Backpacking Peru: A True South American Experience

A land of ancient civilisation, vibrant colour, immersive culture and stunning landscapes, Peru is one of the world’s finest adventure travel destinations. Trekking the renowned Inca Trail to the heights of Machu Picchu should be on any explorers’ bucket list, but Peru is also home to a further 11 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and 12 National Parks, providing ample opportunity for adventure and unmissable travel highlights.

What to do in Peru

Much like its Asian counterpart Nepal, Peru is renowned the world over for its inspiring trekking routes and stunning mountain scenery. Being home to the Andes, the second highest mountain range in the world, it is not surprising that people migrate from across the world to gain some height and take in the view. Of course, the most famous trek of them all is that of the Inca Trail, leading slowly but steadily up to the majestic ruin of Machu Picchu, 2,430m above sea level.

Trekking

The 4-day Inca Trail begins in dense cloud forest, giving you the chance to enjoy the variety of jungle flora and fauna, before climbing higher and emerging on windswept, panoramic mountain passes. The anticipation on the final day, knowing that Machu Picchu is only one and a half hours away, twinned with the stunning scenery high in the clouds, make for an unforgettable experience. Any trip to Peru is incomplete without a visit to Machu Picchu.

One thing to note, the Inca Trail can at times be quite steep. If this doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, but you still want to make the trek to Machu Picchu, the Salkantay Trek might be better for you. The multi-day route, roughly 37 miles, is less steep than its famous bigger brother and even provides you with the option of staying in luxury lodges rather than camping! Stroll through undulating banana and avocado plantations before making the final push up to Machu Picchu.

Cuzco

The ancient capital of the Incas and a UNESCO world heritage site, Cuzco is a high-altitude city full of history, conquistador-era architecture, museums, cafes, eateries and cobbled streets home to markets and shops. One can spend many hours ambling the Plaza de Armas, an airy open square where the markets and stalls sell everything from alpaca knitwear to high-quality silverware. Cuzco is a brilliant place to base yourself when arriving in Peru, giving you the chance to acclimatise to both the altitude and the laid-back South American lifestyle!

Rain-forest

Delving into the dense Amazon rainforest and experiencing the sights and sounds of the jungle is a must when visiting Peru. The Amazon, being the largest sub-tropical rainforest in the world, ranges over nine countries in South America. The Peruvian Amazon covers no less than 60% of the countries land mass and is one of the most bio-diverse locations in the world. As a country, Peru has the largest number of bird species in the world and the third largest number of mammals. In fact, the Peruvian Amazon is home to 63% of global mammal species and 44% of global bird species. On any given day you might spot sloths, snakes, monkeys, tapirs and countless insects and butterflies. There are few places on Earth like it!

The Galapagos Islands

Although not in Peru, it would seem a shame to travel to the western seaboard of South America and not visit one of the most historically and biologically important locations on Planet Earth. A remote and sparsely populated archipelago of unparalleled marine and land biodiversity, the Galapagos Islands were made famous by Charles Darwin’s ground-breaking scientific research that laid the framework for his Theory of Evolution by means of Natural Selection. Explore the islands and snorkel the coasts as you encounter turtles, sea lions, dolphins, sharks, albatross and marine iguana to name just a few! If you have the chance, getting to the islands from Peru only takes a flight or two, you really must go, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site for a reason!

When is the best time to go to Peru?

By anyone’s judgement Peru is a big country and therefore experiences a wide range of weather and the climate can change remarkably from location to location. When deciding when the best time to visit, you must ask yourself a simple question: what do I want to see and experience? For example, the best time to trek the Inca Trail is in the winter as the days are cooler and the weather dry. However, like in most popular destinations, the ‘best’ time to travel is also the busiest, so expect higher prices and bigger crowds. The dry season, between May and October, is a perfect example of this. You can look forward to enjoying blue skies, dry days and cool nights, but, being the Peak season, expect to share those views and weather with other travellers. Early booking and good pre-planning are essential to make the most of your adventure during this period. If, however, you are willing to embrace a little rain, travelling to Peru between November and March affords you smaller crowds, cheaper accommodation and greener landscapes. Just remember to pack a lightweight waterproof jacket! Travelling in the off-season also means you can enjoy several notable festivals and cultural events. The Feast of the Three Kings is celebrated across Latin America every year on the 6th January, with most towns being overtaken with music, dance and processions. The scene looks no less festive than one of those concerts at Bridgestone Arena. It is truly an amazing spectacle to witness and an experience you will never forget.

Is Peru safe for Backpackers?

Peru is by all accounts a safe country to travel to, the vast majority of backpackers return home without incident and most wish to go back as soon as they land! As with most safe but popular travel destinations, the thing to be most aware of is opportunistic thief’s and scammers.

When in public and busy places, make sure to not leave any valuables like phones or laptops unattended as there is a good chance they will go ‘missing’ very quickly. Try to keep all your valuables safe and on your person whenever possible to avoid any travel nightmares. Losing your phone or passport can sometimes ruin your entire adventure. Lastly, although the majority of Peruvians are lovey, hospitable people, be wary of trusting strangers straight away, they may be scam artists trying to get your money. Try to move around with somebody else if possible and be sure to maintain an awareness of your surroundings.

Trekking to Machu Picchu on a gap year

South American Explorer

If you are thinking of travelling to Peru, or South America in general, then look no further than Gapforce’s very own South America Explorer trip. We love South America, that’s why we’ve created a four- or seven-week trip taking in the beauty and culture of both Peru and Ecuador, with a trip to the Galapagos Islands to look forward to at the end! The itinerary is planned, the accommodation is booked, and the mountains, beaches and cities are waiting to be explored… all you have to do is book a place and we’ll take care of the rest.

If you’d like to learn more about this exciting program then check out the program page linked above or email the team on operations@gapforce.org.

About the Author

Gapforce