Whether you’ve already booked your trip to Lima and Arequipa or you’re trying to decide between the two, the first thing to know is that they’re very different cities.
So, it makes comparing Lima vs. Arequipa a breeze.
But given that each city has its unique qualities, if you only have time to visit one place, the information here will help you narrow down which one is the best fit for you.
To give you context, I spent more than a month in Arequipa over the course of two trips and lived in Lima for two years. With that under our belts, let’s jump into ten of the most important differences to know between Arequipa and Lima.
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Lima vs. Arequipa Overview
Short on time? The table below offers a glimpse of what I’ll be covering in detail throughout this article.
|Altitude||Sea level||7,600 feet|
|Day trip options?||Yes||Yes|
|Natural disasters||Earthquakes & tsunamis||Earthquakes & volcanos|
Now, let’s take a closer look at these characteristics.
1. Size Matters
Lima and Arequipa are Peru’s two largest cities. However, the difference in their size is bigger than the portions they serve at local restaurants—Lima has a population of almost ten million, and Arequipa of just over one million.
Needless to say, as your plane approaches Lima, it’ll be obvious that the city is massive. In fact, Lima ranks number 30 on the list of the largest cities in the world.
Traffic, high rises, countless events, honking horns, too many restaurants to name, and more traffic will greet you.
In contrast, Arequipa feels more like a large town than a city. It has a small business district that has a handful of modest-sized modern high rises. But for the most part, the buildings are a few stories at most, traffic jams occur but don’t stretch across the whole city, and the environment has a peaceful and quieter vibe.
Safety-wise, it largely depends on where you’re roaming about in both Lima and Arequipa.
Although Abimael Guzmán, the former leader of the Shining Path (a terrorist group that plagued Peru in the 1980s and early 90s) attended university in Arequipa, nowadays the city has a reputation for being much safer than in the past.
Personally, I felt safe walking around the historical center of Arequipa day and night. In fact, the historical district is the most popular place for tourists to stay.
The same can’t be said about Lima’s historical center.
Downtown Lima is a fine place to explore by day if you stick to the main sites. But at night, it’s hands-down safer to stay in districts away from Lima’s historical center, such as Miraflores, Barranco, and San Isidro.
2. Ocean Life vs. Mountain Life
Lima is at sea level and Arequipa sits at about 7,600 feet in the Andes Mountains. This difference can take a physical toll on your body, depending on the kind of environment you’re used to.
In Lima, you can expect humidity levels above 80%. The city has a microclimate compared to other beach areas in Peru, which we’ll dive into more in the last point.
But for now, know that the ocean keeps Lima at a consistent temperature—highs and lows stay in the 60s for most of the year, with the exception of the summer where 70s and even 80s are possible.
In contrast, Arequipa’s temperature fluctuation is massive. Highs reach the mid to low 70s year-round, with lows dipping into the 40s or 50s at night.
As is typical for Andean destinations, the air never really warms up. So, you can be hot walking uphill in Arequipa, but minutes after stepping into the shade you’ll be ready to bundle up your sweating body in a sweater.
Humidity is next to none in Arequipa. So, bring some moisturizer to prevent your skin from drying out.
Finally, the biggest difference that Lima and Arequipa have on the body is their change in altitude. If you’re unfamiliar with altitude sickness and how to prevent it, my article on combating altitude sickness will help you out.
If you don’t live in a high-altitude area, you can expect to feel out of breath at tasks you normally wouldn’t when you first arrive in Arequipa. So, no, you’re not as out of shape as you thought for suddenly panting after walking up five steps.
Other common symptoms of mild altitude sickness include dizziness, a headache, and nausea. The good news is they often subside within a couple of days.
Furthermore, Arequipa isn’t as high as other Andean destinations in Peru like Cusco and Puno, where bigger altitude sickness issues are more prevalent.
3. Getting Around
Assuming that your accommodation is modestly close to Arequipa’s historical center, you can get away with never taking a taxi or bus to get around downtown.
The farthest walk for most tourists is from Arequipa’s Plaza de Armas to the Yanahuara viewpoint, which takes about 30 minutes.
Biking is a popular way to get around Arequipa for locals. If you rent a bike, you’ll get to enjoy a few streets with bike paths. However, be prepared for biking uphill and crossing cobblestone streets.
City bus transportation is cheap and abundant in Arequipa, but you likely won’t need to use it (I never did during my month-long stay).
When comparing Lima vs. Arequipa, it’s impossible to see much of Lima on foot. The good news is that you’ll have access to several modes of transportation, including:
Uber is one of the most popular taxi rideshare companies to use in Lima. They also operate in Arequipa, although drivers are sparse, so it’s not a reliable way to grab a taxi.
It’s safer to take taxis off the street in Arequipa than in Lima. That said, it’s best to call a cab or use an app regardless of the Peruvian city you’re in.
Due to COVID-19, Lima developed bike lanes in areas that never had them. So, if you don’t mind riding near lots of traffic and impatient drivers, Lima is increasingly becoming a great place to get around by bicycle.
4. Cost of Living
If you’re coming from a western country, Peru will likely feel cheap to you wherever you’re at. But if you spend time in Arequipa and then head to Lima, be prepared for a price shock.
Arequipa is one of the cheapest cities that I’ve visited in the world. Its menus (huge portions of daily set meals consisting of an appetizer, main meal, drink, and oftentimes dessert) start at six soles ($1.50).
In contrast, Lima’s menus start at nine or ten soles in non-touristy areas and 15 – 20 soles in touristy areas.
That’s still $5 for a 20 soles meal—far from breaking the bank for many tourists. But it’s all relative after paying less than half that price in Arequipa for the same amount of food.
For more details about how menus work and for learning about vegetarian restaurants in Arequipa, check out my Arequipa restaurant guide.
Tours are another area where people feel the price discrepancy between Arequipa and Lima.
For example, I paid $10 for a four-hour group Ruta del Sillar tour in Arequipa. It’s impossible to say what that tour would have cost in Lima since sillar quarries don’t exist there, but I do know that paying only $10 for four hours of any kind of tour in Peru’s capital is unheard of.
5. Day Trip Options
Arequipa and Lima both offer day trip options, although the “nature” of those day trips varies—Arequipa’s day trips tend to be more nature and outdoor-based, whereas Lima’s day trips tend to involve less physical activity.
Let’s start with Lima.
Because of its massive size, traveling from one side of the city to the other can feel like a day trip in and of itself. So, if you’re staying at a district along Lima’s coast, day trips within the city include:
- Downtown Lima
- Larco Museum
- Pachacamac Ruins
If you’re feeling up to taking a 3+ hour drive each way, you can also take day trips to:
- Nazca Lines
In contrast, downtown Arequipa is so small that any day trip you take will get you out of the city. Common day trips include:
- Colca Canyon (be prepared to get picked up from your hotel between 3:00 – 3:30 am)
- Ruta del Sillar
- Countryside tours
Despite their differences, both Lima and Arequipa serve as an excellent base for exploring areas outside of their city limits. For example, it’s common for people to spend one or two nights in Paracas or the Colca Canyon before returning to Lima or Arequipa, respectively.
6. Food for Foodies
You can expect to try some of the most delicious food of your life during your time in Lima and Arequipa—Peru spent eight years in a row as the Best Culinary Destination in the World.
While there’s overlap in the types of dishes you’ll encounter across the country, every region of Peru has dishes that it’s known for.
In Lima, those dishes are seafood-oriented, with meals like ceviche, tiradito, and jalea being popular.
In Arequipa, you’ll encounter more meat-based meals. Local dishes include:
- Rocoto relleno (very spicy)
- Pastel de papa (often served with rocoto relleno)
- Cuy (guinea pig)
That said, river trout and chupe de camarones (a shrimp stew) are also popular meals in Arequipa.
Of course, we can’t forget about desserts!
Because of Lima’s cold, cloudy climate, warm desserts like arroz con leche and mazamorra morada are popular.
In contrast, Arequipa’s most famous dessert is queso helado, a cinnamon and coconut-based ice cream that vendors dig out of barrels throughout the city.
7. Livin’ La Vida at Night
When comparing Lima vs. Arequipa in terms of nightlife, you can probably guess which city has more of it—Lima.
There’s no shortage of bars and nightclubs in Lima, with these places staying open well into the wee hours of the morning.
Barranco and Miraflores are some of the best places in Lima for a plentiful and relatively safe nightlife experience. In particular, the area around Kennedy Park in Miraflores and the pedestrian Sanchez Carrion Street in Barranco are excellent spots for getting a taste of Peruvian nightlife.
You should avoid partying it up in downtown Lima since crime is high.
But when it comes to Arequipa, downtown is where the safe nightlife is at.
That said, Arequipa has more bars than clubs, and it doesn’t have the bustling party scene that you’ll encounter in Lima. So, it’s a better place to grab some drinks with friends and enjoy the Europe-like atmosphere that the city takes on at night.
8. Natural Disasters
Admittedly, the risk of natural disasters likely won’t (and shouldn’t) sway you one way or the other. However, it’s an interesting difference to note between Arequipa and Lima.
In Arequipa, volcano eruptions and earthquakes are the biggest natural threats.
Arequipa is like a Pompeii in waiting, with estimates of people having 30 seconds to flee if one of the three volcanoes around the city erupts. The joke around town is that you might as well turn and watch the volcano errupt instead of running away from it so that the last thing you see before you die is something beautiful.
Of course, scientists closely monitor the volcanos, so they’ll likely be able to evacuate the city before a Pompeii-like situation happens.
In contrast, earthquakes are a real and constant threat to Arequipa.
Looking at Volcano Discovery offers fascinating insight into the number of recent earthquakes in Arequipa. At the time of this writing, there were three earthquakes of 4.0+ magnitude in the past week alone.
During my month in Arequipa, I felt three earthquakes, one of which had me questioning if I should drag myself out of bed and into the safety of the outdoors.
Lima also suffers from earthquakes since it sits in an active seismic zone.
That said, it’s not as active of an earthquake region as Arequipa. In the two years that I lived in Lima, I only felt two earthquakes.
Tsunamis are another natural disaster threat to Lima, although a minor one.
The last major tsunami in Lima occurred in 1746, sparked after a major earthquake. It leveled the Callao district, near the current day Lima airport.
Nevertheless, you’ll see tsunami evacuation signs throughout the city, along with tsunami vehicle barricades in waiting for the rare moments when a threat occurs.
There’s a notable difference in the infrastructure when comparing Lima vs. Arequipa, much of which has to do with Arequipa’s sillar.
Sillar is a product of volcanic eruptions and is what gives downtown Arequipa its beautiful white glow. Nowadays, many people favor brick over sillar. So, when you see sillar, you can assume that the building is likely hundreds of years old.
Whereas Arequipa’s low-lying skyline is primarily a mix of sillar and brick, Lima’s skyline is a mix of cement blocks, tin houses, and modern buildings covered in glass walls.
The coastline tends to have those modern high rises, with the buildings tapering into cement buildings in the middle-class districts and tin houses in the hills.
Electricity outages are rare in the middle and upper-class districts of Lima and Arequipa.
Furthermore, WiFi is abundant in both cities and fast service is available, although it depends on the internet provider and plan.
Cell phone service is excellent with fast, reliable coverage. But if you travel outside of the cities on day trips, you can expect spotty service.
10. Seeing the Sun
It’s no secret that the sun improves a person’s mood, so you should know that Lima is cloudy a solid nine months out of the year. The months when it has the most amount of sun are December, January, and February.
That said, the sun makes partial appearances in November and March, with rare appearances throughout the rest of the year.
In contrast, Arequipa is sunny almost all the time. In fact, it averages zero days of rain and has sunny skies from April – December.
You might encounter a few rainy days in January, February, and March, with February averaging the highest amount of rain at a whopping five days out of the month.
That said, Lima gets little rain since it’s a desert. Instead, during days of extra heavy fog, you may encounter what locals call garúa—a mist or drizzle.
Arequipa vs. Lima: Which Will You Choose?
Lima and Arequipa both have great—and distinct—qualities. In my opinion, both cities are worth at least one full day to explore.
Once you’re ready to move on from Arequipa or Lima, getting to your next destination should be easy thanks to frequent flight and bus departures.
Do you still have questions about the differences between Lima and Arequipa? If so, leave a comment and I’ll be happy to help.
Calling All Animal Lovers!
If it breaks your heart to see homeless dogs and cats, volunteering or donating to an animal shelter in Lima or Arequipa is an excellent way to do your small part to help.
Fundación Rayito and Patitas con Futuro are two shelters in Lima that are active in their community. They take in abandoned and abused animals, run spay and neuter campaigns, and promote animal care education.
In Arequipa, Fundación HOPE is an independently run shelter that cares for over 100 dogs and cats as well as promotes animal and environmental education in their community.