Peru is a travel bargain. Or Peru is very expensive. It all depends on how you travel.
I inhabit the strange world of travel writing where for my job I go back and forth from cheap hotels to plush palaces, from crowded buses to executive taxis depending on the assignment. That shows me over and over again that how cheap a destination is perceived to be depends greatly on who you ask.
Which brings us to Peru. Exhibit A is two photos from Lima, where I am right now. If you eat where locals of average means eat and make a call or use the internet cafe where they go, your money goes a long way here, even in the capital city. It’s currently 2.75 soles to the dollar. You can get almost anywhere in a taxi for a few bucks, the buses are almost free if you can figure them out, and you can go on HostelBookers.com and find a place to sleep for under $10. Below is what I paid through them for a nice hotel in a good neighborhood of Miraflores: $29 a night with a big private room, steaming hot shower with towels, satellite TV, breakfast, and free internet. Not bad.
If you’re staying at one of the top hotels in town, however, your experience will be quite different. Exhibit B is a photo taken at a place I stayed later in the week while on assignment. Funny enough, that collection of a little bottle of Argentine wine, Ritz crackers, processed cheese, and fancy Slim Jims at the swanky hotel is more than my previous hotel room was! At a JW Marriott I was in, a bottle of Evian water was $9 for a liter, more than a good meal at dozens of restaurants in central Miraflores, or a “meal of the day” for you and a few friends at a basic place. Or three liters of “box wine” from Argentina to share, for that matter.
Here’s a shot that’ll really show you what you can spend in Peru if you want. It’s the rate for one night at the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge right by the ruins. Granted this includes meals since you can’t go anywhere once you’re there, but still, the $825 (lowest available rate) it costs for one night there will last many backpackers for weeks. The funny part? It’s usually sold out. You have to book months in advance.
So if you tell your aunt Ester that Peru is really cheap after she just got back from a luxury tour of Peru that cost her and your uncle almost 10 grand, she’s liable to disagree. For what she spent, she could have been in Europe.
The same can be true for a lot of the cheapest places to travel in the world. If you ask someone who has stayed in a plush palace hotel resort in Rajasthan, then India is not really much of a bargain. A backpacker staying in guesthouses? A very different story. The same is true in Thailand, Mexico, Hungary, or pretty much anywhere with a good upscale tourism infrastructure, but low costs for locals.
For you and me, Peru can be a very inexpensive destination, even though you will have to blow your budget to hike the Inca Trail or get out to Machu Picchu on the train and back. For others, it depends…