Ecuador and Peru are consistently listed as top bucket list destinations in South America. When browsing general information on the web, it is difficult to decide which country to visit. In this article, I provide a specialized piece on Peru vs Ecuador to disentangle all the details and provide clarity. Within, I compare and contrast some of the top attractions, cities, culture, and more. By the end, you should have a better idea of which you want to visit. However, in all honesty, you’ll probably just want to visit both!
Currency and Costs
Many are surprised when planning a trip to Ecuador when they find that the currency is the U.S. dollar. The first thought is that this makes for easy math and no need for exchange rates (at least for U.S citizens). For nearly 70 years, Ecuador used the Sucre. Put simply, after the severe devaluation of the currency, the country switched in 2000. Now, let’s take a look at Peru, where the currency is the Sol. The exchange has varied from 3.20 to 3.74 sols per USD in 2020-2021. However, currency really should not be a major factor in the trip decision. However. it is an important fact to know.
More importantly to planning, what is the overall cost difference for Peru vs Ecuador? In general, the prices in Peru are relatively cheaper concerning basic food and accommodation. However, the costs for these are radically less when compared to the U.S, UK, or Europe. Thus, the cost differences between the two countries are negligible, unless of course you are backpacking or vacationing long term.
Additionally, expenses are going to vary greatly from traveler to traveler. Amazon lodges in both countries and Galapagos cruises in Ecuador are divided into three and four price categories, respectively. One traveler might find a cruise or lodge category to be the most important decision in their trip, while another guest may find the dining options and tour itinerary to be more important. One recommendation I have, speak with our travel planners free of charge, where they can help match your desired budget with the many offerings out there.
Peru vs Ecuador: Geography
Ecuador and Peru are both situated in the northwest region of the continent, where they border the Pacific ocean. Fortunately for travelers, this offers some of the most gorgeous beaches in South America. A quick look at the stunning Mancora in Peru and Los Frailes in Ecuador and you will understand what I mean. Running through the middle of both Ecuador and Peru is the Andean mountain range, which provides a pleasant climate for countries so close to the equator, along with plenty of breathtaking vantage points and mountain cities. Accounting for large percentages of both countries is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, the Amazon rainforest.
Machu Picchu vs Galapagos islands
The biggest factor in destination selection between Peru vs Ecuador is often the hard choice between Machu Picchu and the Galapagos Islands. If you cannot combine these destinations (a viable option), you have to ask yourself: would you rather visit Machu Pichu, one of the seven wonders of the world, or the Galapagos Islands, a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the most famous wildlife/nature-centric destination on the entire planet? This is specific to each traveler’s taste. Some want the adventure of trekking one of the major Inca trails or taking a train to the Incan capital.
Others may want to cruise the Galapagos archipelago, exploring the domain of giant tortoises, marine iguanas, fur seals, and hammerhead sharks. Both have their own magical, unique experience. An important note to add, it would be an injustice to say that these two destinations are the only things to see in these countries. One can explore either without these destinations, and still have the adventure of a lifetime with an appetite for more. Although this article touches on quite a bit, it merely skims the surface of all the attractions available.
Large country vs small
Ecuador is 283,560 km², roughly the size of Nevada by area, while Peru is roughly 4x bigger with 1.285 million km². The advantage to Ecuador is that all corners of the country can be rapidly traversed. The flights are extremely cheap, and the distances short. A 50-minute flight from the Northern city of Quito to the Southern city of Guayaquil costs $90.00 – $120.00. Getting from Quito to the Amazon rainforest is a breeze. A 40-minute flight followed by a few hours in a motorized canoe – a tour in itself – and you are completely immersed in the vast Amazon rainforest and the magical sounds of the jungle. A half-day trip to the highlands to tour the majestic peaks that have inspired countless mountaineers takes nought but a few hours and sightings along the way are unforgettable. Getting to the beach is similarly simple.
On the other hand, travelling from the Northern region of Peru to the Southern will take a bit longer due to the sheer size of the country. However, if you are thinking about sticking around Cusco and Lima, this is not so much an issue. The prices of flights are similarly inexpensive in Peru. In summary, you can likely explore a bit more of Ecuador without worrying about wasting time in transit.
Peru vs Ecuador: Andean mountains
Ecuador is in the middle of Columbia (North) and Peru (South). Running through both Ecuador and Peru is the longest continental mountain range in the world, the Andean mountain range. This magnificent mountain range yields many of Ecuador and Peru’s breathtaking destinations. In Peru, the Andes boasts the gorgeous rainbow mountain Vinicunca, and treks through the Salcantay mountain pass leading to Machu Picchu with bright blue glacial lakes en route makes highland tours one of the most attractive in the world. Similarly, in Ecuador, the Andes hosts the volcano Chimborazo, the highest mountain on the entire planet relative to the center of the earth, all thanks to Earth’s bulge at the equator, which gives Chimborazo the boost needed to outdo even Everest! Numerous national parks in Ecuador’s highlands such as Cotopaxi, Antisana, Cajas, and more are full of beautiful landscapes.
In the “Peru vs Ecuador” comparison regarding the highlands, there are a few key takeaways. First, both countries are abundant in stunning snow-capped mountains and volcanoes, which makes for amazing day trip adventures. I honestly could not argue that one country outdoes the other, as I personally haven’t been to every mountain and city in Ecuador and Peru. What I can say is that both highland areas are impressive in their own right, and I couldn’t imagine having any regrets picking one tour over another.
Secondly, the cities in the Andes, although near the equator, are chillier than the sea level regions. This means you should pack a warm coat for nightfall. More importantly, keep an eye out for the vibrant handmade Alpaca sweaters, knit hats, and gloves found in the artisanal markets! Otavalo has the best sweaters in Ecuador, and Cusco has tons of markets to explore. The clothing is perfect for fall and early spring days for back home. Price-wise, they are the best bang for your buck.
Lastly, for those of you living in near sea-level elevation regions, keep in mind that the jump to 9,000+ feet (1,450 kilometres) above sea level takes a bit of adjustment, and there is no way to predict how you might react. I have written an extensive altitude guide that outlines one major high altitude city in Ecuador, but the content is relevant to all height altitude regions. Peru has some areas that are quite a bit higher than Quito, which sits at 2,850 meters (9,350 ft.) vs Peru’s whopping 3,400 m (11,200 ft.).
Nature and biodiversity – Amazon rainforest
Overall, Ecuador’s Amazon regions boast 1,640 bird species, 350 reptile species – including anacondas and iguanas over 300 mammals, including 19 monkeys, and jaguars! Similarly biodiverse, Peru’s amazon has identified 575 bird species within just a 5,500-hectare section of rainforest, while North America has only 700 in its entirely! In total, the country has approximately 1,800 bird species, 430 mammal species, and 300 reptiles! In both countries, you can encounter anacondas, caiman, pink river dolphins, giant river otters, sloths, capybaras, tapirs, macaws, monkeys, iguanas, poison dart frogs, tarantulas, and much much more!
Both Ecuador and Peru are comprised of large swaths of the Amazon rainforest. In Peru, the Amazon rainforest accounts for 60 percent of the country, while in Ecuador, it accounts for 30 percent. When visiting the Amazon rainforest, guests typically tend to stay in a remote Amazon lodge within a protected national park. Other guests prefer the river cruise option. In Ecuador, the major reserves are Cuyabeno and Yasuni, while Peru is renowned for Iquitos, Manu, and Puerto Maldonado. Each national park contains a staggering level of biodiversity. Both countries are neck and neck with the sheer volume and likelihood of wildlife encounters.
What makes a successful trip in the Amazon is not so much the country you choose, but rather how deep into the Amazon you go, and the lodge you choose. The further the lodge is from human settlements, the greater the unique wildlife encounters. Similarly, the better the reputation of the lodge and its staff, most importantly the guide, the better the experience.
I’ll elaborate on this bit. One thing I realized when I visited the Amazon, if it had not been for my guide in Ecuador’s Cuyabeno National Park, I likely would have only seen a small fraction of the species that I did. That is because our eyes are not accustomed to spotting creatures deep in the Amazon that do everything in their power to remain camouflaged. My group was flabbergasted every time he spotted a creature, while we had to spend a good 30 seconds or so finding the animal hidden amongst the surroundings. If our guide hadn’t been so enthusiastic in his position as a guide, I know we would have missed out. My last recommendation, bring a pair of quality binoculars if the lodge doesn’t provide them. You can ask ahead of time.
The cities of Peru vs. Ecuador
Looking at the cities of Peru vs Ecuador, both countries provide an impressive lineup of captivating towns bustling with culture, extraordinary architecture, friendly people, and excellent cuisine. Regarding the architecture of the major cities, Lima and Cusco in Peru, and Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca in Ecuador, the cities are alike in many ways. This is because of their shared history of Spanish colonial rule, which led to the creation of “historic centers.” Picture winding cobbled roads leading to grand squares centered with fountains and gardens. Nearby, there are always impressive and ornate churches, always fascinating to explore. Whatever country you choose to visit, a day tour of a historic center is a must, as the history of each country and city is rich, unique, and fascinating.
While Ecuador and Peru may be tied in their offerings within cities, Peru edges out Ecuador when it comes to Incan ruins. Ecuador came under Incan rule for a half-century, which led to the creation of fascinating sites such as Ingapirca, an archaeological complex with ancient Incan masonry, artefacts and tools. Nevertheless, Peru boasts the Incan capital of Cusco after all, and there are many remnants of their civilization embedded within the region. With the likes of Machu Picchu, you truly get a glimpse into the life of an Incan in the mid 15th to early 16th century.
Language and people
While one cannot say that an Ecuadorian citizen in Quito will be anything like a Peruvian citizen of Cusco, there are some broad similarities between the populations. Overall, the most important fact is the people of Ecuador and Peru are friendly and welcoming. The primary language of both countries is Spanish, due to the era of Spanish colonization. While some of the younger populations are more acquainted with English, overall levels of English are low. The majority of Peru (60%) and Ecuador (70%) are Mestizos, a person of a combined European and indigenous American descent.
In both Ecuador and Peru, there are significant populations of indigenous peoples. Peru has the indigenous populations of Quechua and Aymara. In Ecuador, there are many indigenous groups on the coast, highlands, and Amazon Basin. The majority in the highlands speak Quichua, a variant of Peru’s Quechua. In the Amazon basin, there are various indigenous communities including Oriente Quichua, Shuar, Huaorani, Siona–Secoya, Cofán, and the Achuar.
I’ve traveled through Peru, and I even lived in Ecuador for over a year. I stood amidst the great Machu Picchu, and I’ve explored the Galapagos Islands multiple times. After all that, I cannot say one country is better than the other. They are both magical places, and while each has similarities, each country is unique. If I could make any recommendations to a traveler, I would say see both and see for yourself. You won’t regret it. Have any more questions? Drop a comment down in the feedback section, or reach out to our trip advisors who know these destinations better than anyone.