Volunteering and Exploring in Peru

What's more Peruvian than llamas?

What’s more Peruvian than llamas?

I had the pleasure of spending over 2 weeks in Peru this past August/September.  We flew out of Boston on August 28th, 2015, and didn’t come back until the 14th of  September.  We spent one week volunteering in Cusco, and the rest of the time we just explored.  Peru was absolutely amazing.  We were able to do the most of the “Gringo Trail” as the locals call it, and see the all of Southern Peru.  We spent time in Lima, Cusco, Aguas Calientes/Machu Picchu, Ollantaytambo, Arequipa, Huacachina/Ica, and Paracas.

Further down the post I’ll outline my budget and packing list for anyone that wants to plan a similar trip.


Here’s an outline of our 18 day trip in Peru.  I will warn you, it’s aggressive.  I like to get the most out of my flights, so if I’m flying all the way to Peru, I’m not going to go home without seeing everything.  I’m not saying I didn’t relax at all, but I definitely didn’t take a nap every afternoon.  I like feeling tired at the end of a trip, not relaxed.  If I wanted to be rested, I’d sleep more.  I don’t travel to feel rested, I want to travel to see places, to meet people, to do new things, to experience a culture.

Day 1:  Fly from Boston to Panama City, then onto Lima.  We arrived in Lima around 7PM.

Day 2:  Stay in Lima.  Central/historic area during the day, and then Barranco in the evening.

Day 3:  Early morning flight to Cusco.  Arrived in Cusco at about noon and settled into our volunteer accommodations.

Day 4-7:  Stay in Cusco for our volunteer work.  We were also able to work in a few side trips while we were in Cusco.

Day 8:  On to Aguas Calientes to see Machu Picchu early the next morning.

Day 9:  Machu Picchu, then to Ollantaytambo.  Stay in Ollantaytambo for the night.

Day 10:  Explore Ollantaytambo and the surrounding ruins, then back to Cusco to catch an overnight bus to Arequipa.

Day 11-13:  Hang out in Arequipa and see the Colca Canyon.

Day 14:  Day bus (with a few pit stops) to Huacachina.  Spend the night there.

Day 15:  Sandboarding and relaxing in Huacachina, then to Paracas for the evening.

Day 16:  See Paracas, the Islas Ballestas, and the Paracas Reserve.  Bus to Lima in the evening.

Day 17:  Spend the last day in Lima, one more night!

Day 18:  Early morning flight.  LIM-PTY-BOS on Copa Airlines!


Some of the main budgets were:

  • Accommodations:  $200 This was $20/night for 10 nights.  There were 17 nights on the trip:  10 budgeted, 6 covered in the volunteer package, and 1 overnight on a bus.
  • Food:  $150  $15/person/day, 10 days budgeted:  18 days total, but that includes 2 travel days (BOS-LIM and then back), and 6 days at volunteer accommodations where food was provided.  Plus, I always bring snacks!
  • Sights and Activities:  $300  Includes Machu Picchu tickets, museum tickets, entrance fees, those kinds of things.
  • Souvenirs:  $300  I like buying stuff to bring home for everyone!
  • Transport:  $1200  This covered roundtrip flights BOS-LIM, one way LIM-CUZ, roundtrip PeruRail train tickets Ollantaytambo-Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu), and a PeruHop ticket.
  • Volunteer Expenses (accommodations, registration, etc.):  $625  This covered our food, accommodations, supplies and the actual volunteer work for the week in Cusco.
  • Other:  ~$150  This was for miscellaneous expenses, ATM fees, bars (separate from food), and other random things.

So, this brings my total budget to around $2,300.  while my actual total spending was around $3,000.  $3,000 for 2 people and 18 days.  That’s about $83 per person per day.  Definitely higher than necessary, but this amount represents plenty of spending money on gifts to bring home for family/friends, and some extra money for restaurants, bars, and the volunteer expenses.  The biggest discrepancy in my budget was food.  We ended up spending a lot on food (the girlfriend likes going out to eat and loves to cook) so we ended up exploring Peru with our plates as much as we explored the country with our feet.  My budget for food was $150, and we spent closer to $300.  All the other budgets were pretty accurate, accommodations and miscellaneous spending were a little over budget, while transport, sights/activities, and souvenirs were a little under.

All in all, I think Peru could be done for under $50 a day easy.  Just take out the PeruHop tickets, upper end restaurants, and volunteer expenses.  You’d be fine!

 Packing List

  • Clothing
    • 1 raincoat
    • 2 pairs of shorts
    • 1 pair swim trunks
    • 1 pair base layer legs
    • 1 pair jeans
    • socks/boxers (wool socks for hiking/altitude, and lighter socks)
    • 2 T shirts (1 regular, 1 moisture wicking)
    • 1 tank top
    • 1 moisture wicking long sleeve shirt
    • 1 collared button down shirt
    • 1 collared fleece
    • hiking boots
    • canvas shoes (lightweight Reefs)
    • flip flops
    • sunglasses
    • belt
    • hat (for sun protection, not really a hat person)
    • work gloves (for volunteer work)
  • Electronics
    • 1 cell phone + USB cord
    • 1 universal plug adapter (I use one with built in USB charging ports)
    • Kindle + USB (the Kindle was preloaded with books, guides, and PDFs of documents and confirmations)
  • Miscellaneous
    • snacks and gum
    • sunscreen
    • 2 small combination locks + small gauge steel cord
    • toiletries
  • Bags
    • Kelty Rewing 50L Pack
    • REI 18L Flash Pack (my day pack)
    • REI Roadtripper 40L Duffel (folds down to a frisbee size, perfect for what we needed)
    • Eagle Creek Packing Cubes (1 full, 1 half, 1 quarter, and 1 long tube shaped)

So, if I ever do the same trip, there’s only one major thing I’d change on my packing list.  I’d swap the jeans out for some decent hiking-style pants, or at least add hiking pants to my bag.  I love jeans, but they’re heavy, and don’t dry well if they get wet.  I brought the jeans for my construction volunteer placement, but still could have done the job without the jeans.  Other than that, this list is pretty minimalist, and pretty effective.

My goal was to get to Peru without any checked luggage.  Success!  I put my Kelty in the overhead bin, my flash pack under the seat in front of me, and my girlfriend had her backpack under the seat in front of her.  By the time we left Cusco, I had filled up my duffel with souvenirs to bring home, so we did check that on the return flights.

Anyway, this is the overview.  I’ll be posting about all the individual locations we visited soon, so don’t go too far!



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