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If you’re planning a trip to Peru, the first step is deciding which places to visit and how much time to spend in each.
You’ll probably end up in Lima for a day or two when you’re flying in and out, and obviously, spend time in Cusco when you go to Machu Picchu. But, what about the rest of your trip?
If you’re searching for the best places to visit in Peru, chances are Arequipa and Huaraz will come up time and time again – luckily, I spent one month living in each city and I have everything you need to know to decide which city to visit on your trip to Peru!
Laguna 69 in Huaraz, Peru
If you’re big into nature and hiking, Huaraz is definitely one of the best places to visit in Peru.
It’s the access point for Huascaran National Park, which contains one of National Geographic’s best treks in the world: Santa Cruz. Daniel and I solo hiked the Santa Cruz trek over 4 days and it was an awesome experience.
Huaraz also boasts Laguna 69, an absolutely stunning and surreal day hike from the city, mountain climbing like our one day climb of Nevado Mateo (which was one of my favorite experiences on our 4.5 month trip through Peru), and other excursions to visit lakes and glaciers in the area.
Arequipa’s most popular attraction is Colca Canyon, a weekend trek through the second deepest canyon in the world. While in the city, Daniel and I also foolishly tackled the climb up Misti Volcano (and almost died, but thats another story) but it’s really not a hike I would recommend unless you’re an experienced mountain climber.
I enjoyed the Colca Canyon hike, but thought it was less beautiful than pretty much everything we saw in Huaraz. For me, the answer is clear.
Arequipa vs Huaraz Hiking Winner: Huaraz
Huaraz is a small mountain town of 100,000 people, and Arequipa is the second largest city in Peru with a population of more than 700,000. I think you can probably guess who is going to win this round.
Arequipa is a beautiful colonial city built with all white buildings and has much more restaurant and bar options than Huaraz. It has party hostels and plenty of places to drink the night away.
Huaraz, on the other hand, had only one small area that was really built for backpackers to “go out” in, and it’s about two blocks big. The nightlife is really lacking here, but they do have the Sierra Andina tap house and a new brewery opening up as well, so if you’re into craft beer in Peru and a relaxed vibe, this town may be for you. On the whole, though, it doesn’t compare to a weekend in Arequipa.
Arequipa vs Huaraz Nightlife Winner: Arequipa
Accommodation and Daily Life
When Daniel and I travel, we usually stay in each city we visit for 5 or 6 weeks at a time. That means we become well acquainted with the less glamorous parts of the towns like grocery stores and pharmacies. When it comes to accommodation and daily life for long term travel in Huaraz and Arequipa, which is better?
As I said, Arequipa is a big city. That means it has malls, giant grocery stores, American chains, and fast food restaurants, and cuisines of all varieties. Wifi is fast(ish) and there are coworking spaces to join.
In Huaraz, not so much.
We stopped by a small corner store to buy some essentials and asked where the bigger grocery stores were to visit the next day. After some confusion, we understood what the cashiers were saying… there aren’t any. Most people only shop at the large market in the center of town. We basically lived off premade foods like mac n’ cheese, hot dogs, granola bars, etc. because the options at the small store were so limited.
Also, even though we were staying in a nice Airbnb our wifi also had plenty of issues that I think were due to the limited access the town as a whole has to the internet. I have a Sprint International phone plan, and the whole month we were in Huaraz my data just… didn’t work. In the past year, it’s the only place I’ve had that issue before.
Since Huaraz is smaller, Airbnb options and hostel choices are more limited as well. The beauty of Huaraz is stunning, but living in the city for a month wasn’t easy. If you’re planning a trip to Peru for a long-term or extended stay, I definitely recommend Arequipa over Huaraz.
Arequipa vs Huaraz Accommodation and Daily Life Winner: Arequipa
The second deepest canyon in the world is accessible on a day trip from Arequipa
Day Trips and Things to Do
In Arequipa, there were tour shops on every corner selling excursions. Downhill biking, climbing Misti Volcano or Chachani, trips to Lake Titicaca, rafting, rock climbing, and more were all on offer. The prices were pretty cheap too.
The downhill biking we did was a total disaster as well. The surrounding area just isn’t that beautiful, and the city doesn’t lend itself well to day trips and excursions to escape the pollution and crowded streets.
Huaraz also had an abundance of tour agencies on every corner.
Here, the rock climbing and rafting are in the Cordillera Blanca, one of the country’s most beautiful mountain ranges. You can also ice climb a mountain on a half day excursion and hike to so many nearby lakes and valleys. We even did a one dollar day trip to Wilcacocha Lake.
In Huaraz, the day trips were closer and better (in my opinion) but as far as things to do, there wasn’t much inside the city. During the week we worked at coffee shops, ate dinner out, or enjoyed some drinks on our balcony.
In Arequipa, there’s a lot more to do in the city like visit the Monastery de Santa Catalina, the Cathedral and the main square, markets, museums, scenic overlooks, and lots of shopping and restaurant options.
So, this one is split. If you’re a city dweller, Arequipa is one of the best places to visit in Peru. If you’re a nature lover, Huaraz wins.
Arequipa vs Huaraz Day Trip Winner: Tied
Cost of Living
When planning a trip to Peru (or anywhere for that matter), the final decisions on where to go and what to see almost always come down to the budget. I spent four and a half months in Peru, split between four different cities (Cusco, Arequipa, Huaraz, and Lima) and found that the cost of living was similar between all of them.
The only major difference I found was that the cost of food in Huaraz was pretty high. Because the market was so small and options were limited, I’d compare it to buying your groceries every week at a Walgreens. We got less food for more money. In Arequipa, the grocery stores were bigger and cheaper.
For weekend costs, in Huaraz, we could do day trips for as little as one dollar, and even a trip to Laguna 69 will only run you around $10 or $12. In Arequipa, you will spend more on longer outings or just eating and drinking in the city.
In both, you can find hostels for any price range in your backpacking budget.
Because most people who travel in Peru don’t get apartments and cook regularly, the weekend trip costs in Arequipa slightly edge out Huaraz and make it a bit more expensive. But honestly, unless you’re running very low on cash, there isn’t much difference at all between the two.
Arequipa vs Huaraz Cost of Living Winner: Huaraz
Peru is huge and the distances are often deceiving. If you get to ambitious when planning your trip you could spend days just sitting on buses. Luckily, Huaraz is only an eight-hour bus ride from Lima which makes it easy to visit when you fly into the country or before you leave.
Arequipa requires a flight from Lima if you don’t have the patience for an 18-hour bus ride, and even requires a ten-hour bus ride from Cusco.
Clearly, Arequipa farther and more difficult to get to. As someone who hates traveling (like the actual act of getting from one place to the other) because I can never sleep or read on the buses or cars, the relatively easy to access location of Huaraz is a plus in my book when planning a trip to Peru.
Arequipa vs Huaraz Location Winner: Huaraz
And the Winner of Arequipa vs Huaraz is…
Huaraz! But just barely.
I’m a bit surprised to learn that the two countries almost tied in my breakdown because I personally have such a strong preference for Huaraz.
Now that I look at it, though, it’s pretty clear that the city you choose just depends on your own travel preferences. If you like nightlife, good food, and city life, visit Arequipa. If you love hiking, beautiful scenery, and small(er) town life, then choose Huaraz. Or better yet, just extend your trip to Peru and spend some time in both cities!
Whichever city you choose, document your trip like a pro with Nomadic Matt’s 8-week travel photography course from the experts! Then, check out the complete Peru Guide for day trips, restaurant recommendations, hiking guides and more to help you plan the perfect itinerary.