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. 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. So 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 anyway.
However, where you can save money is on program fees, which are lower in Lima compared to Cusco (actually, from US$180 for one week, 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 here.
Geography and Climate
Cusco is located at a very high altitude in the mountains (11,152 feet / 3,399 metres), 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. Consider bringing nasal spray and throat lozenges. 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 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, 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, 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 - April and winter is between June - October. In the summer, it usually doesn’t get any hotter than 80°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 be able to speak Spanish to an intermediate level. Volunteers will primarily be working in medical campaigns that have been actioned by the Peruvian government, but on the days that these aren’t 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 Medical project.
The Cusco Medical project accepts volunteers from all levels, including pre-med. Volunteers are typically placed in small clinics or hospitals, shadowing local medical professionals, 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 on the outskirts of Lima. Classes are taught to a range of ages, from local schoolchildren as young as three, to teenagers and adults. Volunteers work is held from Tuesday through Saturday (Sunday, Mondays off).
There are a large variety of teaching placements in Cusco, such as in local schools, community centres, a drug rehabilitation centre, 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, organising educational games and activities, setting up workshops or providing individual tutoring or independent lessons to students.
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, community centres and clinics by painting, gardening, renovating and building. The main difference is that the Construction and Renovation project in Lima is only available from May through October. The Cusco Construction and Renovation project is available year-round.
Project options unique to Lima
The Lima program also offers a Childcare project, working in childcare centres to help with the early stages of education and actitivies with local pre-schoolers.
Project options unique to Cusco
The Cusco program additionally offers Jungle Conservation, Animal Care, Andean Immersion, Special Needs Care 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), then register for each. As a multi-trip volunteer, you will receive a 10% discount off your second registration fee. See the IVHQ Alumni Network page for more information.