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Peru and Chile are two countries in South America that share a common border and common history. While Peru and Chile are close geographically, they offer different cultures and activities, depending on what kind of travel you are looking for.
Peru is one of the most popular destinations in South America, renowned for its rich culture and the Inca heritage, while Chile boasts incredible natural wonders like Patagonia, the Atacama Desert, and the famous Torres Del Paine National Park.
Peru is more affordable than Chile, but it’s also more touristy with thousands of visitors coming here to see Machu Picchu, Nazca Lines, and Huacachina and learn about ancient civilizations.
Meanwhile, Chile has more developed infrastructure and is often regarded as one of the most politically stable and economically developed countries on the continent.
If you are traveling to South America, and are trying to choose between Peru and Chile, this guide is for you. I’ve visited both countries and want to give you my first-hand experience of what it’s like traveling there.
Should I visit Peru or Chile?
Peru is a great place if you want to visit South America for the first time. It has fascinating indigenous cultures, tons of archaeological sites, and world-famous cuisine with popular dishes like ceviche and lomo saltado. Peru is also more affordable than Chile, which makes it a perfect choice if you are on a budget.
Chile is a fantastic destination, if you want to enjoy its spectacular landscapes, and don’t mind paying extra. While Chile is more expensive than Peru, it’s also more politically stable and has better infrastructure, which is great if you want more comfort and securty.
Outside of major tourism hot spots like Lima, Cusco, Machu Picchu and Arequipa, Peru’s infrastructure can be in poor shape, especially in rural areas. In recent years, Peru has seen many protests caused by the combination of politics and division between urban and rural parts.
Why go to Peru:
- Rich history – Peru boasts thousands of years of history and is home to many indigenous groups, many of whom still practice their traditional way of life. If you are looking to get a cultural lesson, Peru is one of the best places to visit in South America.
- Diverse scenery – Peru’s scenery ranges from the snow-capped Andes to arid deserts and lush Amazon jungles. If you like adventure, you will not run out of things to do in Peru.
- Affordability – Peru is an affordable country, and even popular places like Cusco, Sacred Valley, and Lima are relatively inexpensive. Plus, the airfare to Peru is usually cheaper than airfare to Chile.
- Delicious food – Peru is renowned for its cuisine that has diverse culinary influences, unique ingredients, and fusion of cooking techniques. Popular staples from Peruvian cuisine are ceviche, lomo saltado, casa, and papa a la Huacachina.
- Adventure opportunities – Peru offers a range of adventure activities, including trekking the Inca Trail, exploring the Colca Canyon, and embarking on multi-day hikes in the Andes.
Why go to Chile:
- Less visited destination – While places like Cusco, Sacred Valley, and Machu Picchu in Peru are overrun by tourists, Chile sees fewer visitors with exception for Easter Island and Patagonia.
- Surreal landscapes – Chile is home to the famous Torres Del Paine, but it boasts plenty of other natural wonders like Vicente Perez Rosales, Bernardo O’Higgins, and Lauca National Parks, which offer an impressive range of landscapes from high altitude deserts to icy glaciers.
- Good infrastructure – Chile is the most developed nation in South America, and it has a good infrastructure, with reliable transportation and roads. Unlike Peru, where renting a car is often discouraged due to poor road conditions and aggressive drivers, Chile offers much better amenities.
- Economic stability – Chile is also the most politically stable country in South America, where protests and demonstrations are fairly rare.
- World-class wines – One of the top producers of wine in South America, Chile is known for world-class reds like Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere. The Central Valley, near Santiago, is home to many wineries where you can learn about the winemaking process.
Things to do in Peru vs Things to do in Chile
Peru and Chile both offer fun and different experiences. Below is a snapshot of the best activities in each country.
Things to do in Peru
Peru is one of the most popular countries in South America. Popular sites like Machu Picchu, Sacred Valley, Nazca Lines, Huacachina attract millions of tourists, but the county also has plenty of hidden gems like Ausangate Trek, Millpu Lagoons near Ayacucho and Gocta Waterfall, one of the tallest waterfalls in the world that hardly sees any visitors.
The truth is outside of popular tourist areas, Peru has tons of hidden gems where you can get away from the crowds and enjoy much lower prices on food and accommodations.
✅ Machu Picchu
A UNESCO World Heritage Site and One of the Seven Wonders of the World, Machu Picchu is why most tourists come to Peru. The getaway to Machu Picchu, Cusco is the historic capital of the Inca Empire.
✅ Sacred Valley
This picturesque valley is home to several Inca ruins and traditional markets including Ollantayambo and Pisac. It’s a popular stop on the way to Machu Picchu.
✅ Lake Titicaca
Shared with Bolivia, Lake Titicaca is the world’s highest navigable lake. You can visit the floating Uros Islands and Taquile Island to experience the indigenous culture. The getaway to Lake Titicaca in Peru is Puno.
Known for its white colonial architecture made from volcanic ash, Arequipa is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Santa Catalina Monastery and Colca Canyon are popular attractions in the area.
✅ Nazca Lines
Located in the Nazca Desert, these mysterious geoglyphs can be best appreciated from the air. They depict various animals and geometric shapes and remain an archaeological enigma.
This oasis town is surrounded by towering dunes and is a great destination for dune buggy and sandboarding. The picturesque lagoon in the center adds to its charm.
The capital city, Lima, offers a mix of modern and colonial architecture. Explore the historic center, visit museums, and enjoy the vibrant culinary scene in Miraflores and Barranco, the top tourist districts in Lima.
A base for trekking in the Cordillera Blanca, Huaraz is surrounded by stunning mountain scenery. The Huascaran National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a trekker’s paradise.
Things to do in Chile
While Chile isn’t known for its rich culture and history like Peru, it boasts a spectacular coastline, dramatic landscapes, and wine production. Chile is a perfect destination if you are looking for outdoor adventure and more developed tourist infrastructure.
Chile’s capital city is a vibrant metropolis with a mix of modern and historic attractions. Here you can spend a day or two and visit the Plaza de Armas, La Moneda Palace, and take a funicular ride to the top of Cerro San Cristóbal for panoramic views.
✅ Torres del Paine National Park
Located in Patagonia, this national park is renowned for its stunning landscapes, including the iconic granite peaks of the Torres del Paine.
A colorful and bohemian coastal city, Valparaiso boasts colorful houses, and street art along steep streets.
✅ Atacama Desert
One of the driest deserts in the world, the Atacama Desert boasts dramatic landscapes and excellent stargazing opportunities. San Pedro De Atacama is a gateway to many places in the area from where you can take tours to many places in the area.
✅ Easter Island (Rapa Nui)
Located in the Pacific Ocean, Easter Island is famous for its mysterious moai statues. Here you can explore the archaeological sites, learn about the island’s history, and enjoy the unique Polynesian culture.
✅ Chile’s Central Valley
Chile is known for its excellent wine, and the Central Valley is home to many vineyards. Take a wine tour in regions like Maipo Valley or Colchagua Valley to sample some of the country’s best wines.
Located in the Andes, Pucón is an adventure-lover’s paradise. Activities include hiking the Villarrica volcano, white-water rafting, and relaxing in natural hot springs.
✅ The Marble Caves
Carved by the waves of Lake General Carrera, the Marble Caves are a stunning natural wonder. Take a boat tour to see the intricate formations of the caves.
Peru vs Chile: safety
While neither Peru nor Chile is dangerous, Chile is often regarded as safer as it’s the most stable and developed country in Latin America. Peru has seen frequent demonstrations and protests in the last decade that have disrupted tourism and caused several casualties.
Safety in Chile
As a tourist, you are usually safe in Chile. However, street crime including muggings, carjackings, and assaults in Santiago and other major cities in Chile has been on the rise, according to the U.S. State Department, which raised travel advisory to Level 2, advising travelers to exercise increased caution.
Compared to other Latin American countries, Chile has a much lower rate of violent crime, but in recent years assaults, homicide, carjackings, and residential break-ins have been on the rise.
Additionally, the country has seen big political protests in 2019 which stopped only after the government held a referendum. The situation cast a shadow over Chile’s safety.
Crime in Chile
Compared to the rest of Latin America, crime in Chile is relatively low, which makes it a great option for travelers. As a traveler, you should be aware of rising crime in bigger cities, as well as tourist scams, especially if you are traveling by yourself.
Is Chile safe for solo female travelers?
Chile is one of the safest places in Latin America for solo female travelers as it has a relatively low crime rate. Still, take standard precautions as a solo female traveler avoid staying out at night and always keep an eye on your belongings.
Is crime low in Chile?
Crime is generally low in Chile, but there has been an increase in assaults, muggings, and street crime in major cities like Santiago and Chile. Watch out for tourist scams and be aware of the the possibility of drink spiking when going out to bars and restaurants. Be careful on public transportation where petty theft could occur.
Is Santiago safe?
The capital of Chile, Santiago is relatively safe but has seen a rapid increase in street crime over the last years, even with popular areas like Bellavista and Lastarri, and parts of downtown. Always watch your surroundings, be aware of tourist scams, and limit your activities to daytime.
Other safety concerns in Chile
Chile sits along the Atacama Fault Zone, a system of faults between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean which sees one of the highest number of earthquakes in the world.
While many of them tend to be small, Chile has developed a system for earthquake response and management, and if you plan to spend time in Chile’s national parks and other outdoor areas, it’s a good idea to get familiar with them.
Also, be aware that while Chile’s coastline is beautiful, it poses certain risks due to dangerous currents in some places. Always check if it’s safe to get in the water when you are going to the beach.
Safety in Peru
Peru has experienced prolonged political unrest through the first half of 2023 after its president was ousted by the Congress and was replaced by the new leader Dina Boluarte. The situation caused massive protests in rural parts of the country, where several people have died, and have also spilled into Lima.
Protesters blocked roads including the train route to Machu Picchu and the situation had a devastating economic impact as tourism has stopped.
Although some visitors were stranded in Aguas Calientes, a getaway to Machu Picchu, nobody was hurt, because forgeign tourists are not targets of unrest and political protests in South America.
As of 2024, Peru is back to normal, and the protests have stopped.
Is Peru safe?
Peru is a safe country overall, but you need to be aware of certain risks like street crime and tourist scams. Stay away from demonstrations and keep an eye on your belongings in crowded areas.
What does the U.S. State Department say about Peru travel?
The U.S. State Department recommends exercising increased caution in Peru due to crime, civil unrest, and the possibility of kidnapping.
Remember that no place is perfectly safe, and you can safely travel in Peru as long as you follow basic precautions.
Peru safety tips
➡️ Don’t display valuables
Avoid showcasing expensive clothing, jewelry, or accessories. Peru has a wide gap between the rich and the poor, and the last thing you want is to become a victim of pickpockets.
➡️ Exercise increased caution in busy areas
Whether you are exploring popular parts of Lima or Cusco, be aware of your surroundings.
➡️ Don’t drink tap water
Tap water in Peru is not safe to drink, and you should always buy bottled water, or get filtered water from your hotel.
➡️ Stay away from demonstrations
Political demonstrations are common in Peru, and can quickly turn violent, so it’s best to stay away from them in the first place.
➡️ Avoid staying out at night
You are likely to become a victim of crime at night, even in popular tourist spots, so plan your activities for the daytime.
➡️ Stay away from the northern region
Northern Peru and the border between Peru and Colombia are unsafe and should be avoided. The region is home to Peru’s cocaine production and drug trafficking routes.
➡️ Getting insurance for your trip
Whether you travel to Peru or Chile, you should get good travel insurance. It’s a long-distance trip, and you should have a good plan if something goes wrong. I recommend SafetyWing, my favorite insurance, which has short and long-term travel plans.
While you should always take precautions, there are always things outside your control, and you never know when something might go wrong. That’s why having good travel insurance that covers you in the event of accidents, hospital visits, lost and stolen luggage is so important.
Peru vs Chile: travel cost
Peru is considerably cheaper than Chile, where prices on food, accommodations, and tours are often comparable to the United States, especially in popular destinations like San Pedro de Atacama. You can easily travel around Peru on a budget, as food, hotels, and buses are generally cheap.
The most expensive places in Peru are Cusco, Lima, and Arequipa, but even they tend to be relatively affordable for an average traveler. Although you can travel to Peru for less money than Chile, be ready for less developed infrastructure and lack of amenities, especially in rural areas.
Is Chile expensive?
Chile is the most expensive country in South America, where prices on hotels, dining, and food are often comparable to those in the United States. Chile is more expensive than neighboring countries like Peru and Argentina.
If you are arriving in Chile via the border with Bolivia, you will see a particularly stark contrast, with many things in Chile costing at least twice what they cost in Bolivia.
Is Peru expensive to travel to?
Peru is an inexpensive country where you can travel on $40-50 a day between accommodation, food, and activities, especially outside of major tourist centers like Lima and Cusco.
Is Peru expensive for backpackers?
Peru is a perfect destination for backpackers due to its low cost and tons of activities that involve culture and adventure. Popular destinations in Peru like Cusco, Arequipa, and Lima have plenty of hostels and good public transportation that you can use to get around inexpensively.
Peru vs Chile: transportation
While Peru and Chile both offer public transportation, each country offers a different experience thanks to differences in geography, distances between cities, and pricing.
Transportation in Peru:
Peru is the third largest country in South America, and driving distances between major cities are fairly long, especially due to poor road conditions and terrain which can be difficult to navigate. If you are traveling in Peru, it makes more sense to take a flight, especially if you want to see destinations like Cusco, Arequipa, and Iquitos.
- Buses: Buses are a widely used mode of public transportation in Peru. In cities, there are bus systems with designated routes. Long-distance buses also connect cities and towns throughout the country, but they tend to take much longer, and might not be ideal if you have limited time.
- Metropolitano (Lima): Lima, the capital city, has an articulated bus system called the Metropolitano. It operates on exclusive bus lanes and serves various routes.
- Taxis: Taxis are prevalent in urban areas and can be hailed on the street or booked through taxi companies. Use only registered taxis to stay safe.
- Uber: Uber is available in Lima and is cheaper than taxis.
- Trains: While train services are limited compared to buses, there are also train routes available, particularly for long-distance travel. The train to Machu Picchu from Cusco is a famous example.
Transportation in Chile
Chile has a relatively well-developed public transportation system in major cities. Santiago, the capital and largest city, has an extensive public transportation network, including buses and a metro system.
If you are traveling outside of the capital, the best way to get around is by bus, especially between major destinations like Valparaiso and Santiago. Flying is another option, if you are traveling longer distances, and want to save time.
For example, a flight from San Pedro De Atacama to Santiago only takes one hour, while the same journey by bus could take over 8 hours.
If you want to explore the country’s national parks and natural areas, you need to join guided tours or rent a car. Renting a car in Chile is an excellent option if you want to have more freedom.
Public transport in Chile
- Metro: Santiago has a modern and efficient metro system known as the Santiago Metro. It consists of several lines that cover different parts of the city, making it a popular choice for daily commuting.
- Buses: Buses play a crucial role in public transportation, serving various routes within cities and connecting different regions.
- Colectivos: Colectivos are shared taxis that operate on fixed routes, providing a flexible and relatively inexpensive mode of transportation.
- Uber: A popular ride-sharing app is available in Santiago and offers a convenient and much cheaper to get around than a taxi.
- Ferries: In some regions of Chile, especially in the southern parts where there are numerous islands and fjords, ferries are used for passenger and vehicle transportation.
Peru vs Chile: food
While Peru and Chile, both offer great food, Peru has a world-famous cuisine, while Chile is more known for its wines.
Food in Chile
- Cazuela: This is a traditional Chilean soup made with meat (usually chicken or beef), potatoes, pumpkin, corn on the cob, rice, and various vegetables. It’s a hearty and flavorful dish, perfect for colder weather.
- Pastel de Choclo: A classic Chilean dish, pastel de Choclo is a casserole made with ground corn, meat (often beef or chicken), onions, and a mix of spices. It’s baked to perfection, creating a delicious and slightly sweet dish.
- Chorrillana: This is a popular Chilean fast-food dish originating from Valparaíso. Chorrillana typically consists of a bed of French fries topped with grilled beef strips, sautéed onions, and sometimes fried eggs. It’s a hearty and filling meal.
Food in Peru
- Ceviche: Peru is famous for its ceviche, a dish typically made with fresh raw fish cured in citrus juices, such as lime or lemon, and spiced with chili peppers.
- Lomo Saltado: A popular Peruvian stir-fry dish that combines marinated strips of beef with vegetables, often served with rice or fries.
- Quinoa: Peru is a major producer of quinoa, and it is often used in various dishes, such as salads and soups.
Chile vs Peru travel: FAQ’s
Is it safe to go to Machu Picchu?
Machu Picchu is one of the most popular destinations in Peru, and although it’s generally considered safe for tourists, you should be aware of the potential altitude sickness, and take time to get used to the elevation after arriving in Cusco.
Which is better, Chile or Peru?
Chile offers some of the most breathtaking landscapes in South America ranging from the arid Atacama desert to incredible glaciers and mountains of Patagonia. Peru is home to ancient civilizations, world-famous Machu Picchu, and rich culture and history.
Is Peru worth going to?
Peru is one of the most incredible destinations in South America where you can enjoy culture, history, and breathtaking landscapes. While popular areas of Peru can be crowded, the country has plenty of less-discovered places where you can get off the beaten track and enjoy the adventure of a lifetime.
Which country should visit, Peru or Chile: Final word
Peru and Chile are neighboring countries in South America, each with its distinct flair and culture. Chile is home to some of the most striking landscapes in the world and also has developed infrastructure, while Peru is more culturally diverse and is more affordable.