For years now, there has been a move away from camping in Peru and other popular trekking destinations. A shift towards day treks that stay in hotels in the valley and of building permanent accommodation on trekking routes. Some think camping in Peru is a poor man’s option but I disagree. I actually feel a night under canvas can enrich your Peru experience.
Pros and cons of permanent accommodation
They offer more comfort
There is something to be said for a good nights sleep, in a huge bed, with freshly laundered linen and a chocolate on your pillow. There is something to be said for walking across a heated floor in the middle of the night to the bathroom. And many people just have bad memories of camping as a kid, especially if you grew up in the UK.
They isolate your from your environment and local people
Even though they are still more ” in the mountains” than a valley hotel, permanent accommodations on trekking routes still isolate you from the world outside and the people outside. Sipping cocktails in a hot tub does not bring you closer to the locals, it emphasises the difference. Remember when you are camping in Peru, you are never far from local communities, it is a very different experience to camping in the US or UK.
If you choose the day trek with valley hotel option, you miss the best part of the day in the mountains. It is a bit like watching a great movie and leaving halfway through. The mountains and riverbanks do not suddenly stop when you go home. Life carries on without you and early and late is when some of nature’s best moments occur.
They change the place for ever
Any permanent structure also changes that world, that often fragile environment forever. If you have ever seen a ski resort in summer you will understand what I mean. A tent by contrast, if carefully placed, will leave no trace on the landscape. You could walk by an hour later and not know anyone was ever there.
If you don’t believe me, please go and look at the disaster that has happened in Soraypamapa at the start of the Salkantay trek. Groups camped there for years with a minimal impact, enjoying the spectacular view to the glacier, yet now the place has become a hideous shanty town. Incidentally, that whole area is designated as a buffer zone for the Sanctuary of Machu Picchu, in order to protect the flora and fauna that lives within the Sanctuary, such as bears, deer and a number of endemic birds. So really, there should not have been any buildings built at all.
Pros and cons of camping in Peru?
It is not as comfortable
Certainly, camping in Peru is not as comfortable as a hotel but sometimes a little discomfort can be good for us. Discomfort challenges us, discomfort can open our eyes to new experiences.
It is too easy for life to become too comfortable and we start to take things for granted. Soon we are comparing the thread count of various hotels, the size of their bathtubs or the pattern of their rainfall showerhead. Is that really so important?
Yes, camp nights can be cold, the campsites can be high. Our backs are not as young as they once were, and that full-length inflatable mattress is not as comfortable as a real bed. You have to duck to get in the door of your tent, there is no wardrobe to hang your clothes, and no telephone to call for room service. But it is a small price to pay. And besides anyone who has camped with us knows we offer a pretty comfortable style of camping.
Camping brings you closer to the locals
Camping takes you far away, immerses you in the landscape 24 hours a day and also reduces the barriers between you and the local people that live there. They too huddle against the cold, they too feel that joy at the first rays of the sun, they too trod the same path to get here, felt the same stones beneath their feet, the same moisture on the grass, the same sway of the wooden bridge.
Camping immerses you deeper into the country
Camping immerses you into the soundscape of a place. There is sound everywhere, the early cockerel, the tinny transistor as people head to the fields, the laughter of the kids walking to school, rain on the tin church roof, birds squabbling for territory, the sing-song chatter of Quechua speaking women wandering by. They are not even all pleasant sounds- but they are very much the sounds of Peru.
Camping brings you closer to your travel companions
Camping does not only bring you closer to the locals and the landscape, it also brings you closer to the people you travel with. Many years ago I guided treks around Mont Blanc. We offered camping trips and hotel based trips, both lasting two weeks. The bonds formed by the campers, always outshone those of the hotel groups. Barriers were broken down so much quicker.
Bonds form while you sit chatting by the light of headlamps. They form around camp dining tables or while you are outside your tent watching the stars. And in the morning, you share experiences. People stand around together as the sun rises with a cup of coffee in hand. You see each other without makeup, with your hair in a mess. You see and take each other you for who you really were, not the clothes you wear, the wine you choose or the job you do.
Imagine how powerful that opportunity to spend time with loved ones and friends can be, no distractions, no hotel door to close between you, no disguises to hide behind, just you and them.
How can I try camping in Peru?
This selection of one night camping trips in Peru was designed specially to give you a taste of just how special an experience it can be.
Not an easy trek, but a truly unique experience camping in Peru. Where else can you camp a few hundred metres from Inca ruins with practically no one else about?
Trek to the little visited Inca site of Waqrapukara and spend a night camping beneath the stars. Suitable for families as long as you are acclimatised.
This is a full expedition in two days. Stunning roads, great rapids and riverside campfires. From 10 years upwards.
Two of the best days rafting you will ever have. Remote, wild, technical, with a memorable beach camp. Over 16 years only.