If Peru is expensive or a travel bargain, actually depends on you and when, where to and how you travel. Hiking the Inka Trail, getting up to Machu Picchu or doing a jungle tour are things that will definitely strain your budget, no way around it; but there are many other ways to save costs when travelling through Peru.
When travelling on a budget the advice you always get is don't visit during high season. Of course, perfectly clear! As Peru is a country with very diverse (weather) conditions high season in Cuzco for example can mean low season in Lima.
Anyway very generally speaking, if you want to keep the costs down, stay away from Peru between June and September when conditions at most tourist destinations are just perfect. Additionally in June Inti Raymi, a religious ceremony of the Inca Empire, is celebrated in Cuzco and the town is packed making a visit even more expensive than usual. In July winter vacation start and Peru celebrates its national holiday. At this time the whole country is on the move visiting family or going on vacation. Prices for transportation and accommodation skyrocket.
Budget travelers should also avoid the time from mid-December to the end of January with summer vacation starting in the country and family happenings for Christmas and New Year's as well as the Easter week.
So from a budget traveler's point of view the best time to visit Peru is from the end of April to mid of May or from October to November, just before or at the end of high season. At these times you often find discounts as hotels / hostels are half-empty and busses or planes aren't booked out.
Unfortunately Peru hasn't got a railroad network like many other countries. So the only options to getting around the country are by plane or by overland bus.
In a country where distances between sights are far flying is an easy, quick and safe option, but the expenses for tickets can add up straining your budget.
So if you need or want to watch your spending travel as the locals do and use long distance buses. But be aware that the journey on a bus in Peru can be long and tiring. Best only use the top-range companies which you can easily afford despite being on a budget. You might even consider overnight travel which saves you accommodation expenses and otherwise wasted daylight hours. The buses on the top-end are technically safe, the drivers are more likely to behave responsible and the seats are comfortable enough to get a few hours' sleep.
While overnight trips save you money, safety can be an issue. It's unfortunately not uncommon in Peru that on certain routes overnight buses, as well or especially the "better" ones, are held up and robbed. So sometimes travelling by day might be the wiser decision.
To go easy on your budget plan your trip and tours on your own. In most cases there is no need for expensive tour companies or tour operator. A lot of historic sites and natural attractions in Peru can easily be visited without them. If you use local, cheap minibuses that connect even the smallest village with another and hire a guide on the spot, you can save quite a bit of money and as an extra bonus really get to know Peru and its lovely people.
Peru Hop is the first hop on hop off bus transport system in Peru and is designed to allow tourists discover the hidden gems of Peru in a safe yet fun way. Operating from Lima to Cusco and Cusco to Lima, Peru Hop brings you to all the major destinations between these 2 cities as well as the smaller places that only Peruvians know about. With 1 ticket you can hop off anywhere you like to stay longer, and simply hop back on the next bus. A bus journey with Peru Hop is more fun, more culture and more...
While taxis in the bigger cities are really cheap and affordable for budget travelers as well, prices for rides add up. So penny wise travelers should get around town in so called micros or combis as the locals do. And when in Lima use the Metropolitano bus or the Tren Electrico, Lima's Metro that is available on certain routes, but much more organized and efficient than the normal public transportation.
Peru doesn't have a camping culture or infrastructure as you might be used to in other countries. There is no network of campgrounds around the country. Out of necessity you find a few camping sites along mountain trails like the Inka trail or Santa Cruz trail. Apart from that you only have here and there a hostel or hotel offering camping as an option with or without the amenities you expect from a camp site. At Peru's beaches or in rural areas you surely find lovely spots perfect for camping, but safety can be an issue. Don't put yourself in danger and make an easy target for thieves.
On the other hand hostels and budget hotels are plenty in Peru. Be aware that hostels mainly cater for international backpackers and therefore might not always be the cheapest option. Especially when traveling with a partner or friends, a double, triple or quadruple room in one of the numerous affordable hotels or guesthouses incl. more or less nice amenities and sometimes breakfast might work out the same as 2, 3 or 4 beds in a dorm. And when showing up without a reservation at a hotel or hostel don't be shy to asking for a discounted price for the night (after you had a look at the room and decided it's acceptable for you).
Another way of keeping your accommodation costs down is using one of the few recommended hospitality exchange networks that nowadays have also found their way to Peru.
And one last tip: once in a while you can find very attractive hotel offers with enormous discounts on the Peruvian Groupon website.
When traveling on a budget food and drinks are often quite matters of expense. In Peru you can dine nicely and pay prices like in the US or Europe. Or you can deliciously eat where and when the locals do and surely don't go hungry for just a few Dollars. So best stay away from fancy, touristy restaurants. If breakfast is included in the accommodation price, get out of bed in time and have it. Otherwise the next bakery or shop selling inexpensive buns or other breakfast goodies isn't far away.
At lunchtime small sit down restaurants, but also food stalls at the local markets offer inexpensive great and generous menus which often include an appetizer, a main course, a drink and sometimes even dessert. If you are unsure which one to pick, watch where the locals sit down and enjoy their meal. If you just need a snack, check out the local street vendors or the next sangucheria (sandwich shop).
And by the way the best and cheapest option to buy fresh fruits and veggies, but also meat and groceries isn't the supermarket, but often the local market. For the ones that can't live without sweets, don't buy the expensive imported ones you get at home as well. Go for the local varieties.
A night out in Peru can as well blow your budget. Not only are alcoholic beverages quite expensive, but it's not uncommon that your new local friends or your latest pick-up "invite" you to a bar just to expect that you as the rich foreigner pay the bill at the end of the evening.
- Know the Peruvian money. To avoid being cheated when exchanging cash or receiving change, you should check the banknotes and coins for counterfeit money. Already one fake banknote can set you back when travelling on a budget.
- Check fees for withdrawing money at an ATM abroad with your local bank. Otherwise you might have a rude awakening when receiving your next bank or credit card statement.
- Keep your valuables safe. Getting robbed is surely something you want to avoid.
- Before accepting any service (incl. taxi rides), agree on a price.
- Peru hasn't got a tipping culture. Most Peruvians hardly tip. While in high-end establishments a tip is standard like in many countries worldwide, in local often family run restaurants serving lunchtime menus or budget accommodations a tip isn't expected, but surely highly appreciated. Taxi drivers aren't tipped.
- On the other hand haggling is very common in Peru. So if you take a taxi, shop for souvenirs, book a hotel in the last minute, don't accept the first price somebody is asking. Ask for discounts, special offers or just give your best and haggle.
And one last tip making your budget travel a lot easier and less expensive: Learn Spanish!