Volunteering in Peru: Lima vs. Cusco
Peru is one of the most popular IVHQ volunteer destinations, but many volunteers wonder what the key differences are between the volunteer programs in Lima and Cusco. Despite being located in the same country, there are many differences, so we’ve put together some helpful comparisons to help you find the program that’s best for you. After reading our notes, if you want more insight, then head over to the Lima and Cusco Facebook Groups to get the inside scoop from fellow volunteers!
Machu Picchu and Mucha Plata!
Firstly, we know that being able to visit Machu Picchu is a big motivation for choosing Peru as your volunteer destination. Keep in mind that it doesn’t matter where you’re based – Lima or Cusco – you still have to travel through Cusco to get to Machu Picchu anyway. Therefore volunteering in Lima instead of Cusco won’t save you any money on flights, if you intend on getting to Machu Picchu at some point. However the program fees in Lima are cheaper than Cusco (actually, the Lima program has the cheapest program fees out of all of IVHQ’s volunteer destinations). So choosing to volunteer in Lima may work out to be cheaper overall, even if you still book a trip to Machu Picchu and head to Cusco at some point. You can compare each destination’s program fees right here.
For more details about tourism options in either city, check out the following resources:
Geography and Climate
Cusco is located at a very high altitude in the mountains (11,152 feet / 3,399 meters), so keep in mind that the air is dryer and thinner. It’s wise to take it easy during your first few days so that you can acclimate. Maybe consider bringing nasal spray and throat lozenges. If you’re anemic or asthmatic, be careful that you visit a doctor before your trip to ensure you have your health needs addressed during your trip. And stay hydrated!
Day time temperatures are typically around 68°F / 20°C year-round. At night time, it typically drops to 46.4°F / 8°C from November through March. It gets colder at night from April through October. During the coldest months (June and July) the night time temperature can hover around freezing due to the high altitude. The rainiest months of the year are December, January, and February. For further reading, you might like to check out: How To Pack Smart And Stay Healthy In Cusco
Lima is the capital city of Peru, it’s situated on the coast (so there are no altitude concerns), and it’s one of South America’s largest cities. Lima is also the world’s second largest desert city, after Cairo city in Egypt.
Even though the city is located in a tropical desert, its proximity to the coast keeps the temperatures pretty mild. Summer (from December through April) and winter (from June through October) are the distinct seasons. In the summer, it usually doesn’t get any hotter than 80.6°F / 27°C. In the winter, it usually gets no colder than 59°F / 15°C.
Volunteer Project Comparisons
On the Lima Medical project, volunteers must already be participating in Medical or Nursing School (not pre-med) and intermediate Spanish skills are required. Volunteers will primarily be working in Medical campaigns that have been actioned by the Peruvian government, but on the days that these are not operating volunteers will assist in local hospitals, clinics and dispensaries with very basic equipment and facilities. Volunteers can expect to work longer hours than the volunteers on the Cusco Medial project.
The Cusco Medical project accepts volunteers that are at a pre-med school educational level at least. Volunteers are typically placed in small clinics or hospitals and are not required to speak Spanish. For more insight see: Volunteering in Lima: The Ins And Outs
On the Teaching English project in Lima, volunteers work predominantly in a large school in an impoverished community on the outskirts of Lima and in an English Language Institute (that was set up by a previous volunteer). Classes are taught to a range of ages, from children in the local schools (aged 3 to 12-years-old), to teenagers and adults. Volunteers work is held from Tuesday through Saturday (Sunday, Mondays off).
There is a large variety of teaching placements in Cusco, such as local schools, community centers, a drug rehabilitation center, shelters for street children and local orphanages. The ages of students vary, from children to adults. Tasks may include assisting local teachers with classroom support, organizing educational games and activities, setting up workshops or providing individual tutoring or independent lessons to students.
In Lima, the Childcare and Special Needs Care projects are combined, so the degree of disability varies greatly and volunteers may also work with children who do not have special needs. You can expect to fulfill longer volunteer hours than on the Cusco Special Needs project. Ages typically range from infant to 18 years but volunteers could also work at a care-home for adults with special needs. It is important to note that all volunteers who sign up to our Special Needs/Childcare project for 1 week, will experience a different structure to those volunteering for 2 weeks or longer. Our 1 week volunteers will be working in a Childcare placement (not Special Needs) and this placement is located on the outskirts of Lima (same location as Teaching English).
The Cusco Special Needs project is exclusive to special needs and volunteers are typically placed in orphanages for mentally and physically disabled individuals. Tasks could involve assisting with feeding, clothing, bathing, and organizing crafts and games for playtime. The range of disabilities varies, so volunteers should also come prepared to stimulate children with imaginative games.
Regardless of which destination you choose – Lima or Cusco – Special Needs projects are always great for volunteers with any experience in the field, including physical, occupational, speech, or hydro therapy.
Construction and Renovation
Both Construction and Renovation projects are very similar and volunteers can expect to be involved in tasks such as, renovating run down schools, orphanages, community centers and clinics, painting, gardening, renovating and building. The main difference is that the Construction & Renovation project in Lima is only available from May through October. The Cusco Construction & Renovation project is available year-round.
Project options unique to Cusco
The Cusco program additionally offers Jungle Conservation, Animal Care, Andean Immersion, and Spanish Service Learning Course projects.
Can I do both volunteer programs?
You sure can! Many people like to do a stint in both cities, in order to vary the experience and see more of Peru. Since you’ll likely fly into Lima and then head onto Cusco anyway (if you’re going to do a tourism jaunt through the Sacred Valley), then it’s a nice supported way to plan your trip.
You will need to submit an application for each city (checking that your dates don’t clash) and then register for each. As a multiple trip volunteer, you will receive a 10% discount off your second registration fee. See the IVHQ Alumni Network page for more information.