1. It's Safe And Easy To Travel Through
Peru is one of the most visited countries in South America, especially by backpackers. And over the years, a well-established gringo trail has popped up with towns and cities becoming much more welcoming and accessible to travellers. This means it’s the perfect country to start with if its your first time backpacking in South America.
The country is full of amazing backpacker hostels and you have several hostel chains to choose from such as Wild Rover, Kokopelli, Selina and Loki.
The travel route from Lima down south to Arequipa is well established and you will meet loads of backpackers along the way at towns like Paracas and Huacachina; and Cusco is one of the most backpacker friendly cities in the world and it feels like the place is designed for travellers. There are hostels everywhere, lots of cheap restaurants with deals for backpackers and the centre is a safe and comfortable place to stay.
2. It's A Hikers Paradise
Peru is the ultimate trekking playground. In Paracas you’ll be trekking across the desert and then before you know it you’ll be in Arequipa, hiking deep down into Colca Canyon – the second deepest canyon in the world.
Peru is also home to two trekking hotspots that attract hikers from around the world – Huaraz and Cusco.
Framed by a dramatic skyline of glaciers, the city of Huaraz is known as the hiking capital of Peru. The Cordillera Blanca, or “White Range,” is part of the Andes Mountain Range and is home to 722 glaciers and the tallest mountain in Peru.
Then once you get to Cusco you are also spoilt for choice. There are several single day treks such as the famous Rainbow Mountain or Laguna Humantay. Or you have a number of multi-day treks to choose from including Salkantay, Inca Trail or simply the journey to Machu Picchu.
One of the best treks in the country though is the Salkantay Trek which is deserving of its own separate point on this list so keep reading!
3. Hike One Of The World's '25 Best Treks' - The Salkantay Trek
The Salkantay Trek is 5-day guided hike through the Andes mountains that eventually leads you to Machu Picchu on its final day.
National Geographic lists it as one of the “25 World’s Best Treks”. With a route that takes you past glaciers, snow-capped mountains, and serene high-altitude lakes – it’s one of the most scenic ways to reach the ancient Incan city.
It also has a reputation for being one of the toughest treks in Peru covering 75km and climbing to 4,630m in altitude during the Salkantay Pass. But the challenge made it an even more memorable experience in our opinion!
4. Climb To 5000m On Rainbow Mountain
Rainbow Mountain is the second most famous and visited mountain after Machu Picchu in Peru.
The panoramic views and the unique colours of the mountain have put it on every backpacker’s bucket list over the last few years.
The trek starts at around 5000m and is relatively flat until a short, steep climb to reach the peak. From here you will get uninterrupted views of the snow-covered valleys and the intense coloured strips running across the face of the mountain. If you can get there on an early enough tour, you may also get to see half of it covered in snow.
Reaching 5,200m at the peak is also an impressive achievement. To put that into perspective, Everest is 8,900m!
5. Stay At One Of The Wildest Party Hostels In South America
The Wild Rover hostel chain is renowned across South America. The Irish themed hostels can be found throughout the country in Lima, Arequipa and Huacachina; but the Cusco one is the best!
The hostel chain has a reputation for throwing the best backpacker parties.
Most of their hostels come with a huge bar attached and they often have DJs, games and party events going on most nights of the week – this is one of the best places to party in Cusco so make sure you stay here if that’s what you’re looking for!
Everything you need to know about booking and staying at Wild Rover in Cusco can be found here:
6. Go Exploring In The Unique Desert Landscape Of Paracas
The striking coastal desert of Peru should be on every adventure seekers bucket list. The protected area, spanning over 3,350 km², consists of rolling desert, jagged ocean cliffs and rocky islands populated with a diversity of wildlife.
One of the best activities is a sunset trek across the coastal cliffs and watching the sunset over the ocean – it’s one of our favourite memories from our time in Peru.
7. Climb Sand Dunes The Size Of Mountains At Huacachina Oasis
In Huacachina, mountainous sand dunes surround a tiny town, all built around a calm desert oasis.
Nothing about Huacachina is calm though. It’s a place where you’ll find incredible sunsets, ride dune buggies across the desert, and hear the screams of backpacker’s sandboarding down the tallest dunes.
To top it all off, Huacachina is known for its nightlife and backpackers flock here to enjoy some of the wildest nights out in Peru.
One of the best activities in Huacachina is sandboarding. Most hostels run their own tour service and you and the rest of your hostel will jump in one of the buggies to ride out into the desert. You’ll catch some serious air, and your heart will be in your mouth as you fly over the massive sand dunes. Then you’ll stop at the top of the tallest dune and sandboard back down.
8. Try A Pisco Sour and Eat Ceviche In Lima
Trying a pisco sour in Peru is a must. Peru’s national cocktail uses Peruvian pisco as the base liquor and adds freshly squeezed lime juice, syrup, ice, egg white, and bitters for a sweet and fresh taste.
You will be able to order one from any bar in Peru but if you are in Lima, why not head to the hip neighbourhood of Barranco. The bars in Barranco are all set within the old colonial-era mansions found in the district and they are some of the best bars in the country. Here you can find expert mixologist to make a pisco sour for you.
Try Ayahuasca first – they are well known for their drink making skills and it is arguably one of Lima’s best cocktail bars.
Another thing to try is ceviche. It’s Peru’s national dish, and you can find the best versions of this marinated fish dish in Lima. Being right next to the ocean, any ceviche you have in Lima will be fresh out of the ocean.
Our full Lima backpacker guide has everything you need to know:
9. Trek Into The Second Deepest Canyon In The World - Colca Canyon
Trekking down into the second deepest canyon in the world is an experience like no other. You’ll spend most of your time picking your jaw up off the floor as you walk around in awe of its vastness.
You can spend anywhere from 2 to 3 days hiking in Colca Canyon, exploring the its beautiful green slopes dotted with remote traditional villages and terraced farms, and meeting the locals who have made them their home.
When you reach the bottom of the canyon, you will find a different oasis to the one at Huacachina, but beautiful, nonetheless. The oasis is covered in lush greenery and there are a handful of hostels where you stay the night. One has a swimming pool and it’s a welcome relief after all that trekking.
Then in the evening, you can lay down on the canyon floor and enjoy the best view of the night sky you’ll likely ever get. The depth of the canyon and lack of light pollution out in the countryside gives you a perfectly clear view of the stars and the Milky Way in all its glory.
10. The Backpacker Capital Of South America - Cusco
Cusco was once the ancient capital of the Inca Empire. It is now known for a wealth of archaeological remains, beautiful Spanish colonial-era architecture and as basecamp before starting journeys to Machu Picchu.
But over the years it has also become one of the most popular backpacker hubs in all South America.
The town centre is a peaceful place surrounded with artisan shops, cafes and diners all catering towards backpackers. And with multiple backpacker hostel chains, bars and clubs – you will never struggle to meet other travellers or find a good party.
Cusco is also the perfect base for backpackers looking to explore and prepare for adventures in the Andes a few hours away. From here, you can plan trips to Rainbow Mountain, Humantay Lake, Salkantay Pass and Machu Picchu.
11. Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu is the ultimate highlight of many people’s trips to South America.
Visiting the marvellous citadel of the Incas, hidden amongst misty valleys, and set high above the clouds, feels like you have stepped back in time.
Getting there is just as memorable as visiting the ruins. Firstly, you have to travel from Cusco to the town of Aguas Calientes which sits just below the mountain. You can do this in several ways but two of the best include taking the train or trekking.
The train will take you through the beautiful Sacred Valley and treks like Salkantay or the Inca Trail take you across mountain trails. The treks are often the best way to reach Machu Picchu as they often get you there for the early morning where you get to see the sunrise and miss all the crowds!
12. The Surfer And Party Paradise - Mancora
This beach town is filled with locals, backpackers and other tourists wanting to do two simple things: surf and party.
The best places to let loose are the Loki and Wild Rover hostels, but every backpacker hostel in town doubles up as a bar and club so you are spoilt for choice.
And once a wild night of partying on the beach is over, it’s time to jump in the ocean and get rid of that hangover. Mancora is a great place for beginner surfers who have never been on a board before. The continual waves, calm water and warm weather crate the perfect conditions for surfing.
Is Peru Worth Visiting?
Yes, Peru is well worth visiting as a backpacker for so many reasons. Here are our four top reasons why you should visit Peru:
- It’s cheap and your money goes a long way. In comparison to travelling somewhere like Europe or countries like Brazil and Chile, Peru is much cheaper.
- The hiking opportunities are endless and most treks are easily accessible to beginners
- It’s super easy to travel through as you just go in a straight line from Lima down to Arequipa, then you loop round to Cusco. Bus companies are cheap and well established but internal flights are also cheap.
- It’s one of the more popular countries to travel in South America so you get a good number of backpackers which makes your trip more exciting. You will never feel isolated and there are lots of hostels, restaurants and tour companies that cater specifically to backpackers.
For more articles like this on other great countries in South America and why you should visit them, head to the posts below:
Travelling other countries in South America apart from Peru? See how you can cross the border into Bolivia from Cusco to turn your journey into an extended multi-country South America backpacking trip: