Known for its ancient ruins, diverse landscapes and rich culture, Peru continually ranks as one of IVHQ’s most popular volunteer destinations. With placements across the capital city of Lima and the Andean city of Cusco, it can be hard to decide which location to base yourself out of!
Despite being in the same country, both cities offer their own cultural nuances, distinct heritage sites and traditions. Not sure whether Lima or Cusco is right for you? We’ve put together some helpful comparisons to help you find the program most suitable to you.. If you’d like to connect with past, present and future Peru volunteers to learn more about each program, head over to our Lima and Cusco Facebook groups to get the inside scoop from fellow IVHQers!
Lima vs Cusco Overview
Starting at just $180 for one week, including your accommodation, meals and more, Lima is our most affordable volunteer programs. If you thrive in an urban setting, Lima is for you! As the capital city of Peru, Lima is an important hub of culture, commerce, finance and politics. While you won’t have access to the same outdoor tours and adventures as those based in Cusco, you’ll be able to learn about Lima’s rich history. The city has a long history dating back to Pre-Columbian times with Spanish influence - both of which can be explored in the many museums, art galleries, churches and ancient historical sites dotted around the city.
Choose from 6 unique programs in Lima, including Animal Care, Childcare, Community Support, Construction & Renovation, Medical Outreach and Teaching English.
Fully hosted volunteer programs start at $330 for one week in Cusco, making it another affordable option. It’s one of the oldest cities in South America located in the Peruvian Andes, close to famous Inca trails, ruins and temples, such as Machu Picchu. It’s a thriving hub of culture, adventure and culinary delights - all of which makes it a prime destination for volunteers in Peru.
If you love getting out in nature and adventuring in your spare time, Cusco is an unbeatable destination. The best part? IVHQ offers 7 tours and adventures exclusive to Cusco volunteers - visit Machu Picchu, trek Rainbow Mountain and go horseback riding all at an affordable rate.
Volunteers are accommodated in a homestay, hosted by a local Peruvian family. Choose from 11 exciting programs in Cusco, including our seasonal Holiday Experience project, Eco-Agriculture Conservation, Jungle Conservation and more.
Peru Travel & Tours
Machu Picchu is a must-see for anyone visiting Peru, and it’s a big motivation for choosing Peru as a volunteer destination. As the most popular tour Peru has to offer, it’s important to note that regardless of which city you’re based in, you’ll be able to visit Machu Picchu. Those based in Lima will have to organize a tour externally, while Cusco volunteers can take advantage of IVHQ’s Machu Picchu add-on.
Here’s a breakdown of what tours are available in each region…
While there are no IVHQ-specific tours available in Lima, there’s still plenty to do and see in the region. During the weekends, volunteers have free time to tour the city and join local adventures, such as paragliding from the cliffs of Miraflores, visiting the Pachacamac Ruins south of Lima, climbing to the top of the Huaca Pucllana Pyramid, surfing the coastal waters of Miraflores and Barranco, and sandboarding in Huacachina of Southwest Peru. Long weekends can be taken to travel further afield to visit other parts of Peru such as Cusco and Machu Picchu.
Wondering what else you can do during your spare time in Lima? Check out our Lima Travel & Tours page.
Located in the Peruvian Andes, Cusco is just a stone’s throw away from many natural wonders and beautiful sites. IVHQ offers 7 unique tours and activities that allow you to explore the region, exclusively available to Cusco volunteers at discounted rates:
- Mini Adventure - 6 days / 7 nights - $880
- Machu Picchu Tour (full day) - $345
- Machu Picchu Overnight Tour - 2 days / 1 night - $465
- Rainbow Mountain Day Trek - $45
- Horseback Riding (half day) - $50
- Ziplining (half day) - $50
- Whitewater Rating (full day) - $55
Interested in booking any of these add-ons to your Peru - Cusco trip? You can book these directly in your MyIVHQ checklist.
Lear more about travel and tour options in Cusco here.
Peru Geography and Climate
Situated on the coast, Lima is the capital city of Peru and one of South America’s largest cities. It’s also the world’s second-largest desert city, behind Cairo in Egypt.
Even though the city is based in a tropical desert, its proximity to the coast keeps the temperatures mild. Summer runs from December through April and winter is between June and October. In the summer, temperatures average 80°F / 27°C, and in the winter it typically doesn’t drop below 59°F / 15°C.
Cusco is located at a very high altitude in the mountains (11,152 feet / 3,399 meters), meaning the air is dryer and thinner. It’s wise to take it easy during your first few days to acclimate. If you’re anemic or asthmatic, make sure to visit a doctor before your trip to ensure you have your health needs under control. And always stay hydrated.
Daytime temperatures are typically around 68°F / 20°C year-round. At night time, it typically drops to around 46°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 from December to February. For further reading, check out How To Pack Smart And Stay Healthy In Cusco.
Peru Volunteer Projects - Lima vs Cusco
Lima ($405 for 1 week) - The Medical Outreach project in Lima is open to pre-med, pre-nursing, medical students, nursing students and qualified professionals. Volunteers will be working in medical campaigns in the community, focusing on public health initiatives and prevention. Please note that you must be able to speak Spanish to an intermediate level to participate in this project.
Cusco ($405 for 1 week) - Cusco has two medical projects - the standard Medical project and a Medical Campaign.
The Medical project is open to qualified medical professionals or medical and nursing students at any level of training, with some experience in a clinical setting. Tasks include general medical services such as taking blood pressure, preparing materials, administering vaccines and more.
The Medical Campaign allows qualified professionals to go on roving campaigns taking health services into local communities. To join the Medical Campaign, you must be pre-medical, medical, pre-nursing or nursing students or qualified professionals. Starting $510 for 1 week, this is a great way to bring a group of qualified friends together to gain international experience and give back in the heart of Peru.
Lima ($180 for 1 week) - As a Childcare volunteer in Lima, you’ll work alongside local teachers in centers that cater to children aged between 3 and 5 years old. Volunteer duties can vary but often include helping with play time, supervising children, arranging games and activities and more.
Cusco($330 for 1 week) - In Cusco, Childcare volunteers work in community centers, schools, daycares and kindergartens. You’ll be helping children aged between 3-12 years old, most of whom come from low-income families. Duties vary, but will generally involve educating children about hygiene, leading and helping with English classes and assisting with homework.
Lima ($180 for 1 week) - On the Teaching English project in Lima, volunteers work predominantly in a large school on the outskirts of Lima. Classes are taught to a range of ages, from local schoolchildren as young as three, to teenagers and adults. Volunteer work is held from Tuesday through Saturday (Sunday, Mondays off).
Cusco ($330 for 1 week) - There are a large variety of teaching placements in Cusco, such as in 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.
Construction and Renovation
Lima ($180 for 1 week) - Construction & Renovation volunteering in Lima is more repair-focused than in Cusco, with an emphasis on tasks like roofing, flooring, plumping, gardening and more. Families in disadvantaged communities around Lima often live in makeshift homes that they can’t afford to improve, and community buildings that house valuable services are also often in need of basic maintenance and repairs. Volunteers play a big part in bringing these buildings up to a good standard for the people that use and live in them.
Cusco ($405 for 1 week) - In Cusco, Construction & Renovation volunteers help at local building projects, often at schools, community centers. You’ll volunteer under the supervision of a local foreman, who will provide direction and expertise. The type of project you’ll work on will depend on local priorities at the time, but volunteer duties include painting and building.
Lima ($180 for 1 week) - As an Animal Care volunteer in Lima, you will assist in the daily running of non-profit dog shelters, which provide a loving home to many dogs that would otherwise be on the street. Tasks include dog walking, feeding, playing games, grooming and more.
Cusco ($330 for 1 week) - Animal Care volunteers in Cusco are placed at either a dog shelter or a small local zoo. At the dog shelter, tasks are similar to the Animal Care placement in Lima. The zoo placement is run by a biology faculty at the local university and accepts exotic animals that have been either harmed by humans or abandoned by people they’ve been dependent on. You’ll focus on all aspects of animal care and also help with assisting logistical tasks such as journal keeping.
Project options unique to Cusco
The Cusco program offers additional projects that you won’t find in Lima, including Jungle Conservation, Andean Immersion, Special Needs Care and Holiday Experience volunteering. Learn more about these programs here.
Can I do both volunteer programs?
Absolutely! 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 organize your trip.
You’ll need to submit an application for each city (checking that your dates don’t clash), then register for each. As a multi-trip volunteer, you will receive a 10% discount off your second registration fee.