Planning a week-long trip to hike over 4,000 meters above sea level in the Andes? Keen on reconnecting with yourself and mother nature with Ayahuasca, an ancient healing shamanic ritual? Dying to gaze upon the glorious views of the Colca Canyon and picturesque desert landscapes? Or do you want to surf your heart out, to learn, or to get barrelled in Chicama – the world’s longest left-handed wave?
If you have complete freedom to decide when to take your holiday, decide first where you plan on going, and then figure out when to go to Peru. For simplicity, think of Peru as having 4 main areas of interest; The Andes, where Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail are; Iquitos and the Amazon rainforest; Arequipa and the Colca Canyon; and lastly the coastline, for beach and water activities like surfing.
Peak season for this region is from June to August due to dry weather and European and North American holidays. If you prefer to skip the tourist stampedes and higher prices, I suggest you go there on April, May, September or October.
You shouldn’t worry about going to Cusco or the Andes without any prior tour bookings or hostel / hotel reservations, or even without any equipment. They sell and rent out everything you’ll need in Cusco: camping gear, inner layers and outer clothing, shoes, hiking sticks, gloves, beanies, etc. Accommodation and tours are much cheaper when you’re a walk-in customer as sites like Hostelworld and booking.com charge the establishments a fee for using their service and tours are always trying to fill up their groups’ spots even up until the day before the hike. I had booked my trek to Machu Picchu 3 months prior and wasted some money in the process, but gained some valuable experience and won’t make the same mistake anywhere else. Read about my time in the Andes here, and how to save money trekking the Andes here.
This expanse of northern Peru experiences rain all-year-round, but the least amount of rain falls during the months of June until September. Among other reasons, the region has recently grown popular for Spiritual Tourism purposes, that is, participation in the ceremonial use of Ayahuasca which can easily be found in this and other Amazonian areas throughout the continent.
A strong word of advice, whether you book online or in Iquitos, make it a priority you speak to the actual shaman before paying and agreeing to completely surrender yourself to the ritual. The best way, in my opinion, would be to find people who have done ceremonies before that have had positive experiences and then get referrals from them on which shaman or organization is trustworthy.
Unfortunately, where there is money to be made, there are individuals who will take advantage of naive foreigners who will pay good money for bad service. I have read and heard of personal stories of abuse that should cause major concern to those interested in this archaic spiritual tradition. Some research, referrals and a simple conversation with the shaman beforehand would help give you peace of mind. Though not foolproof, trust in your instincts and initial impressions.
For your reference, I have heard of some paying up to $2,000 USD for a week doing several ceremonies, and some paying only $10 per ceremony, both instances resulting in positive learning experiences. Of course, you get what you pay for when it comes to comfort and general assistance, but there is a fair amount of money you can save if you decide to find a group to join up with and a shaman on foot, in Iquitos or the surrounding areas.
Arequipa and the South
The best time to go to the country’s 2nd most populous city and surrounding region to avoid the rains is from April to November. The major attraction in the south is the Colca Canyon, which is more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Being the third most visited area after Machu Picchu and the Peruvian Amazon, it is definitely worth a visit.
Owing to its warm desert climate, it hardly rains along the coast of Peru. If you want to learn how to surf, the smallest waves occur during July and August, which gradually increase in size over the months until they peak from November until February. Wet suits needed in central and south Peru, but waters are warmer up north towards Ecuador. Read about my experience surfing Peru here.
Still not sure if you should leave the comforts of your home to travel? Have you ever wondered why people are so crazy about traveling anyway? Read my take on it, here.