So, you’re thinking of heading to South America to bask in golden sunshine, roam mountains dotted with ancient ruins, uncover the story of the Incas, and taste the finest coffee you’ll ever taste? Great choice! Chances are you’ve landed on the difficult decision: Ecuador or Peru?
Side by side, Ecuador and Peru share many of the same landscapes, traditions, and even weather patterns. Yet, each has its own charm and must-do bucket list items. If hiking days on end to reach the renowned Machu Picchu is what you’re after then Peru is your go-to. But for wildlife and visions of incredible volcanos, Ecuador is a no-brainer.
Stepping away from the obvious, we take a closer look at everything from typical costs to off-the-beaten-path hikes to help you decide once and for all if it should be Ecuador or Peru this year. Naturally, the best thing of all would be to do both! They do share a border, after all!
Table of Contents
Ecuador or Peru: Nature
No matter your reason for visiting Ecuador or Peru, there’s no doubt you’ll be wowed by the fascinating wildlife and breathtaking landscapes that continuously surrounds you. The Andes stretch across both Ecuador and Peru, casting mountainous terrain that begs to be explored and proves to be nearly impossible to compare. Of course, the Peruvian Andes are home to Machu Picchu and the iconic Inca Trail, a bucket list experience for many. Or, for those who want to get more off the beaten path, hiking the Lost City of Choquequirao Trek and the Lares Inca Trail are equally, if not more, beautiful.
Ecuador may not have as famous of a hike, but its Avenue of the Volcanoes, Central Highlands, and impressive Galapagos Islands are mighty hard to beat. Ecuador also has an astounding array of ecosystems – meaning you’ll find an abundance of unique and fascinating wildlife to go along with its pristine nature. In Ecuador or Peru, you’ll want to make sure you do your research and if you’re inexperienced, hire a guide. High altitudes, variable weather, and dangerous animals can turn even a short hike into a stressful situation.
Also common to both Ecuador and Peru is the Amazon jungle. In either country, you’ll find plenty of companies and tour guides who will offer excursions deep in the jungle and accommodation in remote and beautiful settings. Nature-wise, you’ll get similar experiences in both countries, but it’s worth noting Peru has more developed tourism and tends to be more expensive but also more regulated.
Ecuador or Peru: Things to do
After the last section, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that things to do in Ecuador or Peru have a big focus on the outdoors. After all, where else can you climb mountains, explore the jungle, and relax on beautiful beaches all on one trip? Perhaps that’s why Ecuador’s motto of ‘All you need is Ecuador’ has stood the test of time.
Albeit a bit cheesy, nobody can argue it’s not true and Ecuador is well worth visiting. If you’re into wildlife, island hop in the Galapagos, and if you want to explore otherwordly landscapes, head to the Avenue of the Volcanoes. For history fanatics, Quito and Cuenca are fascinating UNESCO World Heritage Sites. And for those who prefer to relax and let the world go by, hop aboard a scenic train ride. Plus, given Ecuador’s small size, it’s possible to do all these activities and more in just a one to two-week vacation.
Moving on to Peru, it’s all too easy to focus on its widely famous Machu Picchu. And while it would be wrong to visit Peru and not explore one of the 7 Wonders of the World, there are endless things to do in Peru that are equally as fascinating. However, due to Peru’s much larger size than Ecuador, more planning and travel time will be needed. If you’re in Peru and you have a strong stomach, you’ll have to taste one of the many rather unique traditional dishes (more on that later). Other popular things include visiting the spectacular Millpu pools, chasing waterfalls near Kuelap Fortress, wandering the ancient neighborhoods in Cusco and Lima, or attending one of the many Peruvian festivals held throughout the year.
Ecuador or Peru: Food
All this talk of hiking and exploring the wondrous landscapes of Peru and Ecuador will no doubt have your stomach growling, so let’s dive into which country tops the charts when it comes to cuisine. Firstly, both Ecuador and Peru have a lot of diversity when it comes to food. In the colder mountain regions, dishes tend to be much heartier and include a lot of meat and potatoes, especially in stews. You can look forward to lots of seafood and fresh fruit dominating the menu when you’re on the coast.
In Ecuador and Peru, lunch is also the biggest and most important meal of the day. You’ll never find a Peruvian or Ecuadorian eating a small lunch at their desk, or the unfathomable, skipping lunch altogether. Instead, in Peru, you can look forward to a multi-course meal complete with soup, a salad, ceviche, and a delicious meat main such as lomo saltado (stir-fried beef). In Ecuador food culture, you can look forward to hearty pork, beef, or chicken dishes served with rice, beans, and often, with a delicious sauce that goes perfectly with everything.
One of the biggest differences you’ll need to know is the unspoken competition for the best ceviche. Peruvians take great pride in their fresh ceviche made with sea bass marinated in lime juice, onion, salt, and the all-important aji (hot chiles). Ecuador takes a slightly different approach, leaving the juices in the ceviche and serving it with plantain chips or toasted corn. Each is delicious and even if you have a preference, be sure to keep your thoughts to yourself if you’re not in the country of your favorite ceviche.
Ecuador or Peru: Culture
Considering Ecuador and Peru share a long-contested border, it should come as no shock that they also share many of the same cultures and traditions. Since the 1500s, these two countries have been connected by roads, passed along traditions, and even speak the same Quechua language used under the Inca Rule. Even so, with the Andes mountains allowing natives to thrive and the Galapagos Islands located about 1000 kilometers (620 miles) away from mainland Ecuador, distinct differences between Ecuador and Peru culture can be seen.
In Peru, you can almost always guess where someone is from or lives based on their traditional clothing. Bright skirts, embroidered belts, and elegantly designed ponchos are common. Each region of Peru also has its traditional dances, which signify everything from war to agriculture. Dance and music are also a common occurrence in Ecuador, and it seems like Ecuadorians will find any reason to get out their flutes and drums and create catchy tunes.
When it comes to differences, you’ll find just as many distinctions between villages as you will between Ecuador or Peru. After the fall of the Inca Empire and the settlement by Europeans, a lovely mixed heritage culture was formed. In both countries, you’ll find locals are proud to share their culture with you, so all you need to do is come in with an open mind and discover which culture speaks to you the most.
Ecuador or Peru: Weather
If you’ve noticed the common theme of there being just as many differences within Ecuador or Peru as there are between the countries, there’s no change here. Weather in Peru varies from the desert in the west and tropical in the Amazon jungle to cool weather in the Andes. The same goes for Peru, where you’ll find tropical weather along the coast and in the Amazon jungle lowlands, while it becomes cooler the more inland and higher elevations you reach.
However, Ecuador’s proximity to the equator sets it slightly apart from Peru. With the nickname of ‘Eternal Spring,’ you can look forward to spring-like temperatures all year round. Especially in the Galapagos Islands, you can enjoy 70 °F (20 °C) weather no matter when you visit, making it an ideal location to spend the day exploring and enjoying the many water activities.
On the other hand, Peru sees more contrast between seasons, and you’ll want to work your travel plans around both the country’s rainy season and when temperatures will be not too cold and not too hot for hiking. If you’re planning a trip to the coast, January promises lots of sun with temperatures around 84 °F (29 °C). However, if you’re planning to visit Machu Picchu, it can be very wet in January and February (the Inca Trail is even closed in February due to rain), so the best time would be between May and September.
Ecuador or Peru: City Breaks
We’ve chatted about brilliant coastlines and daring mountains just waiting to be explored for much of this article, but did you know both Ecuador and Peru are home to fascinating cities well worth spending time in? Ecuador is home to Quito, the highest capital city in the world, Cuenca, filled to the brim with charming cobbled streets and beautiful churches, and Guayaquil, the country’s largest city and economic heart. Peru is home to equally fascinating and diverse cities, including Cusco, the former capital of the Inca Empire and one of the safest cities in South America, and Lima, a small bustling city overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
While most visitors only spend a few days in one of Ecuador or Peru’s big cities, usually as a gateway to other destinations, there’s so much to do and see one could easily spend a week or more exploring the historical sites and hidden gems. Lima, Peru’s largest city, has everything from nearby beaches and incredible restaurants to intriguing slums and pre-Columbian ruins. Ecuador’s biggest city, Guayaquil, may not be quite as intriguing, being the main port city. However, you’ll still find unique architecture and a lovely riverfront promenade lined with mouth-watering restaurants.
One city stands above the rest, and that’s Ecuador’s Quito. Located at 9,186 feet (2,800 meters) above sea level and surrounded by majestic mountain peaks, a walk through Quito’s well-preserved Old Town will undoubtedly leave you in love.
Ecuador or Peru: Cost
The all-important question of which is more expensive, Ecuador or Peru. We hate to do this to you, but it all depends on what you’re looking to do and see. Both countries can be explored cheaply, staying at hostels, eating at local restaurants, and getting around by public transport. The opposite can be true as well. If you’re looking to visit the Galapagos Islands for a luxurious stay or tackle the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, your budget will have to be significantly higher.
In both Ecuador and Peru, there’s no doubt your highest costs will be tourist-related. If you’re traveling on a budget, the best option to stretch your dollar is to do as the locals do. Skip the fancy fine dining establishments and opt for local restaurants. Instead of packing in every sight-seeing excursion, take things slower and walk around cities. You’ll get to appreciate the finer details of Peru and Ecuador’s fascinating culture, and save money.
Tourism aside, you will find life is slightly cheaper in Ecuador. Being a smaller country, you can see and do a lot without traveling far distances. Although less regulated, guided hiking trips are also less expensive than in Peru, and with an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables, eating out can cost as little as $5 for a big lunch. In either Peru or Ecuador, you can travel for as expensive or as cheap as you’d like.
Verdict: Ecuador, but just slightly
Ecuador or Peru – our verdict
Ecuador takes the win on this one but only just! There’s something about the off-the-beaten-track nature of the nation, its small size, perfect weather, varied landscapes, and fascinating cities that helps it claim the top spot over Peru. However, Peru certainly shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s the home of the legendary Machu Picchu and the Incan Trail, after all. There are few countries with quite the same immense trekking as this, plus there are the historic towns of Cusco and Arequipa to get through. Honestly, we don’t think you’ll be disappointing with either country!