Traveling in Peru on a budget requires some discipline and smart money management, especially for longer stays. The following tips will help you stretch your Peru budget as far as possible, giving you extra cash for occasional splurges and expensive tours.
1. Eat for Cheap in Peru
Touristy restaurants, especially in hotspots such as Lima, Cusco and Arequipa, are vastly more expensive than the typical restaurants frequented by regular Peruvians. Eat where the locals go and you’ll be surprised at how well you can eat in Peru on a budget (for price ranges, see How Much Does it Cost to Eat Out in Peru?). Shoestring travelers should make the most of lunch in Peru, when big meals are available at incredibly low prices.
If you don’t know how much the Peruvian Nuevo Sol is worth, you’ll have a tough time knowing how much cash you’re actually spending. Get to know the local currency and, just as importantly, stop comparing Peruvian prices with prices back home. There are certainly bargains to be had in Peru, but avoid excessive spending sprees based on a “that’s so cheap” mentality. It all adds up.
Scams and trickery are the scourge of a traveler's budget. Whenever money is involved, be wary. Being shortchanged by a wily shopkeeper is annoying, but being conned out of two perfectly good 50 sol notes in exchange for a fake 100 is sure to ruin your day. It’s a good idea to learn about the types of scams in Peru and how to avoid them.
4. Set Prices in Advance
Whenever possible, agree on a price before accepting a service. If you don’t, you might be presented with an unexpectedly large bill. Peruvian taxis are a prime example. With no meters, it’s up to you to negotiate a price before each cab ride. If you think the fare is too high, find another taxi -- much easier than arguing over an inflated price at the end of your trip.
5. Cook Your Own Food
As a budget traveler, you’ll probably stay in a few hostels. If the idea of cooking your own food doesn’t send shivers down your spine, try to find hostels with communal kitchens. Buy some basic supplies in the local market or supermarket and cook up a feast in the comfort of your own hostel. If you split the cost with other travelers and cook together, you’ll save a significant amount on your daily eating expenses.
Peru isn’t a big tipping nation, so don’t go blowing your daily budget on unnecessary tips. There are a few occasions when a tip is expected, such as in midrange to upscale restaurants, but don’t feel the need to hand over your loose change to taxi drivers. Peruvian taxi drivers don't expect tips, and they are probably overcharging you anyway.
7. Keep Alcohol to a Minimum
Don’t spend all your nights in bars and discos. Alcohol is a financial black hole for budget travelers, and you might have a worryingly light wallet after a night on the town. When you do go out drinking (you’re on holiday, after all), avoid tourist traps, super-trendy hotspots and expensive shots. Beer is generally the cheapest option in Peru.
Don’t be afraid to haggle over prices, especially in traditional markets. Prices generally start high, so it’s your job to settle on a price acceptable to both parties. Also, try negotiating prices for hotel and hostel rooms. You’ll often receive a straightforward no, but there’s no harm in trying. It’s easier to get a discount for stays of at least four to five days.
9. Eat Your Free Breakfast
If your hotel or hostel has a free breakfast, drag your bones out of bed and make the most of it before it’s gone. Breakfasts normally start at about 7 a.m. and finish at 9 or 10 a.m., but the later you are, the slimmer the pickings become.
10. Try CouchSurfing in Peru
Free accommodation is nothing to be sniffed at, and that’s exactly what the CouchSurfing organization provides. With more than 4,000 CouchSurfing members in Peru, your chances of finding free accommodation are good. Many of the members are located in Lima, but you’ll also find them in places such as Ica, Trujillo and Huaraz.