(spur-of-the-moment horseback ride in Cusco)
Don’t Plan Ahead
When I backpacked through Europe, arriving in a city sans hostel was often very stressful. It left me willing to settle on the first hostel I came across no matter the price or condition. Since I’d never visited Peru, and since we had a stricter schedule, we booked almost every single thing in advance — hostels/planes/buses/activities/tours. As it turns out, we didn’t need to do any of that, and luckily we were able to drop a lot of our plans and work through Peru much more freely.
Everyone wants to feed/house/help you somehow. In Arequipa, we arrived and just went searching for a hostel. There are an abundance of policewomen and we found them extremely helpful and generous. This is how we found our cheapest and favorite places…places that don’t have an online presence.
Now I know searching for a hostel upon arrival isn’t everyone’s cup of coca tea (and I would never suggest doing that in Lima)…but there are many other ways to take advantage of this “travel freedom” in Peru. Local buses are an adventure. They seem to always be running to all cities and they are very reasonably priced (I took a 7 hour bus for $5 that I booked that very morning). Take buses, mottos, combis, and even taxis. Just be open minded, and know that, on a bus, you may not get a seat.
As for tours, you can typically set up any tour a day or two before it happens…even to Machu Picchu. Tour groups can be very hit or miss though, so ask fellow travelers or your hostel if they have any recommendations.