Work Exchange In Peru: How I Lived In Cusco For Free

My experience doing a work exchange in Peru with Worldpackers.

My work exchange in Peru was a few years ago, but I never really explained how I was able to live in Cusco for free for one month. So today, I’m going to share my story!

As a hardcore budget traveler, I am always looking for ways to travel and explore the world without spending a fortune.

I’ve had so many incredible experiences and I’ve never spent insane amounts of money.

In this article, I’m going to tell you exactly how I lived in Peru for free.

This was back in 2016, but the methods and programs I used back then are still active today, so anyone can have the same experience I did!

So if you’re asking yourself questions like “How can I work in Peru?” or “How can I travel for free?” or you’re wondering how to volunteer in a hostel, hopefully, I can answer these questions for you!

Even if you don’t want to visit Peru, check out How To Afford Traveling The World In Your 20’s for a more general article about money-saving tips and advice for traveling on a budget.

The Easiest Way To Live In Peru For Free:

The first and more important step in living abroad for free is…

Doing A Work Exchange in Peru

For those who don’t know, a work exchange is a super simple and straightforward way to travel for free and live in a different country.

You get free accommodation in exchange for work.

Every work exchange is different, but some of them cover a few meals and other perks as well. So you are working, without making money, but you have little to no living expenses.

The two best work exchange organizations are Worldpackers and WorkAway. I’ve talked about them many times on my blog before, and they are both amazing.

For my work exchange in Peru, I used Worldpackers and had an excellent experience with them.

How Does Worldpackers Work?

To volunteer with Worldpackers, you can create an account on the website for free and browse through the volunteer opportunities abroad.

To actually message hosts and set up a work exchange, you have to become a verified member and pay the yearly fee of 44 USD. (Promo code GABBY saves you 10 USD on your membership.)

Even though I’m super frugal, I think the fee is worth it.

Creating an account on Worldpackers gives you unlimited access to awesome hosts all over the world, so you can essentially travel for free through work exchange.

So if you only do one work exchange, think of it as paying 44 USD to live in a foreign country and have an epic experience.

The more work exchanges you do, the more value you get out of that money!

alpacas peru
You’ll probably see lots of llamas and alpacas during your time in Peru.

Work Exchange In Peru

Now that I’ve covered how Worldpackers works and given a general overview of work exchange, I’ll focus more on my work exchange in Peru.

Getting To Peru

For those specifically wondering ” How can I work in Peru”, I’m about to cover everything you’ll need to know about a work exchange in Peru.

Peru is an incredible country in South America, full of history and culture.


Getting to Peru is very easy. Check to find the cheapest flights from your home country. (I wrote a very detailed article called How To Find The Cheapest Flights Abroad if you want more info on how to find the cheapest flights to Peru!)

Most international flights go into Lima. I’ve heard mixed reviews about the city of Lima, and I didn’t spend any time there.

But no matter which part of Peru you choose to live in, you can just catch another cheap domestic flight from Lima to your city.

Check Rome2Rio for the cheapest/easiest forms of public transport around Peru.


Most travelers do not need a visa for Peru if they are staying less than 183 days.

You’ll get a free tourist on arrival at the airport, though your passport has to be valid for at least 6 months.

So if you want to live and work in Peru for free, you’ll have to stay under 183 days.

I know that’s not a substantial amount of time, but it’s enough to really connect with the culture as best as you can.

If you want to move to Peru more permanently, you’ll have to look into other types of visas.

Travel Insurance

If you want to live and work in Peru for free and spend the least amount of money, you don’t have to buy travel insurance.

Some people will scold me for saying that, especially my Mother. But I didn’t buy travel insurance when I traveled to Peru. I was stingy with money, and I didn’t think I’d need it.

Truth is, I didn’t need it; my trip went as smoothly as can be. But I could have just been lucky.

I know some people always like to have travel insurance, and now that I’ve actually had a medical emergency abroad, I can see why.

Stuff can always go wrong, even though it usually doesn’t. If you’ll be traveling to remote areas of the country and doing adventurous activities, your risk of injury or illness increases.

Now that I’ve started being more responsible and buying travel insurance, I’ve fallen in love with Squaremouth Insurance.

Because I’m always trying to save money, I like to look for plans where I only have to pay for medical coverage.

The cost is lower, and you’re only paying for what you really need/want.

I was able to find a plan that suited me with Squaremouth, and it was cheap. So now I always recommend them!

Machu Picchu work exchange in peru
Seeing Machu Picchu is one of the best reasons to do a work exchange in Peru.

What to pack for a work exchange in Peru

Packing for a work exchange in Peru is pretty straightforward.

Pack simple, comfortable, easy to wear clothes. You’ll probably do lots of exploring and hiking, so you want good shoes and comfy attire.

If you’re hiking Machu Picchu, Rainbow Mountain, or other mountains in the Andes, definitely have hiking boots and proper gear like a sturdy backpack and weatherproof clothing.

Bring clothes for all temperatures. Altitudes in Peru change so often that the weather can go from hot to cold in one day. Also bring sunscreen, because the sun is so strong at high altitudes.

You’re not supposed to drink the water in Peru, so bring a water bottle with a built-in filter to save you money.

Another useful tip for traveling to Peru: definitely save some space in your bag for souvenirs. Every traveler who visits Peru leaves with at least one or two fuzzy alpaca sweaters, and you don’t want to be the odd-one-out.

Also pack some neon paint if you plan on partying in Peru. Just kidding they’ll have that there.

Living in Cusco

Now that I’ve covered all the logistics of traveling to Peru and getting prepared for your trip, I’ll share a bit of my experience living and working in Cusco. I was able to stay in this gorgeous city for one month, and I did it about as cheaply as possible.

There are work exchanges in many different places around Peru, so it’s up to you where you want to live.

Cusco is a super popular and touristy city in Peru, so it is perfect for meeting lots of new friends and doing tours around the area.

cusco peru
Incredible architecture in Cusco

The Hostel

If you’re wondering how to volunteer at a hostel, it is super easy.

One of the easiest ways to travel for free and work in Peru is to volunteer at a hostel. The majority of work exchanges are in hostels because they are backpacker hubs and they’re always looking for extra workers.

On Worldpackers, I found a work exchange program at Milhouse Hostel in Cusco.

The job was bartending, and I didn’t need any previous experience or Spanish skills to get the job (even though I did have both of those).

So I showed up at Milhouse, checked in with the reception staff, and moved into the staff dorm room.

There were 3 bunk beds, a shared bathroom, one tiny window looking out into the stairwell, and I had 5 other roommates. The room was messy, crowded, and chaotic, but somehow super cozy and lovable.

Milhouse Hostel was a 10-minute walk away from Plaza Del Armas. I barely spent any money on public transport because everything was within walking distance.

I did take taxis to and from the airport and main bus station, but those rides only cost a couple Soles each.

The ground floor of the hostel had hammocks, bean bag chairs, a sunny courtyard, the reception desk, the tourism office, and the luggage room. The middle two floors have all the rooms, and the top floor had the bar, kitchen, and restaurant.

It wasn’t a five-star hotel. It was a crazy backpacker hostel, and it was awesome. I was living in Peru for free, so I couldn’t complain about anything!

As of 2022, Milhouse Hostel in Cusco is closed. But there are lots of other hostels in Cusco! Check Hostelworld, Workaway, or Worldpackers for other options!

The Work Exchange

In Cusco, I got free accommodation in exchange for work as a bartender. The job was super fun and I learned a lot.

I worked 4 shifts a week, each for 7 hours. There were relaxing morning shifts from 7 am to 1 pm, fun afternoon shifts from 12 pm to 1 pm, and insane night shifts from 7 pm to 2 am. Every volunteer rotated shifts so we got to try all three.

In the morning, I set up and refilled the buffet breakfast. In the afternoon, I took lunch orders and served them to the guests.

At night, I made cocktails, danced with the guests, and drank with my coworkers.

The work was pretty straightforward and super fun. A hostel setting is a great place to learn bartending because there isn’t as much pressure to be perfect.

Backpackers don’t care if the measurements in their cocktail aren’t exact, or if you mess up their order.

Taking a shot at the start of each night shift is actually part of the job.

So anyone wondering “How can I work in Peru”, try being a bartender! It’s seriously so much fun.

work exchange in Peru Milhouse Hostel
All the Milhouse bartenders, plus one of our favorite guests who stayed for 2 weeks instead of a few days!

Food in Cusco

Aside from accommodation, food is a huge expense while traveling.

Working at Milhouse meant I got free accommodation, and I got some free meals as well so I saved tons of money on food.

Staff members had free breakfast, and we got 1 extra staff meal per day. The kitchen staff put our staff meal in containers and we could eat them whenever we wanted. We also got a discount on meals and drinks from the menu.

So most of my food in Cusco was free. I did eat out in a few restaurants, I treated myself to food from the local markets A LOT, and I sometimes ate nice food at Milhouse.

With accommodation and 2 meals per day covered, I was pretty much living in Peru for free.

Exploring Peru

With 3 days off per week, I had plenty of time to explore the surrounding areas of Cusco.

Since I was living in Peru for free, I was willing to spend some money on fun activities and adventures.

I took an overnight bus down to Puno and did a day trip to Lake Titicaca.

I also hiked Rainbow Mountain and of, course, visited Machu Picchu.

Lots of my days off were spent exploring Cusco and hanging out with my coworkers.

Because I had barely any living expenses in Cusco, I’d say 75% of my travel budget went to day trips and adventures in Peru. The other 25% was probably food, transport, and souvenirs.

friends from work exchange in Peru
Exploring Lake Titicaca

Why I Loved Living in Peru for Free

Even though this experience happened a few years ago, it is still so fresh in my memory and so close to my heart.

Working at Milhouse gave me some amazing friends that I still keep in touch with today.

I’ve also been able to get more bartending jobs at more upscale places.

In Wollongong, Australia, I bartended at a fancy, beachfront restaurant and had to wear a button-up and a tie to work. I was able to do that because of the skills I learned at Milhouse!

Also, having a full month to experience Cusco helped me learn more about the city and see parts of it that some tourists might not.

I became very fond of the local Peruvians I met and worked with, my Spanish improved immensely, and I fell in love with the rustic and charismatic city streets.

Last but not least, doing a work exchange saved me so much money! I had all these amazing experiences and I barely put a dent in my savings account.

So living in Peru for free was one of the best things I ever did. I recommend you try it too!!

I wrote some other articles on the Worldpackers travel blog about my experience living and working in Peru if you want to check them out:

How To Become A Traveling Bartender with Worldpackers

Work Exchange: The Best Way To Visit Peru

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This post may contain affiliate links. Read more about this in my About Me page!

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