Compared to Colombia, Peru surprised me tremendously on several areas. Especially since I am used to Colombia and had thought it would be roughly comparable. Nothing was further from the truth, however. And of course I am not talking about the cultural and natural differences, because that is precisely what makes a country unique. It’s more about the tourism and how both countries are developed tourism wise. Are you thinking between traveling in Peru or Colombia? Then you might benefit from this article. Curious about the differences between Colombia and Peru? Then read on quickly!
Culture and nature: Colombia or Peru?
Before I get to the surprising differences we noted, a bit about what there actually is to see and do in both countries. And I can be brief about that: each country is unique and has its own beauty and that is no different with Peru and Colombia. Although Colombia is still my favorite, Peru is also a great travel destination. Beautiful nature, historic towns, Machu Picchu and many climates and different landscapes.
Both countries have everything in terms of nature: desert, beach, snow-capped mountain peaks, Amazon and everything in between. And with it, immediately, just about all weather conditions. Biodiversity in Colombia does exceed that in Peru: After all, Colombia is the second most biodiverse country in the world. I found the mountain peaks in Peru a bit more rugged than in Colombia, although you can find them here in certain places as well. Around Machu Picchu, for example, the mountains are really impressive.
Both countries have quite different histories. Peru, of course, is the land of the Incas; in Colombia there are/were many Indian tribes, just not as prominent. You have to look for it more in Colombia, like in La Guajira or Sogamoso. This history and cultural aspect immediately makes Peru incredibly interesting.
Villages and cities
As for cities and villages, both countries also have a little of everything. Cusco was really the highlight of our trip through Peru; in Colombia, I especially love the villages. With my favorites Sopó and Barichara. I liked also Lima and Arequipa in Peru. In Colombia, I know Bogotá very well, of course, and unlike most tourists, I also think that is a great city. For me, Colombia wins out on this aspect, but that’s probably because I know it much better. As a traveler, I would say that both countries have a beautiful treasure trove of villages and towns.
In short, both Colombia and Peru are perfect to visit.
The surprising differences between Peru and Colombia
Actually, there aren’t even that many. But things that we both were surprised about I really couldn’t believe at times that this is a neighboring country of Colombia. So close and so different in certain aspects. Curious? Here they come.
1. Peru is totally set on tourism
The number one surprise: how hugely touristy Peru is. Barcelona is nothing like it. Peru is totally set on tourism. And that actually surprised me the most:
- You can literally book tours everywhere.
- The tours also connect to public transportation (you really don’t have to expect that in Colombia)
- Even better: often the bus and tour can be booked together
- There is even a special tourist bus running through Peru (PeruHop, we did not use it, by the way)
- There are villages that exist only for tourism, such as Huacachina
It is so set up for tourism that even if you prepare literally nothing in advance for your round trip Peru, you can still do everything just fine. Peru is incredibly easy to travel. Advantage if you like that; I personally don’t like that mass tourism and do like a challenge.
Tourism in Colombia is still in its start
Suddenly I saw how tourism in Colombia, despite its tremendous growth in recent years, is still developing. Which I personally don’t mind at all. In Colombia, as a traveler, you have to do much more yourself. Figuring things out and arranging tours yourself. Whereas in Peru, more or less everything is done for you. Unless you choose not to book tours, but even then it is so simple that you have to put in quite little effort.
So if you are going to choose between the two countries, this is something to consider. Colombia is more exciting to travel through, more of a challenge. There are many places where they have nothing for tourists so you literally have to figure everything out for yourself. You can easily not run into a tourist in Colombia either; in Peru that’s difficult.
2. Off-the-beaten-path travel: Colombia vs. Peru
If you have traveled through both countries you may say: no way, Colombia is also super touristy. And yes, that’s right. On the tourist route. And there I immediately come to the second surprise. I really like traveling off the beaten path, doing things differently than usual. For our trip through Peru, I searched hard for how to fit that into 2.5 weeks from Lima to Cusco. And it just wasn’t doable. Peru does have places off the beaten path, such as the north and the interior, but to take that in you need much more time.
In Colombia, off-the-beaten path travel is easy
Colombia seems hugely touristy to travelers, but that’s only because most travelers take the standard route. Between Lima and Arequipa in Peru, for example, there is almost literally nothing, especially after Huacachina. In Colombia, there is something everywhere. Everywhere is either a beautiful natural park, a village no one knows about where there is always something to see, a lake to stop at, or whatever. In addition, there are simply lots of places off that beaten path where you can travel. And you can do things like rafting, paragliding, street art viewing, history, white villages, páramo, you name it. Check out these complete travel itineraries off the beaten path in Colombia.
Off the beaten track in Peru requires more effort and time
In Colombia, you don’t need much extra time for that either. Simply make a stop in Sopó if you are going to San Gil or Villa de Leyva for example. Or stop in Melgar If you are going to Salento . In Peru, however, this requires more planning. The advantage is that it gives me a reason to go back to Peru sometime. But if you like traveling off the beaten path and you want to see the highlights too: in Colombia, the highlights with off the beaten track are easier to combine.
3. Travel costs in Colombia are quite lower
Here I can be brief: Peru is quite more expensive than Colombia. Tours, food, hotels, transportation: it’s all more expensive. Tourism must have something to do with that. In any case, if budget is important to you then Colombia is a cheaper destination.
4. Peru is better organized
As I mentioned in point 1, Peru is incredibly well organized. We were both really amazed by this. That a South American country that even borders Colombia has an organization comparable to Europe. Everything fits together perfectly and also everything you want to do is organized. You can do and arrange things on your own, but if you want help then literally everything can be organized.
The tours we did in the surroundings of Cusco surprised me as well. I thought so many destinations in one day with a Peruvian as a guide, that will never work out. But nothing could be further from the truth. The time was very well monitored and everything went exactly when it was supposed to. In short: if you like good organization then Peru is the place to be. Although I suspect that normal daily life is similar to Colombia in terms of organization….
In both countries they speak Spanish. Other than the accent and the way things are said are different (sometimes I had to listen really carefully to understand), the language is the same. What we did notice, however, was that English is spoken much more in Peru. I speak Spanish fluently, of course, yet many people immediately started talking in English. Only when I answered in Spanish did they go back to their own language.
Something that will not happen in Colombia. Unless someone actually speaks English, then I am sometimes addressed in English. But this almost never happens. In the tourist areas, some English is increasingly spoken, but outside of that, some knowledge of the Spanish language is helpful. Especially if you enjoy getting to know the locals and want to start spontaneous conversations, the only way to go in Colombia is with Spanish. So this also makes traveling in Peru easier: you can get around even if you don’t speak a word of Spanish.
Colombia and Peru: both wonderful travel countries with their own treasures of history, nature, culture and cities and villages. I definitely hope to go back to Peru one day. Which of these countries would you like to travel in? Or have you already been to both? What struck you?