One is in the east, the other is in the west. One speaks Portuguese, the other has Spanish and the ancient Quechuan tongue of the Incas. One hosts carnivals to rival any cultural festival on the planet, while the other touts the hidden historic remains of South America’s greatest ever empire. They both have beaches, and mountains, going from the sculpted Sugarloaf of Rio de Janeiro to the soaring snow-topped massifs of the mighty Andes, but differences abound. Yep, there’s no question that Peru and Brazil offer a glimpse at two sides of the South America coin. But which one should you travel to?
In this guide, we’ll take a look at four of the key travel differences between these two uber-popular stop-offs on the continental travel circuit. We’ll see what draws so many visitors to Lima’s gorgeous colonial heart, and why others simply can’t resist that time-tested duo of Copacabana and Ipanema. We’ll uncover the cultural differences between the nations, compare their kitchens and natural wonders, all to help would-be backpackers or LBW-ers choose the tour package that’s right for them!
When it comes to history, Peru probably has the edge…just
Okay, so in a country where everyone from the Spanish conquistadors to the Incan emperors once trod, it’s hardly surprising that there’s a veritable wealth of historic sights to see. In towns like Cuzco (one of the real highlights on our Wonders of Peru trip), travellers will see the former capital of the Incan empire. Wandering through the cobbled streets here, around the colonnades of the Plaza de Armas and beyond, offers a glimpse of the European influence. Just check out that soaring Baroque cathedral, the whitewashed squat houses and the array of Mudejar decorations. And then there are all the treasures of the so-called Sacred Valley, cascading in clusters of stony agricultural terraces and grain silos down the rising peaks of the Urubamba region. This is where we head to check-off Peru’s most iconic bucket-list topper: Machu Picchu!
On the other side of the continent and Brazil’s historical draws are a different kettle of fish. There’s little in the way of ancient relics here, but we do visit towns like Paratay on our Beautiful Brazil trip, and delve into the UNESCO-attested wealth of old Portuguese churches and pueblo homes there. Of course, Rio’s got its own historical treats, like the colonial edifices of the Centro zone, or the elegant Art Nouveau frontispieces of Santa Teresa on the hill.
Think about what type of party you prefer?
Are you the chilled-out, New Age hippy type, or the neon paint-loving hedonist with a penchant for endless cocktails? Do you prefer chatting the night away in rustic beach bars with a cold one, or hitting the dance floor with drag queens and flamboyant locals fresh from the carnival? It’s something you’ll need to think about before heading to South America for sure, especially scene as the after-dark activities vary so much between Peru and Brazil.
On our Wonders of Peru tour package, Huacachina always proves a favorite amongst the partiers of the group. Nestled between the undulating desert dunes, the curious little spot just a stone’s throw back from the Pacific coast, is home to clutches of earthy little drinkeries and bodegas. Hitting the booze here means some great local wines and psychedelic sunset shows, as the desert glows red and pink and yellow in the dying evening light. Oh yep, and then – of course - there’s Lima to enjoy, where lively Pisco sour joints await between the colonial edifices of the downtown!
Brazil, meanwhile, always lives up to its reputation for wild nights and electric parties. In Rio – the veritable home of carnival – we allow four whole nights to hit the streets below gorgeous Corcovado mountain. Flitting between the beachside shacks and Caipirinha bars that line both Ipanema and Copacabana could not be more fun, while the district of Lapa is nothing short of legendary for its street parties on the weekend!
Adventure abounds in both
If you’re looking for adventure travel from your tour package in South America, then you really can’t go wrong with either of these two South American giants. Take Brazil, which ranges all the way from the sun-splashed equator in the north to the sub-tropical depths of Rio Grande do Sul in the south. In between you’ll discover everything from tepui table-top mountains and the winding courses of the Amazon River, great green swathes of Atlantic rainforest and the seemingly endless wetlands and floodplains of the mighty Pantanal (considered by many to be one of the most biodiverse regions in the world). Wildlife safaris promise to be pretty awesome here too, with the likes of big-beaked toucans meeting elegant pumas and giant river otters in the backcountry.
Peru is different. Peru is delineated by the soaring Andean peaks, which spike up like daggers from the north to the south of the country. These are home to rare cloud forest habitats and dwarf woods, which our guests will see as they trek into the hills of Urubamba to Machu Picchu, where the snow-topped heights of Salcantay and Kisway dominate the horizon. However, it’s not just about highlands, because we also stop by Iquitos in the east, where the verdant Amazon jungle begins to sweep out into the heart of South America. This is a chance to see rare river dolphins, hit the rainforest hiking trails and go boating on the famous waterways of Amazonia!
Fancy feijoada or ceviche?
Anyone thinking about hitting South America on a tour package should realise just how important the food is! Just think: you wouldn’t book a holiday to Italy and not get excited about the pizza; you wouldn’t make a beeline for Bangkok and not have the taste buds tingling in prep for a pad Thai, or two (or 10!). Well, when it comes to Brazil and Peru, you’re in luck, because these two South American staples are famed across the globe for their tasty kitchens.
Starting in the west, travellers can tuck into one of the most iconic Latin dishes going: ceviche! This Peruvian favourite is made from a medley of uber-fresh whitefish and veggies, marinated in chilli and onions, lime juice and tasty herbs. The locals think of it as a handy hangover cure – which might be worth remembering after a bout of Pisco sours in Lima, or between the whitewashed colonial buildings of Arequipa after a couple of tequilas! And that’s not even mentioning the rustic dishes on offer in the Peruvian outback, at spots like Huancaina, where the potatoes are doused in a gorgeous cheese sauce, imbued with chilli flakes and a crunchy salad, or the national fav of Pollo a la Brasa; marinated chicken with a side of famous capsicum sauce.
Cue Brazil. Here, the Portuguese influence dies hard. Barbecue is center stage in many cities, with skewers of beef and pork and chicken typically sizzled over the open grills and prepped with nothing more than a dousing of sea salt, a punch of chilli flakes and some black pepper - simple but great when paired with a Caipirinha! Oh, and be sure to settle in one of the earthy eateries in Rio or Sao Paulo on a Wednesday to try some of the best feijoada – a hearty black bean stew that’s packed with marinated offal and meat!
Get the best of both
And if you still can’t decide which of these two countries you want to visit; if you’re still torn between Machu Picchu and the Sugarloaf, or can’t opt for either parties in Copacabana or the jungles of the Peruvian Amazon, then why not consider LBW’s Best of South America itinerary, which fuses the top sights and attractions of both in a single tour package! Nice.
If you’ve traveled Brazil and Argentina and can think of any other major differences between the two that might help visitors, we’d love to hear about them in the comments below. Or, if you want to check out the various itineraries LBW has on offer, be sure to hit up our South America page…
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