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Choosing between Mexico and Peru isn’t easy, but this guide is here to help.
I spent more than four months living, working, and traveling in Peru, and more than 10 months in Mexico. In Peru, I spent time in Lima, Cusco, Arequipa, and Huaraz, and in Mexico I’ve lived in Playa del Carmen, Mexico City, Puebla, Oaxaca, San Miguel de Allende, Puerto Vallarta, Queretaro, and more.
I got to know both countries pretty well, and now I’m comparing them in the ultimate Mexico vs. Peru showdown – only one will come out on top.
Let’s start with Peru because it has one of the most famous sites in the world: Machu Picchu. Other top sites and popular experiences in Peru include:
- Cusco, the heart of the ancient Inca empire
- The Sacred Valley
- Rainbow Mountain
- Lake Titicaca (the highest navigable lake in the world)
- Colca Canyon (the second deepest canyon in the world)
- The Nazca Lines
- Huacachina Oasis
- Santa Cruz Trek
- Laguna 69
- Nightlife in Lima
- Colorful markets
- Amazon rainforest
And many more hikes, ruins, museums, restaurants, and experiences that make Peru so special. In four months I honestly feel like I barely scratched the surface of my Peru bucket list.
Climbing Rainbow Mountain in Cusco, Peru
But, Mexico certainly gives Peru a run for its money because the Chichen Itza ruins rival Machu Picchu – both sites were named one of the seven new wonders of the world by Travel Channel.
Beyond that, more exceptional experiences in Mexico include:
- Fantastic beaches in Playa del Carmen and Tulum
- All-inclusive resorts
- Scuba diving (Cozumel has the second largest reef in the world)
- Cenotes (underground caves you can swim in)
- Hiking among active volcanoes at Izta-Popo National Park
- The Coba ruins, with a Mayan pyramid you can climb
- Partying in Cancun
- Colonial towns like Oaxaca, San Miguel, and Taxco
- Museums and culture in Mexico City
- Laguna Bacalar
- Lucha Libre wrestling shows
- Swimming with turtles at Akumal Beach
- The ultra-modern Biblioteca Vasconcelos library
And much, much more. Honestly, both countries are powerhouses in the tourism industry and this category is much tougher than usual to decide.
But, despite what Travel Channel says, Machu Picchu is better than Chichen Itza and this point ultimately goes to Peru.
Mexico vs. Peru Tourism Winner: Peru
Mexico from above
How easy is it to get around in Mexico and Peru?
Both of them have ok infrastructure, with buses connecting most destinations (I recommend ADO in Mexico and Cruz del Sur in Peru) and Uber in the capital cities. You can also get cheap domestic flights on budget airlines in both countries.
Luckily I never had to use health care services in either country (and hopefully you won’t either) but the World Health Organization released a list of every country ranked by their health system performance. Mexico came in at #61 while Peru trailed behind at a dismal #129.
Finally, Mexico has better grocery stores because they have Walmart, which generally provides a wider selection and cheaper prices than anywhere I shopped in Peru. Because of that (and the whole health care thing) Mexico edges out ahead in this round.
Mexico vs. Peru Infrastructure Winner: Mexico
As you can see in my Lima vs. Mexico City breakdown, the two capital cities are tied in the nightlife department. Both are giant and throw wild parties, so let’s just get that out of the way.
Cusco also has a pretty decent nightlife for its size with some nice bars, craft beer, and a few clubs that go all night long. This is probably due in part to the wide availability of cocaine in the country – Peru’s production reached a 25 year high in 2018. Obviously, I recommend avoiding the drug while you’re there.
In Mexico, the Riviera Maya is one big party. Cancun is the most famous beach town, but Playa del Carmen boasts a long strip of bars and clubs as well. Plus, nothing beats drinking on the beach. Craft beer in Mexico also outshines the industry in Peru, which I appreciate.
The capital cities may be tied but the Cancun nightlife definitely outshines Cusco, so Mexico wins this round.
Mexico vs. Peru Nightlife Winner: Mexico
Day drinking and rooftop pools: a match made in heaven in Playa del Carmen
Nature and Hiking
Hiking is the thing to do in Peru. I’ve never gone on a backpacking trip in my life, but in Peru I did two.
First, I strongly recommend hiking the five-day Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu. From Cusco you can also take easy day trips to the unbelievable rainbow mountain, the Huchuy Qosqo ruins, Chacan Cave and the Temple of the Moon, and the Kinsa Cocha lakes.
The town of Huaraz in the north is nicknamed the Switzerland of Peru because the jagged Cordillera Blanca mountain range runs through the nearby Huascaran National Park. Here we did the four-day Santa Cruz Trek, climbed Nevado Mateo, and trekked to Laguna 69 and Wilcacocha lake.
If you love nature, you will absolutely love Peru.
Mexico puts up a good fight, but ultimately the country can’t compete. We hiked next to an erupting volcano at Izta-Popo National Park outside Mexico City, which was spectacular, but other nearby day trips like Tepoztlan and Cumbres del Ajusco National Park don’t live up to Peru’s standards.
In Mexico’s Rivera Maya there is a lot of natural beauty like the beaches, underground cenotes, and Laguna Bacalar (also known as the Lake of Seven Colors), which are all great. I guess what I’m saying is that there’s good nature and hiking in Mexico, but it’s just not as good as Peru.
It’s as simple as that.
Mexico vs. Peru Nature and Hiking Winner: Peru
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Climbing Nevado Mateo in Huaraz, Peru
Dan and I do long term stays in each city we visit, renting out Airbnb apartments, settling in (a bit), cooking meals, and working 9 to 5 during the week. So, there are some extra things we look for in each country that a typical vacationer might not.
Most important, of course, is the internet. And in Peru, the internet sucks.
We regularly had blackouts in Cusco and experienced pretty terrible speeds throughout the country. In Huaraz, my international data just didn’t work at all, for the entire month. Mexico has much better internet – in 2018 it was ranked the 85th fastest in the world while Peru came in at 113.
The cost of living in Peru is a little bit higher than Mexico and the internet is a little bit worse, so Mexico comes out ahead. (Plus, they have Walmart.)
Mexico vs. Peru Remote Work Winner: Mexico
It’s no secret that Mexico is fighting a pretty massive drug war. There are definitely parts of the country that are unsafe for visitors to go. Due to Peru’s cocaine production, there are also areas of the country you should definitely avoid.
In 2018 the US Department of State classified Peru as Level 1: Exercise Normal Caution and classified Mexico as Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution. So statistically, you may be safer in Peru than in Mexico. But if you’ve got some street smarts and some common sense, traveling in both is fine.
(You can also book multi-day tours through both countries to go with a group and finish your travel planning in one click!)
Mexico vs. Peru Safety Winner: Peru
When trying to decide between Mexico or Peru, the food is incredibly important.
Mexico City is well-known as one of the food capitals of world and Lima is beginning to pick up steam as well. Both have top-rated chefs and world-famous restaurants, so let’s take a wider look at the cuisines as a whole.
Subjectively, I like Mexican food better than Peruvian food. And subjectively, I think most other travelers will as well.
Mexican food includes tacos, burritos, sopes, enchiladas, guacamole, spectacularly spicy salsas, quesadillas, chilaquiles, huevos rancheros, tortas, and so many more tasty delights.
Peruvian food is not quite as diverse and is mostly beans, rice, meat, and fish. It’s good, but nothing to write home about. On the other hand, I’m still daydreaming about the meals I enjoyed in Mexico. For me, this round is a no-brainer.
Mexico vs. Peru Food Winner: Mexico
Fact: there’s no such thing as too many tacos
And the winner is…
Mexico! In a narrow four to three victory, Mexico just barely comes out ahead.
If you’re trying to choose between Mexico or Peru, the honest answer is that they’re both amazing countries and it really just depends on what you’re looking for.
If you’re a nature lover, Peru is the obvious answer. If you want to travel more long term and live and work abroad, Mexico is a better choice.
For vacations, both are pretty even – history buffs will love Cusco and Machu Picchu while Mexico is better for all-inclusive resorts, partying, and relaxing on a beach.
Only you can decide between Peru or Mexico, but I hope this guide helps you find the right country for your trip!
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This article is part of the Latin America Smackdown Series. Read the rest below:
Or, explore more from around the world in the complete Country Comparison Series.