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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.
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:
- Treks to Machu Picchu
- The Sacred Valley
- Tons of different ruins
- The Nazca Lines
- Hiking Colca Canyon
- Rainbow Mountain
- The Islands of Lake Titicaca
- Huacachina Oasis
- Mountain climbing
- Santa Cruz Trek
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 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
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
Much of my opinion about food in Colombia is colored around our stay in Medellin. There’s a lot of good Colombian food (especially the Bandeja Paisa), but there are a ton of really good international restaurants in Medellin as well. We could find everything from Vietnamese food to pizza to charcuterie to typical American fast food in Medellin. There was always something really great to eat no matter where you were in the city.
In Peru, I don’t think the food has been as good. Although I haven’t spent much time in Lima yet (one of the food capitals of the world), I think that there were just a few more good options in Colombia.
Colombia vs. Peru Food Winner: Colombia
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
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!