Iquitos or Cusco – Where to Live?

Plaza de Armas in Cusco

My likely planned time to move to Peru is getting closer and closer. In 2½ months I will be traveling to Peru to do the actual searching for a place to live in either Iquitos or Cusco and lay the groundwork for a permanent relocation in early July.

My biggest challenge so far should be the simplest and one that should have been completely by now — deciding exactly what city will be my home.

It’s strange to think that in about 4 months I will be living in another city in another country on another continent thousands of miles away, but I still don’t even know for certain just what that city will be. Surprisingly, I don’t think my constant contemplation has me any closer to a decision.

Two weeks ago I was nearly locked in to Iquitos. I’d found a small, but nice place with just about everything I could want in the heart of the city for about $145 a month. That’s hard to beat.

But last week I continued to think about all the advantages of Cusco that Iquitos simply doesn’t have:

  • a better climate
  • a large expat community
  • the Andes Mountains and the Alitplano
  • real internet connections!
The Sacred Valley near Cusco

So now I’m trying to talk myself into Cusco as my future home — at least at first — by looking at each of those points one by one.

A Better Climate. Let’s face it, Iquitos is hot and humid. Period. Every single day of the year. I have long wondered if I can really get used to it in the long run. I tend to sweat a lot and feel uncomfortable going all day without a shower. The relative scarcity of air conditioning and hot water for showers makes it even more uncomfortable.

Cusco, on the other hand, has a mild climate and is much cooler due to the its altitude of over 11,000′ above sea level. Temperatures generally stay around 70 degrees year round with morning lows in the 30’s (winter) and 40’s (summer). There is little rain from May to September, but a decent amount the rest of the year’s during the South American summer. Of course, during that time I can always plan to spend a good bit of time traveling to other places.

A Large Expat Community.  Iquitos’ expat community is largely made up of a relatively small contingent of older, retired men in their 60’s and 70’s. They tend to be extremely independent and rugged individualists as Iquitos is the perfect place for people who want to “get away” from the rigid trappings of modern civilization. Iquitos is a frontier town and the rainforest has its own kind of “law”. Many of the expats there have been my friends for many years and I respect them and value them greatly, but I’m not sure I’m ready for that kind of community.

Cusco, on the other hand, has a large expat community that blends in with the large tourist population that fills the city during May, June, July, and August. The possibility of assistance to ease me t

The Urubamba River valley on the way to Machu Picchu.

hrough the challenges of moving to Peru — and there are many — is very reassuring as I plan such a major change in my life. English is also much more widely spoken in much of the city as a result of tourism.

The Beauty of the Andes and the Altiplano. As I went back and looked through old photos of Cusco and the surrounding region, I was struck by the breathtaking beauty of the majesty Andes rising steeply above the Altiplano (high plain) and the deep valleys cut by powerful rivers over millions of years. All my life, I’ve loved to take off in a new direction explore new trails to see new vistas. In this region, there potential for exploration is endless. Trails wind through the mountains along paths trod by centuries of campesinos living a tough life in the Andes providing countless opportunities to explore some of the most beautiful places in the world.

Perhaps the “adventure” of exploring the Amazon is starting to wear thin to me. Perhaps it is because I have spent so much time in the rainforest already and the Andes are a relatively new to explore. I know there is a lifetime of places in the jungle left to explore, but are there other places that will be equally as wonderful to explore.

And one of the great things about Peru is that the rainforest is only a short flight (less than an hour) to Puerto Maldonado and the upper Amazon rainforest or, if I want to save some money, a 10-hour overnight bus trip for only $25 or less.

Internet Connectivity. Iquitos is connected to the internet. Barely. While you can usually get a connection, the speed and reliability is the perhaps the poorest I have ever seen since the earliest days of dial-up service. Getting 1-2 Mbps is a really good day and that usually occurs only early in the morning before the city really gets going. For someone who plans to spend a good bit of time uploading photos and videos, that is pretty unacceptable except for the smallest of files.

Cusco, on the other hand, offers considerably faster access. While still no where near the speed I’ve come to expect in the US, it approaches fast enough to upload files at acceptable speeds. I’ve even heard that 100Mbps speeds are available!

It’s hard to believe that this is such a big concern, but since the internet will be my primary mode of communication with my friends at home and around the world connections will play a major role in my happiness wherever I am.

Of course, my love of writing and sharing photos/video with everyone requires the ability to connect, a strong internet will play a major role in my final decision.


 

Does it sound like I’m trying to convince myself that Cusco would be the better place to live? Yes, I think that is probably true. When looking at all the factors that I consider important, Cusco far outweighs Iquitos in every category except the number of friends living there now and familiarity. Because of the limited possessions I’ll be bringing into the country, the ability to move to another city quickly and cheaply significant;y lessens the impact of my decision.

People have suggested Arequipa and Tarapoto as being very nice places to live with their own advantages. While I have not yet visited either, I will certainly do so in the coming year or two to add to the potential places to base my adventures.

And since I plan to be traveling quite a bit thanks to the very inexpensive transportation system in Peru and all of South America, the reality is that I can call almost all of Peru my home.

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