It was about to be my third time in Peru and I was beyond excited. Adventures off the beaten path, immersion in foreign cultures, and we got a dope whip to ride in on the journey down from Vilcabamba, Ecuador to Chachapoyas, Peru. I was about to embark on the adventure that dreams are made of. I knew very little about northern Peru but I was excited to experience another side of the country that I had been unable to forget in the three years since I last visited.
This region of Peru ended up being absolutely incredible. There was a multitude of activities and sites that were hardly of any renown internationally. You could spot only maybe a half dozen other travelers per day as you adventured into the unknown. And oh yeah, it was CHEAP. I considered southern Peru cheap while I was there. Northern Peru? A completely different, much more affordable animal altogether.
How Much Is Accommodation in Northern Peru?
Hmm, let’s see. Before arriving in Chachapoyas, my friend told me about a place that was known to be the cheapest hostel in Peru. At less than $2 a night, I decided that I didn’t want to discover why it was the cheapest hostel in Peru. My friends and I booked a private room for 20 soles each per night, or about $6 US. That seemed to be the typical range for hostels in this part of the country.
A dorm bed would run you around 15-25 soles, depending on how nice the hostel was. A single room would be between 20-30 soles. And these aren’t barebones by any means. My hostel in Chachapoyas had incredibly fast Wi-Fi, a kitchen, terraces, televisions in room, and more. My hostel in Cajamarca… Don’t even get me started. For 23 soles ($7) per night, I had a giant hot tub pretty much all to myself. It was for a dorm room, but considering that hardly anyone comes to this part of the country, I was the only one in it for 2 of the 4 nights that I stayed.
The coast tends to be a bit more expensive but as far as accommodation goes, it was pretty similar. In Huanchaco, a very popular tourist town among surfers, beach-goers, and yoga enthusiasts, hostels ranged from 15-25 soles, as well.
For similar hostels in touristic cities in Southern Peru, especially Cusco or Lima, you can expect to pay 30 soles minimum, likely more. These hostels were among the nicest I’ve ever stayed in and also among the cheapest.
How Much Is Food in Northern Peru?
Another highlight was how cheap the food was. If I wanted to eat out for every meal, I had no real qualms about doing so. A lot of local places have set menus for breakfast, lunch, and sometimes dinner. Breakfasts and lunches usually include a soup and drink and will cost between 5-8 soles. Dinner tends to be a bit more expensive but you can always get something a la carte for less than 10 soles.
For example, in Cajamarca, a typical day for me would be about 3 soles for breakfast, 6 soles for a big lunch, and then something light for dinner in the range of 6-10 soles. In total, that is about $5-7 total per day on food. However, you can definitely cut that down a bit if you do a bit of your own shopping.
After paying 20 soles for dinner at one of the cheaper restaurants I found in Huanchaco, I decided that I needed to start cooking a bit for myself. By cooking, I mean making sandwiches. I bought a loaf of bread, ham, cheese, tuna, mayonnaise, and a bunch of bananas for 30 soles and made that last me 3 days, ringing in at about $3 per day. For those of you who are much more adept in the kitchen, the local market in Huanchaco is a perfect spot to stock up on fruits, vegetables, grains, eggs, meat, and everything else you would need in the kitchen. Everyone at my hostel was like a master chef and I could only watch longingly as they cooked up Michelin Star meals while I waited for my toast to pop up.
In general, you might be able to find food in southern Peru for around the same price as in northern Peru. In Cusco, I was paying 5 soles for a big meal at the local market. I’m not sure if things have changed over the last 3 years but finding affordable local food should be possible in every Peruvian city. However, if you choose to eat out at a nicer restaurant, then it might be more expensive in Southern Peru than Northern Peru. Grocery shopping should be just about similar if you do it all at markets.
How Much To Budget For Transportation in Northern Peru
Transportation is pretty much a constant all throughout Peru. Bus travel is among the most popular options and most of the bus lines that operate throughout the country charge very similar prices. I paid 50 soles ($15 US) for an overnight bus from Chachapoyas to Cajamarca, a journey of about 12 hours. I paid 25 soles ($7.50) for a 7 hour bus ride from Cajamarca to Trujillo.
In general, overnight buses are a bit more expensive than day buses. However, if you take into account the cost of accommodation saved for the night, it might even out. You can also save money if you are willing to sacrifice the comfort of a fully-reclining seat. In Peru, you can usually choose between semi-cama or full-cama. The fully-reclining seat will usually be 10-20 soles more expensive depending on the length of the bus ride. Admittedly, they are quite comfortable so if you are willing to splurge a little more to have a better night’s rest, then it might be worth it.
Another popular form of transportation that I saw in northern Peru but not as often in Southern Peru were colectivos. These come in the form of vans that drive around the city picking people up and charging 1 or 2 soles to take you pretty much anywhere. In Cajamarca, I would take one to and from my hostel in Baños del Inca every day. It’s a very negligible cost and extremely convenient. Even for large distances, like the 45 minute distance from Trujillo to Huanchaco, it would only be two soles.
I didn’t take too many taxis, although you can expect that those are significantly more expensive. I took a taxi from Cajamarca to Baños del Inca after a night out and it was 10 soles, still highly reasonable for a 20-minute drive at 4 AM. The one I took from Trujillo to Huanchaco, I was able to haggle down to 18 soles from 20 soles, so about $5 for a 45-minute journey.
Overall, those aren’t too bad if you aren’t on a strict budget. However, if you take a little more effort to find colectivos and are willing to sacrifice comfort for a bit, transportation can be a very negligible cost in Peru.
How Much To Budget For Tours and Activities in Northern Peru
One of the most pleasantly surprising things for me about northern Peru was how cheap it was to go on tours and activities. I’m not usually a tour kind of person but the costs were barely above break-even that I decided it might as well be worth it to have a guide and the simplicity of having guaranteed transportation.
Let’s take Chachapoyas for example. A tour to Kuelap costs 80 soles ($23), although you could haggle it down to 70 if you have a bigger group. There were three of us and they offered us to go on the tour for 70 each. So it costs 30 soles to enter Kuelap, 20.40 soles to use the cable car, and then lunch would be about 6-8 soles, leaving about 12 soles for transportation and the guide. It would cost 2 or 3 soles each to get to and from Chachapoyas, and that would include waiting for a bus without even knowing when or if it was coming. So unless you value a knowledgeable local guide at less than $3, then sure, you can go visit Kuelap on your own and have a much more confusing time getting there and back.
Like I said, I’m not usually the type to go on group tours, but the simplicity and affordability of it in northern Peru makes it a great option. The price of the excursion obviously depends on how big it is but every tour that I went on in northern Peru, I was surprised at how little it cost. A 20 soles tour to the Ventanillas de Otuzco took us to four different places. Although admittedly, we didn’t ask to go to a cheese factory or botanical gardens, I still felt like we got great value as opposed to paying 10 soles to see the Ventanillas by ourselves without a guide.
I liked having a guide on almost every tour that I went on because so many parts of northern Peru are internationally unknown. I can look up Machu Picchu and read a thorough history of it any time I want. But if I want more knowledge on the Chachapoya civilization, the Karijia Sarcophagi, the Revash Mausoleums, or whatever else, then a knowledgeable local guide is really the only way to go.
To sum it up, Northern Peru is the bomb.
As a backpacker who is always traveling on a tight budget, northern Peru was an awesome region. It had so many incredible adventures to experience, all while living comfortably on a low budget. Realistically, you could even get away with spending less than $10 a day total on a slow day. This underrated and often overlooked part of South America is a perfect haven for backpackers looking to explore off the beaten path destinations.
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