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South America.

It’s one of the most diverse continents in the world and a great destination for travelers of all types.

Two of the most popular destinations on the continent are Colombia and Peru. To give you a bit of background about my experience with the countries, we spent six months in Colombia in the first half of 2017 and spent four months in Peru.

To be honest, I ended up there because I compared prices for flights on Skyscanner and they were the cheapest destinations… but in the end I sincerely loved both.

However, when people are deciding to visit South America, Colombia vs. Peru is one of the most common comparisons. While I definitely recommend that you visit both if time allows, that just isn’t an option for a lot of people. Let’s take a look at which one might be for you.

Simply watch the video below or keep reading to find out!

Tourist Attractions

If you’re a backpacker on a long-term trip, this one might not matter as much to you as it might for someone on a shorter trip. However, tourist attractions are fun for everyone, no matter what type of traveler you are.

During our time in Colombia, I found that tourist attractions weren’t really that big of a thing. Some of the most popular are:

  • The Walled City of Cartagena
  • Anything Pablo Escobar
  • Tayrona National Park
  • Monserrate in Bogota
  • Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira
  • Medellin Cable Car

While there are certainly others, these are just some of the most common that tourists tend to visit. We spent most of our time in Medellin, though, where there is very little in the way of tourist attractions.

Read: What to do in Medellin

After spending six-months in Colombia, landing in Peru was like landing in a tourist wonderland. It seems like everywhere you go there are a ton of different options for tourists. I could list tourist attractions in Peru for days, but some of the most popular are:

And the list goes on.

There’s really no question about who has the better tourist attractions since Machu Picchu alone blows away everything that Colombia has.

Colombia vs. Peru Tourism Winner: Peru

Infrastructure

Infrastructure is particularly relevant for those traveling long-term.

I’ll start by saying that Colombia has a metro. That alone is something special in South America. They also have nice shopping malls, high-quality medical care, modern highways, a range of grocery stores, and easy access to cheap flights ($45 USD round trip between Medellin and Bogota).

Peru isn’t quite on that level.

While I love Peru, the infrastructure just isn’t there yet. Although there are some cheap flights available, busses are the most common mode of transportation for most people, including tourists. From what I’ve seen, the roads, malls, and grocery stores are all a little bit lower quality in Peru as compared to Colombia.

Colombia vs. Peru Infrastructure Winner: Colombia

Ease of Tourism

Like I said about Colombia, there just isn’t a whole lot in the way of tourism. I think a lot of that is due in part to the fact that they are still coming out of one of the longest civil wars in modern history.

Having spent six months based out of Medellin, I can tell you that there aren’t many options for people looking for tours. There are very few tourist agencies, and those that do exist are usually expensive. Most of the tourist stuff that you do in Colombia is stuff that you just do on your own.

In Peru, the tours never end. We spent two months in Cusco and didn’t even get to all the tours that we wanted to do. You have several options for treks to Machu Picchu, Rainbow Mountain, the boleto touristico that gets you into multiple ruins and museums, the Sacred Valley, Huchuy Qosqo, and more.

That’s not even getting into everything else in the country, like climbing mountains in Huaraz, visiting Lake Titicaca, and more. There’s no question on this one.

Colombia vs. Peru Ease of Tourism Winner: Peru

Nightlife

One of the most attractive aspects of Colombia for many is the thriving nightlife. After spending time in Medellin, Bogota, and Cartagena, I can say that the reputation is well-deserving. Tourist hotspot Poblado in Medellin has the most active nightlife that I’ve seen all year, with bar crawls, craft beer, and plenty of nightclubs.

In Peru, I’ve found the nightlife to be lacking a little bit. Although there are a lot of great bars, night clubs, and breweries, I just haven’t seen anything yet that even comes close to a Friday or Saturday in Poblado or Zona Rosa in Colombia. Drinks are also generally more expensive in Peru than they are in Colombia.

Colombia vs. Peru Nightlife Winner: Colombia

 

Nature and Hiking

Before I went to Colombia, I thought that I was going to have easy access to all kinds of beautiful nature. Unfortunately, that just wasn’t the case in Medellin. Although it’s a beautiful city, the only real option to escape city life is Parque Arvi. Of course, there are other amazing parks and hiking in Medellin, but I just didn’t find it all to be as accessible as in Peru.

In Peru, going on anything from a day hike to an extended trek is super simple. There are countless agencies willing to take you out and provide all the gear, and most of them are reasonably priced. We’ve gone on a trip just about every weekend that we’ve been in the country. From walking through easily accessible ruins to scaling 19,000 ft. volcanos, there’s something for everyone in Peru.

Colombia vs. Peru Nature and Hiking Winner: Peru

 

Food

Although good food can be a little bit difficult to come by in certain parts of Latin America, you shouldn’t have much trouble finding something decent to eat in either Colombia or Peru.

We spent much of our time in Colombia in Medellin, and there are several good international restaurants in addition to the local cuisine. Whether you want sushi, ceviche, charcuterie, or any other international dish, you can pretty much find it here.

As far as Peru goes, Lima is often mentioned as one of the best cities in the world in terms of food. Although you will find some excellent food in Lima (we certainly found some), your options are much more limited elsewhere in the country.

In terms of local cuisine, I found Peruvian food and Colombian food to be on about the same level. If you’re a seafood person, you’ll likely enjoy Peruvian food more.

In terms of overall good food (both local and international) throughout the entirety of each country, I found there to be more quality options available in Colombia.

Because I’m basing my opinion on overall food (and not Peruvian food vs. Colombian food), Colombia takes this one.

Colombia vs. Peru Food Winner: Colombia

 

Working Remotely

Because of the relatively low cost of living and proximity to the United States, South America is becoming more and more popular for those pursuing (or living) a location independent lifestyle. We’ve been working remotely for around two years now and understand what most people are looking for when looking for a place to settle in for a little while.

To that end, you’ll likely find Colombia to be a better destination for you if you’re looking for a startup culture, better internet infrastructure, expat community, co-working spaces, etc. Although there is a remote working scene in Peru, the cost of living to quality of life ratio is a little bit better in Colombia.

Colombia vs. Peru Working Remotely Winner: Colombia

 

Safety

Many people who have never visited South America are often hesitant to visit the region due to the perceived level of violence. Although serious problems remain in several parts of the continent, Colombia and Peru have both done an excellent job of ensuring visitors to the countries remain safe.

Unless you’re purchasing or selling drugs, seeking out prostitution, or engaging in other illegal activities, the areas that you’ll likely visit in each country remain very safe for tourists. The most serious danger that you’ll face in either country is the lack of laws on the road. People drive like maniacs, and you can never be sure that your tour bus operator really cares about anyone’s safety as they’re driving alongside cliffsides and mountains.

Either way, you’ll be fine as long as you follow your common sense.

Colombia vs. Peru Safety Winner: Tie

 

Overall Winner in Colombia vs. Peru…

Although we end up pretty close, I weigh some of these categories a bit heavier than others. For me, the outdoors and ease of access categories weigh heavily, and for that reason I choose Peru over Colombia as the better destination if you’re looking for a vacation or just traveling.

If you’re someone who wants to have a wide range of activities at a very reasonable cost, there’s no question that Peru has more to offer than Colombia at this time.

With that said, I do prefer Colombia as a place to settle down a bit more and live a more normal day-to-day existence. Both countries are great, it just depends on what you’re looking for on your next trip!

 

P.S. still not sure which country you want to visit next? Check out the Mexico vs. Colombia breakdown to help make your decision. Whichever you choose, document your trip like a pro with Nomadic Matt’s 8-week travel photography course from the experts! 

12 Comments

  1. Sara

    Hi! I am a blogger myself and looking to spend a month either in Peru or Colombia. My goal is to stay in a beach for a week, another week discovering amazing nature places and then I’ll need to settle down for another two weeks in a nice city with a nice co-working space, or at least peaceful cafes to work from. With this in mind, which country would you recommend? Thanks 🙂

    Reply
    • Slight North by Dianne Minardi

      Hi Sara! Thanks for reaching out. I think you should definitely choose Colombia over Peru. First, because the beaches in Cartagena are so stunning and a perfect place to spend a week relaxing. As for outdoors stuff, you’ll definitely be more limited than in Peru but you can check out the popular Lost City Trek, or spend a few days in Tayrona National Park and the small towns nearby like Minca. For co-working space and good internet, Medellin is definitely your best bet for the last two weeks. The city has a huge expat population and good infrastructure, and I found the internet to generally be better than it was in Peru. Hope this helps! You’re trip sounds awesome, let me know what you decide to do!

      Reply
  2. Carol

    Hi! did you travel to both in the same trip? I want to be able to squeeze both destinations in a single South America trip. I already did Chile, Mendoza and Buenos Aires in Argentina. I want to next time cover Colombia and Peru so wondering if you did travel to both, how did you get from one to the other in an easy but not too expensive way.

    Reply
    • Slight North by Dianne Minardi

      Yes I did, but it was a super long trip… 6 months in Colombia and 4 in Peru. We flew on a one way ticket from Medellin to Lima. International flights in South America are notoriously expensive though, I think we spent like $375 each? Definitely not cheap. However, we chose to fly a mid range airline. Check out VivaColombia and you may be able to get cheaper prices. You can also take a bus. Cruz del Sur is pretty nice but kinda pricey as well, but there are other lines too I think that you can google. Sorry I’m not more help! We stayed only in these two countries for our whole trip because we found crossing borders to be either really expensive or a super long haul bus ride. Good luck!

      Reply
  3. Durley

    Hey Dianne, thanks for making this comparison, it´s useful, but maybe I would not say: “there’s no question that Peru has more to offer than Colombia at this time”, The last years Colombia has increased its tourist activities as crazy that even now Colombia is getting double amount of visitors than Peru.

    Reply
    • Slight North by Dianne Minardi

      Colombia has a lot to offer without a doubt, especially to the growing digital nomad community. However, after spending 6 months in the country and 4.5 in Peru, I saw firsthand that travel and tourist activities are simply easier to access and more plentiful in Peru.

      Reply
  4. Lina

    Hi, I loved your article. I’m actually a peruvian from Lima living in Bogotá and after almost a year here I’m weighing whether to stay or return home. I wanted to add just a few things, first I would say that you can’t really compare Medellin to Cusco. Medellin is way more developed. For a fair comparison, you should compare similar cities like Medellin vs Lima, or Bogotá vs Lima, the capitals.

    Now, SUPER important… when you talk about food, you should compare native food, otherwise you are actually comparing “options”, because in this matter, food is way better in Perú, even Colombians who have traveled to Perú can confirm so. Colombia does have better infrastructure, is more organized and has more digital culture as you say, and living here is better because cost of life is kinda cheaper with the same or sometimes better quality of options when it comes to food products, fashion, technology, etc.
    When it comes to tourism, as you said, Perú has a lot more to offer and having tons of tourists you’ll always find locals with perfect english.

    In general, it’s pretty much a tie for me, although I’d say I like Lima a little bit more than Bogotá or Medellin (where I stayed only for a 3 days), and it’s just for one simple reason: A city with easy access to the ocean is always the best option, I have found that people is more relaxed and transmit better vibes when the ocean is around.

    Reply
    • Slight North by Dianne Minardi

      Hey, thanks for the feedback, I love to hear what other travelers thinking of the two countries. Just to be clear though, this isn’t a comparison just between Medellin and Cusco. I also lived in Arequipa, Huaraz, and Lima! Unfortunately I didn’t get to be in Lima when it was summer season, but I would love to go back when it is because I’m sure the vibe is totally different.

      Last but not least to respond to your comment about the food: you’re right that it’s a comparison of options and not just the native cuisines. When I travel, especially long term, I like to eat international food, all types of restaurants, and the native food. That’s why I think it’s important to take both into account and even if Peruvian cuisine is better I think Colombia comes out ahead in this category (even tho I know a lot of people disagree!)

      I agree with you that it’s pretty much a tie between the two. Life in Colombia is easier and cheaper but life in Peru is more fun haha. Just depends what you’re looking for. Good luck with your decision!

      Reply
  5. Chris

    Your claim regarding safety is that they are tied however Colombia has a national homicide rate of 26.5 murders per 100,000 (#13th highest in world) while Peru’s is a reported 7.16. Colombia is still top 10 in kidnappings. I don’t live in Colombia but I was just surprised by the stats. It’s worth mentioning Colombia is still at war with paramilitary groups, the mafia and other drug-trafficking organizations. Also hundreds of human rights activists have been assassinated in the past 2-3 years. Obviously their situation is not as bad as El Salvador/Honduras but nowhere near the same level as Peru. The US Dept of State reflects this as well. Best regards

    Reply
    • Slight North by Dianne Minardi

      Thanks for sharing this info. You’re right, those stats are definitely surprising. However, for tourists that are not going to get involved in drugs or politics Colombia is still quite safe! A lot of people are scared away because of their violent past but that really shouldn’t be the case anymore.

      Reply
  6. Daniel

    I haven’t been to Peru yet as I’m still hoping to go there (that’s how I found your blog) but have been to Colombia for only two weeks and I wish I had much much more time to explore the country. I am not much for cold weather thus Bogota didn’t appeal to me but the malls and some parts of it were impressive. That said, Cartagena was amazing. I loved the vibrant life, the food and the people. There is so much more I wanted to see in Colombia but lacked the time and should have probably structured my vacationed differently with less of a distance to explore. Amazon was great and I wished I’ve been there for two weeks alone. But here are some additional places in Colombia that you haven’t mentioned that are worthy for tourists to consider.

    Puerto Narino (village in Amazon area, no cars, cheap guides, pink river dolphins, tons of birds)
    La Ciudad Perdida – (ruins predate Machu Picchu by about 600 years, 6 day round trip)
    Cano Cristales – river where in July/August the plants turn various colors
    Valle de Cocora – tallest tpalm trees in the world

    I think Colombian festivals would be interesting to see as well, especially Carnival in Barranquilla.

    Reply
    • Di Michelle

      Thanks for sharing! I also wish I was able to see more of Colombia, the Amazon especially. The pick dolphins sound so cute! Valle de Cocora was also on my wish list but just like you we didn’t make it. These are great tips for future readers 🙂

      Reply

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