Lima or Quito? It’s a seriously difficult question for backpackers and travelers making their way across South America. Both are capital cities, both offer culture, and both have incredible things to do. However, they are vastly different from one another and provide unique experiences.
Lima is the capital city of Peru and home to nearly 11 million people. This is one of the largest cities in Latin America and is set right on the Pacific Ocean. Quito, on the other hand, is located in the mountains in neighboring Ecuador. With a population of just over 2.5 million people, this capital city is significantly smaller than Lima. Though, it is one of the oldest cities in South America.
From general vibes and getting there to weather and things to do, we’ve put Lima up against Quito to see which city comes out on top. So if you are struggling to decide between the two, this guide will help you out! Let’s get to it, Lima or Quito?
Table of Contents
Lima vs Quito: Overall vibe
South America is incredibly diverse from country to country which is clearly shown when comparing Peru and Ecuador. Both nations offer unique cultures, customs, and vibes that are a feast to any intrepid globetrotter.
Lima is a modern city. Generally, it is often busy and bustling, which can also be interpreted as crowded and overwhelming. There are several districts that make up the city, some are built up with glitz and glam, and others offer a more relaxing experience. Miraflores is one of the more popular areas in Lima for tourists that offers a good range of hotels, restaurants, and shopping, along with small details of history sprinkled throughout.
Quito on the other hand is a much more humbling place to visit. This city is authentic and traditional. It’s spread out across the hills, which is an impressive view when you are flying in. The general vibe is warm and relaxed with the traditional Ecuadorian Sierra culture flowing through the streets. You do have to keep a watchful eye open though – unfortunately, Quito has a bad reputation when it comes to crime levels.
Lima vs Quito: Getting there and around
Out of the two cities, Lima is more connected with the rest of the world. You’ll be able to find cheaper and more flight options across multiple airlines from the USA, UK, or Europe into Lima than Quito in Ecuador. Flights into Quito tend to be expensive and can be limited – you may have to have an additional layover to get there. Many people opt for an open-jaw flight ticket which allows you to fly into one country, travel overland to the next to then fly out from there. Lima and Quito are actually often part of this travel itinerary!
Distance from Lima airport to Miraflores: 18k km, approximately 45 minutes.
Distance from Quito airport to Quito’s Historic Center: 43 km, approximately 1 hour.
Distance between Lima and Quito via overland bus: 1770.5 km, approximately 1.5 days.
However, once you are there, Quito is far more enjoyable to get around. With it being quieter, the roads are easier to navigate. And actually, you can get explore most of the old town on foot. There is also a fantastic bike-sharing system in the city center, providing an eco-friendly way of getting around.
Lima is often congested, so if you did hop in a taxi or public transportation, you are likely to crawl through the city to your destination. There is a metro system in the center, however, this is overcrowded and unreliable. Due to the high volumes of traffic, the city does suffer from smog on really bad days.
Lima vs Quito: Weather
Lima and Quito’s climates could not be any more different! Lima has a subtropical hot, desert climate, whereas Quito has a subtropical highland climate with no dry season.
There is virtually no rainfall in the coastal capital (Lima is one of the driest places on the globe), and the average temperatures range between 60ºF to 75ºF, depending on the season. The mountainous capital is often caught up in rainclouds and the temperatures rarely change from 58ºF throughout the year.
Choosing between the two places based on the weather comes down to what kind of traveler you are. After all, if you want the mountains, then you have to accept there is a strong chance of getting rained on. That being said, most people will prefer to travel dry than to get wet.
Lima vs Quito: Landscape
Lima is set within the rugged and crumbling cliffs on the Pacific Ocean coast of Peru. It is surrounded mostly by a flat, dry desert with little flora or fauna to explore. The concrete jungle slopes into the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean. There are some beautiful beaches near Lima that offer stretches of soft sand and world-class waves for surfers.
Quito, on the other hand, is at the heart of the Andes Mountains, which influences can be felt within the city center. The city was built on a long plateau on the edge of the Pichincha volcano. This valley offers views across other snow-capped volcanoes, visible from the city on a clear day. There are more green spaces and wildlife habitats close to the city due to the higher rainfall and mountainous location.
The landscapes of each destination could not be further apart, so again, choosing which one to visit is determined by what sort of vacation you are after. Do you want beaches or do you want to go to the mountains that are on the doorstep?
Lima vs Quito: Culture
Lima is truly a cosmopolitan city that offers a lot and is inclusive to any type of traveler. This is thanks to it being a modern city along with a rich colonial history. There are several significant buildings, churches, and convents that depict the deep Peruvian culture that you must go to if you visit Lima. You do have to get out of Miraflores’ glitzy district and hunt down the authentic culture. The Barranco district is the place to go to experience art and culture in Lima.
Then, we have Quito. The city is overflowing with local markets, shamanistic healers, and fourth-generation hatmakers. It’s a perfect blend of vibrant traditionalism and a dash of sophisticated modernism. It is also the first capital city to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site which kind of says it all! You can spend days exploring the colonial architecture and historical buildings, all within walking distance of the city center.
Both Lima and Quito offer a beautifully rich culture, it is near impossible to choose between the two destinations!
Lima vs Quito: Things to do
Like in our landscape debate, these two destinations are so different that the attractions to go see and do are worlds apart (there are some relatable items as well). From the Miraflores boardwalk and the Cathedral de San Francisco in Lima to exploring Quito’s old town architecture, you are spoilt for choice coming to South America.
What is there to do in Lima?
- Visit the Cathedral de San Francisco library and the catacombs.
- Take a surf lesson at Waikiki Beach or head to the big waves further south.
- Try parasailing off the cliff tops and glide over the ocean.
- Walk around the ancient ruins of Huaca Pucllana, dating back centuries.
- Larco Museum showcases pre-Colombian art in an 18th-century vice-royal building, other museums include the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Mario Testino Museum.
- Visit beautifully manicured squares and soak up the glamor of the city.
What is there to do in Quito?
- Hit up the mountains and go horseback riding, mountain biking, hiking, or rafting.
- Explore the historic center and beautiful architecture.
- Visit the Presidential Palace for free!
- Go to the equator and have fun with tricks you can only do in the middle of Earth.
- Hot springs are within a couple of hours out of the city.
- Take a food tour complete with a local market trip and cooking class.
It’s safe to say there is plenty to do in both cities! Whether you are after adrenaline-fueled activities and cultural inspiration, you can find something to satisfy your traveling needs in both Lima and Quito.
Lima vs Quito: Hotels
As expected, Lima offers twice as many hotels and places to stay as Quito. With the city being significantly larger and busier, more range is required due to tourism demand. That doesn’t mean Quito does not have a good choice of accommodations. Even though there is less choice, on average, Quito’s hotels are much cheaper than somewhere comparable in Lima.
Most of the hotels in Lima are at a good standard to accommodate Western travelers comfortably. You can expect breakfast to be included in the room rate, especially at the bigger hotels. Not many have swimming pools or fitness centers, so make sure you look for these specifically if that is a requirement for you. There is a good selection of hostels in the Historic Center and Miraflores – the two districts you are likely to have a more sociable stay.
We then have Quito… This city is certainly not short of luxurious hotel stays and is fantastic for hostels to meet fellow backpackers. One of the most highly rated places to stay in Quito is Hostel Revolution Quito, located in the heart of the Historic Center offering insane views across the Andes Mountains. Sakti Hostal B&B is another superb place to stay and offers an authentic experience with the hosts.
Lima vs Quito: Food
One of the many joys of traveling to far corners of the globe is to experience different flavors in each country. Both Ecuador and Peru have distinct tastes and dishes that are sure to leave a lasting impression!
Ecuador’s food is a diverse mix of traditional dishes from the Incas to some more Spanish influence from the colonial past. You’ll find a lot of fresh ingredients with potatoes and rice. While down on the coast there is seafood, Quito in the mountains will make use of the livestock and meats available in the hills. This means you are highly likely to come across cuy, one of the most famous dishes to come out of Ecuador that is typically reserved for special occasions or for tourists as a bucket list item. Brace yourself, cuy is a spit-roasted guinea pig!
Peruvian cuisine also draws upon its Spanish colonial history, but there are also strong elements of African and Asian food culture woven in. Lima has become a gastronomical hub of Peru with some knockout restaurants and food markets that are sure to blow you away. Ceviche is one of the most common dishes – raw fish, shrimp, scallops, or squid soaked in lime juice and infused with local spices and hot chili. It’s utterly delicious and is super fresh!
Lima vs Quito: Price
South America can be traveled on a shoestring budget if you are wise about how you spend your money. There are also some pretty luxurious experiences to be had if your budget allows. In general, both Peru and Ecuador are similarly priced. Though, there is a slight difference between Lima and Quito.
|Cost per week (1 pax)||$427||$290|
Based on a 1-week stay for one person, the average price in Lima is just over $100 USD more expensive than in Quito. The extra expense is typically in the accommodation costs, but then in every other aspect, Lima is the cheaper place to travel.
Which is the best capital city?
From the vast differences in the landscape to the unique flavors to sample in each city, Lima and Quito could not be more different from one another. It’s a tough decision to make, but based on our comparative points, Quito just about wins the battle.
If you want a more authentic and traditional experience, you have to choose Quito for your travels. There is something magical about being in the heart of the Andes and so close to the equator. However, prepare yourself for exotic meals and a lot of rain!
Lima is perfect for surfers and those who want the ocean at their doorstep. The coastline is breathtaking, raw and rugged. However, this is a busy city with a huge city population. The traffic is a nightmare and this, unfortunately, affects the air quality in this otherwise beautiful destination.