Want to travel on the cheap? Love to explore cool places, but on a beer budget? Learn how to travel like a local & save a bunch. Here’s how…
For the average person in Peru, expensive flights are just not an option. Here are the tricks that we’ve learned to keep your travel budget low enough to travel as much as you want & still not break the bank.
1) Buses – There are many bus companies in Peru and they run the gamut from low cost, no frills to luxury coaches. What you choose will be a factor of budget of course, but there are other considerations. The lower cost companies will usually stop frequently, so if you’re in a hurry, it may be better to seek out the “direct” routes with less stops.
Security is an issue as well. Many bus lines will video their passengers, and keep a tight rein on who can get on and off. During the day, there are fewer problems, but at night (when occasional robberies more often occur,) security is extra important.
Using bus service can save lots of money as an 8-10 hour trip might only be around $10 for typical service, $20-35 for luxury “first class.”
Pros: Affordable, fairly comfortable, usually available to most cities of any size
Cons: Security issues, Schedule may not be convenient (many at night,) Slower
2) Colectivos – Also referred to as “autos,” or “carros.” These are regular cars that take passengers between cities. These are great if you’re in a hurry, and they often run 24/7. Typically, the colectivo will have one passenger in the front & three in the back. (We have seen them jam 3 in the front, and four in the back with one or two more in the back (station wagon type.) The joke is that there is room for three more on top of the car(!)
Always make sure how many will be in the vehicle before agreeing to go. We find that checking out the vehicle is important too. There is nothing worse than a long ride in an uncomfortable car.
The drivers earn their fee based on the number of trips, so they are motivated to get you there in a hurry. That’s great if you don’t have a crazy driver, but scary when you’re passing a semi on a curvy mountain road. We like to talk to the driver first, and won’t hesitate to complain if we are alarmed by the driving.
One disadvantage to the colectivo is that they don’t leave until they are full. If you’re in a hurry (or just want more space,) you can agree to pay for the third spot in the back seat, and sometimes that will fill the car & away you go.
Cost is usually a bit more than the buses, but much quicker. While a bus ride between Lima & La Merced might be around $11-30, the same trip in colectivos might run between $30-60. Still, not terrible & I have never been able to figure how these guys can make enough for it to be worth their while…
Pros: Quick, Available at all hours, More flexibility
Cons: More expensive, “Crazy” drivers
3) Hotels/Hostels – In most of the cities outside of Lima, you aren’t going to find Super 8 or Econolodge, rarely any chains at all. (Who would want to anyway?) What you will find are a variety of Mom & Pop type hotels & hostels. Some can be as inexpensive as S./10 ($3.50) per night. Generally, we prefer to look for those that offer a little more, have internet etc, and can often find places for as little as S./50-85 ($18-28) night (includes taxes) that are comfortable.
One thing to note in Peru is that hot water is not always available. Check the room & check the water. While showering in the hot rain forest at room temperature may be refreshing, if you prefer hot showers (I do) then always test first before committing to the room.
Many places offer a shower with an electric point of use water heater on the shower head. By lowering the pressure, you can “raise” the temperature of the shower.
Most lodgings offer a small breakfast, some at an additional charge, some included. Generally, you pay more for that breakfast, so it’s more economical to seek out a restaurant nearby & have your morning meal there. If the room has a refrigerator (many do to try and sell drinks, liquor etc) then you can save some food there to help keep costs low.
4) Eat “Menus” – the big meal of the day is the “almuerzo” which can start as early as noon, but generally is between 1:00-2:30.
The Menu will usually consist of an “entrada” which could be Papa Huancaina (a delicious potato dish,) plus soup and/or a salad. “El segundo” or main dish could be a variety of things such as fried fish, oven baked chicken, or even noodle dishes. Most will include rice, with potatoes or yuca as well. The Menu will include the drink.
If you have your own containers (often there is a charge for carry-out containers,) a really budget way is to take it to go, and share a Menu back at your room or a park if there is one nearby. This only works if you’re not a huge eater – bigger appetites will want a full menu. We’ve seen the range of prices from a low of S./3.50 ($1.23 at this writing) to S./10-15 ($3.50-5.10)
There are usually enough little restaurants that you can fit your budget nicely. Find the markets, buy your fresh fruit and veggies for later (great value.) “Panaderias” (bakeries) will have bread or cakes. Add some water and juice & you’re living for next to nothing.
At night (6:00ish,) the “pollos a la brasa” (grilled chicken places) will open. We often get a half chicken dinner for S./20-22 ($7.50-8.20) which is a big meal of the chicken, fries & drinks. We usually have enough for sandwiches the following day.
5) Make your own hot water – We always travel with a small “hot pot” that can boil water. We bring our own coffee and a French Press for making great coffee, but aside from the coffee aspect, a way to boil water & a couple of large cups can make that lukewarm shower at your budget hostel a lot more enjoyable.
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