remos de Langostinos y Tiradero Criollo


1 night in Lima

I spent an entire week in Lima since I taught a few classes at Bikram Yoga Peru. My AirBnb was in the pretty Lima’s neighborhood San Isidro (Miraflores and Barranco are other good options).  Besides the fantastic private balcony at my AirBnb, a nice perk was to find out that the host is a Bulgarian like me!

My AirBnb in Lima

You don’t need to spend more than a day or two in Lima. You can go to Miraflores for a walk along the cliffside and enjoy a nice dinner somewhere afterwards. Keep in mind that Lima is called the gastronomy capital of South America. If you are not planning to visit Huacachina Sand Dunes and Ballestas Islands, then maybe you can fly directly to Cusco from your original destination and entirely skip Lima. You are not going to miss much by not exploring it. I’m a nature lover and not a  big fan of big cities anywhere around the world, not just in Peru.


Book your one-way ticket from Lima to Cusco with AviancaPeruvian Airlines , Star Peru Airlines , LATAM Airlines or AeroCondor PERU . Look for deals on their websites or through Google Flights . I booked my ticket with Peruvian Airlines two days before the flight. One-way ticket cost me $90 and gave me lost of flexibility. At that time I still wasn’t even sure how many days I will decide to spend in Cusco and Machu Picchu and if I will go to the Amazon Rainforest in Puerto Maldonado or fly straight back to Lima.

2 nights in Cusco
Coca leaves at the airport in Cusco

Cusco is the mystical city of the Incas, located high in the Andes Mountains of South America. You should spend at least 2 days in Cusco acclimating to this high-altitude location and allowing your body to adjust to the decreased level of oxygen. Go to Plaza De Armas and just take a slow walk and explore the area around. Stay hydrated, eat lightly, avoid alcohol, get freshly squeezed orange juice from the street vendors, chew on coca leaves, have coca tea, get Sorojchi pills from the local pharmacies and rest as much as you can. High altitude sickness is real. I went through it and it wasn’t fun with symptoms such as general feeling of weakness, shortness of breath, nausea, vertigo and dizziness.

Trying to look cheerful at Plaza De Armas in Cusco, while fighting altitude sickness 

You can use your time to purchase online your Machu Picchu entrance ticket (I got Machupicchu – Montana hike 7 am, $62) through Ministerio De Cultura and Perurail tickets to Machu Picchu through Perurail (get bimodal service – bus/train combo with a return date on the next day).  

Their websites are so difficult to operate, especially the Ministerio De Cultura one. As someone who already went through this complicated and frustrating process, I would strongly encourage you to go to their offices, which are close to each other in Cusco’s downtown. Ministerio de Cultura is located on Calle Sophia 723, and the Perurail office is on Portal de Carnes 214. Perurail have offices at Lima and Cusco airports as well. 

I visited Peru in April, when it still wasn’t high season and I was booking everything in the last moment. If you are visiting Peru during the busiest time of the year, then you might want to buy and secure your Machu Picchu entrance ticket and Perurail tickets way ahead of time!

Baby Alpaca in Cusco

Also, while you are in Cusco you should book your AirBnb accommodation for one night in Aquas Calientes (Machu Picchu’s village). You don’t want to go all the way to Machu Picchu for one day only and to be in a rush. You should spend a night or even two nights there if you want to fully enjoy your once in a lifetime Machu Picchu experience!

Ollantaytambo - 1 night in Aquas Calientes - Machu Picchu
On Perurail train to Machu Picchu with other travelers

Get on the bus to Ollantaytambo with your already purchased Perurail tickets. At Ollantaytambo’s train station,  you will transfer to get on the train to Aguas Calientes. In Aguas Calientes get to the Consettur office (where the buses to Machu Picchu depart) and purchase bus tickets ($19 round trip) for the shuttle bus to Machu Picchu. The Consettur office is open from 5 am to 9 pm. You can hike up the road instead but it will take you at least an hour and a half to get to Machu Picchu’s entrance.

Buses to Machu Picchu in Aguas Calientes

When I arrived in Aguas Calientes, it was around 2pm and it was a sunny and beautiful day. I already purchased my Machu Picchu entrance ticket for the next day and I was planning to just chill for the rest of the day. I met a couple in front of my AirBnb and they advised me to go to Machu Picchu right away and not to miss today’s great weather. I run to the Ministerio de Cultura in Aguas Caliente’s downtown (next to the main square) and I bought another entrance ticket to Machu Picchu for the same day. Then I got on the shuttle bus, arrived in Machu Picchu and enjoyed so much my time there!

Made it to Machu Picchu as a solo traveler

On the next morning I woke up early to go again and to use my original entrance ticket. When I walked out, it was a pouring rain and such a miserable weather. I felt so glad I listened to the couple’s advice on the day before. I still did the Montana hike, however Machu Picchu was covered all in clouds and fog. It was still beautiful but different than the previous day.

Montana Machu Picchu trail is not for people with a fear of heights

Afterwards, going to Machu Picchu twice was a blessing and I would recommend it to anyone. On my first visit, I had an opportunity to enjoy the short hike to the Sun Gate and on my second visit I hiked all the way to the top of Montana Machu Picchu (4 hours hike on challenging trek).

Made it to the top of Montana Machu Picchu
2 nights in Cusco - Sacred Valley Tour

When you go back to Cusco from Machu Picchu, use the time to rest on your first day back and to book your flight to Puerto Maldonado, 3 days/2 nights Amazon Jungle Tour and Wasai Puerto Maldonado Eco Lodge accommodation for one night stay after your jungle tour.

Book your one-way ticket from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado with AviancaPeruvian Airlines , Star Peru Airlines , LATAM Airlines or AeroCondor PERU . Look for deals on their websites or through Google Flights . I booked my ticket with Avianca two days before the flight. One-way ticket cost me $75 and gave me again lost of flexibility. At that time I still wasn’t sure how many days I will decide to spend in Puerto Maldonado’s area and what day exactly I’ll be ready to fly back to Lima.

As a solo traveler I needed some company on the road

The Sacred Valley is the place of birth of the Inca civilizaton. On the next day, you should get on a Sacred Valley full-day tour and explore that amazing site. You can book this tour with any of the street vendors in Cusco’s downtown or ask your AirBnb host for recommendations.

The Sacred Valley

You might consider spending a few more days in Cusco, if you want to visit any of the following sites, which I wasn’t able to see during my trip but I wish I did:

2 nights Amazon Jungle Tour

Once you arrive at Puerto Maldonado’s airport, you’ll be met by Inotawa Expeditions staff member and transferred to their office for your jungle adventure. From their office, you will get on another car which will drive you to the boat. The boat will bring you to the their lodge in the jungle, where your adventure will begin.

Getting on the Inotawa Expeditions boat to begin my jungle adventure

Tambopata National Reserve is one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world. Inotawa Expeditions will bring you on various trips during your stay. You will have a chance to see wide variety of animals – capybara, black cayman, red-bellied piranha, blue and gold macaw, three-toed sloth and squirrel monkeys.

Posing with a live piranha
Sunset at Cocha Tres Chimbadas
1 night in Puerto Maldonado

Get settled at Wasai Puerto Maldonado Eco Lodge accommodation. I spent 3 nights there since I really enjoyed the area and just wanted to chill. You can spend just a night if you are limited on time. Keep in mind that the Wasai Lodge has a hotel and hostel parts. I stayed in the hostel part of the property, which is the budget friendly one.

Wasai Eco Lodge in Puerto Maldonado

Their ‘hostel part’ rooms were outdated but clean and I still loved that place due to its central location, pool, close proximity to markets and restaurants, beautiful river view, stunning sunrises and sunsets! Request room 101 for amazing river view! That’s where I stayed on my first night, when I booked it with AirBnb. If you want to extend your stay with Wasai Lodge, you might want to talk to the front desk and they will give you a better rate for the rest of your nights.

Sunset as seen from Wasai Eco Lodge in Puerto Maldonado

If you decide to extend your stay in Puerto Maldonado, you might try to visit the Amazon Shelter (contact the owner – Magali) for a small donation or to volunteer for a day or longer. The shelter is an animal rescue center, home to abused and trafficked wild animals. It’s located about 45 min away from Puerto Maldonado in the jungle of Madre de Dios ‘Mother of God’ region of Peru. This region borders both Brazil and Bolivia and it’s one of the most biodiverse places on the planet.

On the way to the Amazon Shelter

The Amazon Shelter is a fascinating place to visit, where you get a chance to learn how to prepare food for the parrots, monkeys and other wild animals. You can feed them and have a close interaction with them. Too bad that the only day I was able to visit the shelter, ended up with a bad weather – non stop pouring cold rain. I was still fascinated by the place and can only imagine what a joy would be to visit it on a sunny day!

On a rainy day at the Amazon Shelter nearby Puerto Maldonado

Book an AirBnb accommodation for a night in Lima. Book your one-way ticket from Puerto Maldonado to Lima with AviancaPeruvian Airlines , Star Peru Airlines , LATAM Airlines or AeroCondor PERU . Look for deals on their websites or through Google Flights . I booked my ticket with Star Peru Airlines a day before the flight. One-way ticket cost me $164 to fly back to Lima. You can find the same ticket for as low as $44 flying with LATAM Airlines, if you look a few days in advance.

1 night in Lima

Book an early morning bus ticket for the next day with Oltursa Bus Company or Cruz Del Sur to Ica. Book an AirBnb accommodation for a night in Ica. Ask your Airbnb host if he can help you to reserve a dune buggy and sandboarding tour for the next day. He should book you for the last tour of the day, which is usually at 4pm, when the sun is not as harsh as earlier in the day.

1 night in Ica - Huacachina Sand Dunes Tour

Arrive in Ica,  leave your luggage at your AirBnb place, have a nice lunch somewhere around and then start heading to Huacachina for your desert tour!

Dune Buggy and Sandboarding in Huacachina

Huacachina Oasis is nestled in the foothills of the South America nation’s Ica Desert.

Huacachina Oasis 

Ask your AirBnb host in Ica to help you book ‘Paracas National Reserve & Ballestas Islands Tour’ for the the next day. The local prices for those tours are much lower, than the tours offered online.

1 night in Paracas - Paracas National Reserve & Ballestas Islands Tour

Near Ica is the Paracas National Reserve, representing Peru’s coastal marine ecosystems, a large part of the Paracas desert, islands and the sea.

Paracas National Reserve

There is a symbol called ‘The Candelabra’, engraved in the cliff on the way to Ballestas Islands and it’s similar to the Nazca Lines. There are many beliefs and debates about it. According to one of the beliefs, the symbol was created by the Paracas tribe, living on the coast at that time.

This symbol called ‘The Candelabra’ is similar to the Nazca Lines

Offshore from Paracas are the Ballestas Islands, also called the Poor Man’s Galapagos. They are a perfect site to observe marine and bird life.

Colonies of sea lions and marine birds at Ballestas Islands

Spend the night at Hotel Residential Los Frayles. Book a bus ticket for the next day with Oltursa Bus Company or Cruz Del Sur to Lima. Book an AirBnb accommodation for your last night in Lima, Peru.

Last night in Lima - Flying Back Home

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