Cities in Peru: A Gringo’s Go-To Guide
Curious about cities in Peru? Looking to see if there's more to this South American country than Lima, Cusco, and Machu Pichu? Well, you've come to the right place.
After my second extended trip in the country, I learned a thing or two about Peruvian cities. I've lived the big city life in Lima, explored small towns along the Pacific coast, and so much more.
Peru has a lot to offer the intrepid traveler and digital nomads. Infrastructure is always improving and tourism is filled with amazing nature. So, let's dive in and take a look at the best cities in Peru for your vacation.
Cities in Peru: What Gringos Need to Know
If you're looking for a quick breakdown on some of the most popular Peruvian cities for tourists, you've come to the right place. Here's an in-depth list of popular cities in Peru:
- Population: Nearly 10 million!
- What It’s Like: Lima, Peru is one of the biggest cities in Latin America. The huge metropolis is bustling with energy and things to do. Yet, many travelers only spend a few days in Lima and then head elsewhere. While that's fine, Lima offers digital nomads and long-term travelers a lot of value. I've spent months here and have nothing but good things to say.
- Pros: Huge city, great nightlife, ocean views, lots of things to do, access to good Internet.
- Cons: Expensive, especially for Peru. Bad traffic, dangerous areas, tons of gringos around at all times, “vanilla” culture.
- Best For: Digital nomads and travelers looking for good Internet, great nightlife, and a big city vibe.
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- 15 Terrific Things to Do in Lima, Peru – 2018/19 Edition
- Population: 500,000 give or take.
- What It’s Like: A decent sized city that reclaims the feel of a small town. Cusco has become the backpacker hotspot in all of Latin America. Every gringo comes here before going to Machu Pichu. The bars here are filled with just as many foreigners as there are local Peruvians. If you like nature, mountains, and partying – you'll absolutely love Cusco.
- Pros: Tons of nightlife for a small city, amazing tourism opportunities nearby, great energy in the city, cheap prices.
- Cons: Too many tourists, some tourist scams, high altitude requires a quick adjustment.
- Best For: Cusco is great if you like backpacker nightlife, want to visit Machu Pichu, or prefer cheap cities.
Machu Pichu / Aquas Calientes
- Population: 2,000 or so in Aquas Calientes, Peru
- What It’s Like: No one actually lives in Machu Pichu right now, but the town below the mountain is called Aquas Calientes. It sucks, but you'll have to stay a night or two there while touring Machu Pichu.
- Pros: Machu Pichu is one of the most important landmarks in all of Latin America. It's truly an amazing place and a MUST visit while in Peru.
- Cons: The town of Aquas Calientes is difficult to get to and all the people working in the town suck. They're scam artists looking to bleed your wallet dry during the 24-72 hours your in their little town.
- Best For: Visit Machu Pichu and then leave. There's no reason to stay in Aquas Calientes longer than you have to.
- Population: Over 1 million people.
- What It’s Like: I haven't been, but the couple of buddies who have absolutely raved about this place. The prices are dirt cheap and the people friendly. There's tons of nature nearby and the nightlife is surprisingly good. In fact, it's on my radar the next time I'm in Peru.
- Pros: Cheap city in Peru that's filled with beautiful nature and architecture. Good mix of locals and a few tourists.
- Cons: Hard to get to, not ideal for digital nomads, and Arequipa could get boring after a month or so.
- Best For: Travelers looking to base up for a few weeks to a month and experience what Peru's second biggest city has to offer.
- Population: 600,000 or more.
- What It’s Like: Honestly, I found Trujillo to be absolutely terrible. The city is somewhat of a shithole and there's just not much to do. I stayed for a few nights, but would never go back. A buddy was thinking of going to Trujillo for a month and I convinced him out of it. Suffice to say – this isn't one of my favorite cities in Peru.
- Pros: Cheap, decent sized population, close to the beach.
- Cons: Ugly city, not a lot to do, and overall – Trujillo just sucks.
- Best For: Stay for a night or two if you must. I wouldn't recommend it, though.
- Population: 40,000
- What It’s Like: In a word? Awesome. If you're looking for a dirt cheap place to base up and surf, this is paradise. If you're looking for lightning fast Internet and first-world amenities, Huanchaco isn't great. Come here for the low prices and great surf. Just don't expect things to be like back home.
- Pros: Cheap as can be, great surfing, stunning ocean views, a little backpacker nightlife.
- Cons: Small surf town with bad Internet, not a lot going on, can get boring.
- Best For: Surfers or people looking to surf. Huanchaco is also ideal if budget is a concern. You can find rooms for $100 USD a month here.
- Population: 10,000, but it's filled with tourists almost all the time.
- What It’s Like: Mancora is hailed as a beach resort town for Peruvians. However, I found the beach kind of sucked. If you're from the United States, this isn't like the Mayan Rivera or the Dominican Republic beaches. That being said – I'd go back in a heartbeat. Why? Because of the parties at Loki Hostel in Mancora. It's truly a legendary place and one of the nicest hostels I've ever been in.
- Pros: Decent beach, fantastic backpacker nightlife, surprisingly good food.
- Cons: Not much to do outside hangout at the hostel, lay at the beach, and party. Mancora is also hard to get to and the Internet is terrible.
- Best For: Backpackers looking to party in a beach town.
Ica / Huacachina
- Population: 250,000 give or take.
- What It’s Like: Ica is a small Peruvian city that's not especially impressive. However, tourists from around the world all come here for one reason – Huacachina. Huacachina is a small oasis/pond located in the sand dunes outside Ica. Here you can enjoy a ton of fun activities, like sand boarding and dune buggies.
- Pros: Amazing tourism, decent backpacker nightlife, cheap.
- Cons: Only worth a few days, suspect Internet, and Ica isn't impressive.
- Best For: Travelers and digital nomads looking to enjoy some tourism for a few days.
- Population: 500,000 give or take.
- What It's Like: While I haven't been, Iquitos is high on my list the next time I'm in Peru. The city is located on the Amazon River and is the largest city in the world without roads entering it. The tourism here is spectacular and many come here to try Ayahuasca. While I suspect the Internet sucks, I'm confident I would enjoy myself for a week or two.
- Pros: Amazon River tourism, unique cultural experience, decent nightlife.
- Cons: In the middle of nowhere, hard to get to, bad Internet, not as safe as other parts of Peru.
- Best For: A week or two of adventure without work.
Other Cities in Peru
While the list above is a great start for tourists in Peru, it's by no means extensive.
Peru is a giant country and it'd be damn hard to visit all of the cities in Peru. Here are a few more that many gringos visit:
A Gringo's Guide to Cities in Peru
While Peru doesn't have a giant population like Mexico or Brazil, there are tons of cities in Peru worth mentioning. The ecotourism in Peru is truly world-class and infrastructure is improving in all of the big cities.
I expect tourism in Peru to continually grow over the next few years. If you have any questions about cities in Peru, sounds off in the comments. I'd love to know what I missed!