Lima or Cusco? How to Make Your Choice (11 Factors)

Lima or Cusco, which one should you visit?  Peru is a fantastic country; both cities have so much to offer.  Whether you’re seeking vibrant city life or ancient ruins, Lima and Cusco have something of each; choosing just comes down to the details. 

Esther and I have spent time in each city, and we’ll break down the differences in climate, attractions, food scene, outdoor activities, and transportation. By the end, you’ll see whether Lima or Cusco is your perfect destination.

1. Weather in Lima vs Cusco 

When deciding between Lima and Cusco, the weather can be a big factor for some people. Lima has more of a desert climate, with warm summers and mild winters, while Cusco has cooler temperatures and clearer skies.

Lima Weather

Lima, on average, has warmer temperatures than Cusco. The coolest months of July through October see lows of only 58 degrees, with highs in the upper 60s. 

The warmer months of November through May see low temperatures in the mid-60s with high temperatures in the upper 70s or 80s. Lima sees very little rainfall all year round. However, the city is also covered in a fog known as the “Garúa” for much of the year. 

Cusco Weather

In contrast, Cusco has a cooler climate due to its higher altitude. The days can be warm, but the nights are often chilly. 

cloud-shrouded archeological ruins along the Inca Trail
Cusco, the Sacred Valley, and the Andes often experience cooler weather and rainy days

The rainy months of December through April see low temperatures in the 40s and high temperatures in the upper 60s. The dry season months of April-October have temperatures that dip lower, to around 33 degrees, with high temperatures remaining in the upper 60s. 

Cusco sees an average of 9 to 16 days of rainfall during the rainy season months and 0 to 3 days of average rainfall during the dry season months. Avoiding the rainy season is often a big consideration for those planning around the best time to visit Machu Picchu.

Summary: Lima has slightly warmer temperatures year-round and rarely sees rainfall. Cusco, on the other hand, has distinct rainy and dry seasons and lower temperature averages. 

2. Altitude in Lima vs Cusco

Lima is near the coast, with a peak altitude of around 530 ft above sea level. Visitors will have no problem adjusting to an altitude difference regardless of where they are traveling from. 

On the other hand, Cusco is a high-altitude city that sits at an elevation of 11,150 feet above sea level. For most travelers, this will require a period of acclimatization before doing any physically demanding activities.  This is something to keep in mind, especially if you are pressed for time on your trip. 

Kendall and I spent two days acclimating before beginning our trek with Alpaca ExpeditionsTwo days was enough time for us, but we could feel the altitude difference on our first day and had to take it slow. 

Tourist with sunglasses on a hilltop overlooking the city of Cusco
We could feel the altitude difference on our first day hiking up to this Cusco-city overlook

3. Outdoor Activities Lima vs Cusco

Cusco, in general, has more options for outdoor day trips and multi-day excursions.  Kendall and I spent a week in the Cusco/Sacred Valley area and were blown away by just how many things there are to do in Cusco. However, Lima also has some fantastic outdoor adventures. 

Lima Outdoor Activities

In Lima, you can book tours to the Paracas National Reserve, take a boat ride out to Islas Ballestas, and take trips to Huacachina (where many tours offer sandboarding).

Also, if you are into beach activities, you can enjoy surfing, paragliding, or even taking a boat tour to the nearby Palomino Islands. 

Cusco Outdoor Activities

In contrast, Cusco has more outdoor adventure options, especially things like hiking, ATVs, and mountain biking.  Also, Cusco is the central hub for most of the best Inca Trail tour companies.  

Cusco offers easy access to the following activities: 

  • Day trips or multi-day treks to Machu Picchu, if you decide a visit to Machu Picchu is worth it for you.
  • Day trips to the iconic multicolored Rainbow Mountain
  • Sacred Valley tours, with options from anything from ziplining to four-wheelers to mountain biking
  • Alternative multi-day treks in the Andes, such as Salkantay, Lares, and Choquequirao
  • Day trips to the turquoise-blue Humantay Lake
  • Horseback riding through the hidden temples of the Incas.

Summary: Cusco has a much broader range of activities for outdoor enthusiasts, especially hikers.  There are innumerable day trips starting from Cusco that involve hiking, biking, ATVs, and more. 

Lima also has a few incredible outdoor adventure activities (especially if you are into beach/ocean adventures), but they are further away, with fewer options.

4. Museums in Lima vs Cusco

Lima is home to many museums (more than Cusco). In contrast, Cusco is more known for its archeological sites. However, there are a few museums in Cusco that are amazing and definitely worth a visit.

Top Museums in Lima

  • Museo Larco: This museum is in an 18th-century mansion and is surrounded by beautiful gardens. The exhibits show jewelry and other artifacts from ancient Peru.  Admission tickets start at $10. Visit their official website for a full list of exhibits.  
  • Museo de Arte de Lima: Pre-Columbian Art Museum with ancient as well as modern artifacts.  Admission tickets start at 11 dollars. 
  • Museo Convento San Francisco y Catacumbas: This is a church / monetary of Saint Francis from 1674. The catacombs have over 70,000 human remains 
  • Amano Museo Textil Precolombino: This museum is all about pre-Columbian civilizations and their textiles and weaving techniques. 
  • Museo Pedro de Osma: This museum is another art museum with paintings, sculptures, and furniture from the 17th to the 19th centuries. 

Top Museums in Cusco

  • Planetarium Cusco: This is a great place to experience the beauty of the night sky. Check out their list of daily shows and educational programs.  
  • Coca Museum: A small museum featuring the many uses of the coca plant
  • Ekekos Arte & Colores: This is a specialty gift shop with all kinds of unique items
  • Museo de Arte Precolombino: Pre-Colombian art and artifacts
  • Museo Maximo Laura: This is a Museum of Contemporary textile art. It’s a private collection of tapestries by artist Maximo Laura 
  • Museo Inka: Museum showcasing the Incan civilization. Tickets start at $4/person. 
Display at the Coca Museum in Cusco
Display at the Coca Museum in Cusco

Summary: Regarding museums, Lima has more options, but both cities have many opportunities to learn about ancient Incan culture, art, and artifacts. 

Winner for museums: Lima 

5. Lima or Cusco: Which has Better Parks?

When it comes to enjoying the outdoors and immersing yourself in nature, both Lima and Cusco offer beautiful parks where you can relax and unwind. 

In Lima, the Parque del Amor (Park of Love) is a popular spot for couples and has awesome views of the Pacific Ocean. 

The Parque de la Reserva is another must-see, especially at night when its magical fountains come to life with colorful light displays. The Miraflores Malecon is also perfect for a walk or bike ride.

Cusco also has its fair share of parks. The Plaza de Armas in Cusco is the central square where locals and tourists gather to relax and shop. The Saqsaywaman Archaeological Park, located just outside of Cusco, has incredible ruins and great views of the city and the surrounding mountains. 

Tourist sitting on a bench in the Plaza de Armas in Cusco
The Plaza de Armas in Cusco is a popular spot to relax

For nature lovers, the Yanapay Gardens is a hidden gem and has beautiful flower gardens and peaceful walking trails. 

Whether you prefer Lima’s coastal parks or Cusco’s mountainous landscapes, both cities offer a chance to connect with nature.

6. Churches and Cathedrals Lima vs Cusco

Both Lima and Cusco have beautiful churches with unique architecture.

Lima’s historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is home to beautiful examples of Spanish colonial architecture. The Basilica Cathedral of Lima and The San Francisco Church and Convent are a few of the top places to see.  The San Francisco Church has a network of catacombs that visitors can check out. 

Cusco, on the other hand, has its famous Cusco Cathedral, full of old paintings by Inca descendants.  Admission tickets start at $16. 

You’ll also find the Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus in the same Plaza de Armas. This church is an example of Jesuit influence on Incan society. 

You can also visit the San Cristobal Church, which has awesome views over Cusco. 

7. Lima or Cusco: Which has Better Food?

Both cities have incredible food, but Lima is considered the gastronomic capital of Latin America, and for good reason!

Lima has more influences from Europe and Asia, which make for some really interesting and unique dishes.  Also, the fact that Lima is right next to the coast makes it a prime city for finding incredible Peruvian ceviche. 

Mixed plate with three types of Peruvian cerviche, between Lima or Cusco, Lima has more gastronomic options
Lima is a great city for finding fantastic cerviche

While Cusco may not have the same international recognition as Lima when it comes to food, it still has incredible and unique dishes. The city is known for its traditional Peruvian dishes, such as cuy (guinea pig), alpaca meat, and hot soups. You can also find street vendors selling things like empanadas and anticuchos (grilled skewered meat). 

8. Getting around in Lima versus Cusco

Lima has a well-developed public transportation system, including buses and taxis, but also tends to have more traffic. 

Cusco, on the other hand, is a smaller city, and many things are within walking distance. Taxis and colectivos (shared taxis) are also available for longer distances or if you’re visiting nearby sites like the Sacred Valley.

Uber is an affordable option for both cities. 

9. Accommodation Lima vs Cusco

Accommodation in Lima is slightly more expensive, especially if staying in the nicer area of Miraflores.  Prices range anywhere from $35 per night to $200 per night. Cusco, on the other hand tends to be slightly cheaper, with prices ranging from $20 a night to $90 a night. 

10. Lima or Cusco: Which is Safer? 

How safe is Cusco compared to Lima? Cusco is generally considered slightly safer than Lima, although Lima very much depends on the zone you are staying in. Certain zones are considered very safe, such as the Miraflores neighborhoods. 

Other safe areas of Lima are San Isidro and Barranco.  The areas to avoid would be Callao, Chorrillos, and certain parts of central Lima, especially at night.

11. Visiting the Amazon from Cusco

If you want to visit the Peruvian Amazon, Cusco is a better starting point. Flights are shorter and cheaper.   So keep this in mind if visiting the Amazon is part of your itinerary. 

How Many Days to Spend in Lima or Cusco?

We think that 2-3 days is plenty of time to spend in Lima. This will give you enough time to sample the incredible cuisine, check out the best museums, and explore the awesome parks. 

Cusco requires a few extra days, especially if you want to do a multi-day trek through the Andes mountains. We recommend anywhere from 4 days to a full week in Cusco.  

Kendall and I spent two days in Cusco during our 7-day Peru Itinerary, four days trekking, and then one more day in Cusco after our hike.

Lima or Cusco: Bottom Line

Both of these Peruvian cities are incredible and have so much to offer. Cusco wins out if you are an outdoor adventurist and do not mind the rain or the altitude. Lima wins out if you are more into museums, amazing restaurants, or cool city parks.

Want the best of both worlds?  Visit both! This gives you the opportunity to appreciate the city life of Lima as well as the incredible outdoor adventures of Cusco and the Sacred Valley. 

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