Which South American Destination is For You — Peru or Ecuador?

So, you want to visit South America, and you’ve narrowed it down to Peru or Ecuador. We outline the travel highlights of both countries to help you decide.

Peru or Ecuador Image: Two women in skirts, colorful wraps, and hats take in the Sacred Valley.

Discover the beauty and majesty of South America yourself. You can start in Peru's the Sacred Valley...

When it comes to travel in South America, there are a few destinations that are consistently compared on the basis of travel. Peru vs Ecuador, Chile vs Argentina, and Brazil vs all other South American nations.

For Peru and Ecuador, their similar geography makes it easy to see why travelers often find parallels between the two. They both boast towering Andean mountains, wild beaches on the South Pacific, and dense jungle interiors. But, if you have to choose only one for your next trip, should you travel to Peru or Ecuador? Let the travel battle begin!

Peru vs Ecuador: The Similarities

The Andes

Peru or Ecuador Image: Light streams down as a llama grazes in the foreground with Machu Picchu in the background.

Get closer to the clouds and the ancients when you visit Machu Picchu.

The Andes is the longest continental mountain range on Earth, stretching from Venezuela all the way down to Argentina. These beautiful mountains also happen to be some of the most visited areas of both Ecuador and Peru, and for good reason. Incredible trekking, fascinating ancient history and culture, and simply stunning views make any trip to The Andes memorable.

But, there is one thing that the Peruvian Andes has that Ecuador doesn’t: one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Machu Picchu and the various unforgettable trails that lead there are some of Peru’s biggest draws, and nothing compares to seeing this ancient city in person.

The South Pacific Coast

The west coast of South America is known for its long beaches, its wild surf and, in Peru and Ecuador, its distinctly bohemian vibes. Maybe it’s all the golden-skinned surfers, or perhaps it’s the sea and sand itself, but there is definitely a laid-back vibe to the South Pacific Coast.

Two of the most popular surf towns in South America are Montañita in Ecuador and Máncora in Peru. For those wanting to test the waves, these destinations offer great accommodation and dining options, as well as fantastic nightlife. Montanita wins points for its convenient distance from the city of Guayaquil but loses a few for the same reason as it can get really busy.

The Amazon

For traveler's visiting South America, The Amazon Rainforest is usually high up on their must-visit list. In Ecuador and Peru, the jungles cover half the landmass of both countries and teem with life. In Peru, the access towns to The Amazon - Iquitos and Puerto Maldonado - are much more built up than in Ecuador, with more transport options and tourist infrastructure. On the other hand, considering Ecuador’s small size, it is easier to reach the more remote parts of the rainforest directly from Quito. Yasuni National Park in Ecuador is also considered one of the most biologically diverse places on Earth, making it one of the best places in South America to see Amazonian wildlife.

The best way to experience the Amazon in Ecuador or Peru is to spend a few days in an eco-lodge deep in the jungle. Here’s a list of the best sustainable eco-lodges in Peru to get you started.

Ecuador vs Peru: The Differences

Capital Cities: Lima vs Quito

Where other destinations in Peru and Ecuador are similar, their respective capital cities are totally different. Lima is located on the coast, offering surf and sunshine for much of the year. Quito sits within the Andean Range, offering mountain views, lots of green space and plenty of rain. Where Quito is smaller and quiet, Lima is vast and gaining international recognition for its culinary scene. Read more about Lima’s nightlife here. Both Lima and Quito boast plenty of history and charming colonial architecture, as well as great transport connections to other destinations.

The Galápagos, Ecuador

Peru or Ecuador Image: An island in the archipelago is surrounded by turquoise waters.

The islands of the Galápagos Archipelago are truly one of a kind — as the animals who inhabit it.

If Machu Picchu is Peru’s cherry on the tourism pie, The Galápagos is Ecuador’s not-so-hidden gem. 13 volcanic islands straddling the Equator, some 600 miles (965 km) off the coast of Ecuador, The Galapagos archipelago is home to one of the most pristine ecosystems on the planet. To get truly inspired about this once in a lifetime destination, and to learn how to do it right, read our guide to visiting The Galapagos here.

The Galápagos Archipelago is a visual feast. Here are 25 photos that will inspire you to book your trip...

Lake Titicaca, Peru

Peru or Ecuador Image:

Traditional reed boats on Lake Titicaca, Peru.

One of the highest lakes in the world, and the largest in South America, Lake Titicaca is one of Peru’s most beautiful destinations. The Lake is said to be the birthplace of the Incas and is still home to indigenous cultures unique to the various islands that sit within the lake. To experience everything that Lake Titicaca has to offer, you can stay with a local family and learn about the history and way of life of the Islanders.

Learn more about Peru from a traveler just like you in "Peru: The More The Merrier."

The Avenue of Volcanoes, Ecuador

Peru or Ecuador Image: A snow-capped Mount Carihuairazo.

Mount Carihuairazo — part of Ecuador's Avenue of Volcanoes.

While the Peruvian Andes also boasts its fair share of volcanoes, it’s nothing compared to the smoking magma corridor that runs south of Quito in Ecuador. Volcano trekking in the Avenue of Volcanoes is a really unique adventure on a continent that is famous for it. Riobamba, at the base of mighty Chimborazo, is a fantastic base for exploring in the area.

The Nazca Lines, Peru

Peru or Ecuador Image: A geoglyph of a hummingbird is etched into Peru's landscape.

A hummingbird is just the beginning of the fascinating shapes you'll find in Peru's Nazca Lines.

On the little visited south coast of Peru, you’ll find the city of Nazca which was once home to a fascinating ancient civilisation. Their most famous contribution being the incredible Nazca Lines, a series of geoglyphs etched into the desert. These giant sketches, representing animals and natural elements, are one of those baffling human creations that continue to defy explanation.

Peru vs Ecuador: The Conclusion?

Peru or Ecuador Image: Two sea lions lounge off the shore of an island within the Galápagos.

Need some tips on rest and relaxation in South America? Just ask these sea lions enjoying the beaches of the Galápagos Islands.

Together, Peru and Ecuador contain a considerable number of South America’s top destinations and experiences. And, on their own, they offer traveler’s a diverse choice of activities for a memorable vacation. From volcano trekking to following in the footsteps of ancient civilizations, or cruising down the Amazon River and spending time in some of the most biodiverse regions on Earth, these two nations are real travel heroes.

But, no one can really tell you how or where to travel. Hopefully, these introductions to Ecuador and Peru’s best destinations helps inspire you to craft an exciting travel itinerary with all the elements of your dream trip.

Anywhere Contributor Image: Jade smiles wearing a blue top, red bead necklace. Her shoulder length light brown hair flows over her shoulders.

Jade House, Anywhere Contributor

Jade House is a freelance writer who has spent the last few years living in Asia and exploring as much as possible. This year you'll find her closer to home, taking camper van adventures across Europe with her fiancé and their dog. Follow the day by day journey on Instagram (@jade_house) and read more from her at journey-count.com.