Getting around in Peru
Most Peruvians get around the country by bus, as these go just about everywhere and are extremely good value.
However, wherever possible, visitors tend to use one of the country's trains - an experience in itself - despite
being considerably slower than the equivalent bus journey.
With the distances in Peru being so vast, many Peruvians and travelers are increasingly flying to their destinations, as all Peruvian cities are within a two-hour flight of Lima.
Driving around Peru is generally not a problem outside of Lima, and allows you to see some out-of-the-way places that you might otherwise miss. However, the traffic in Lima is abominable, both in terms of its recklessness and the sheer volume. Traffic jams are ubiquitous between 8 and 10am and again between 4 and 6pm every weekday, while the pollution from too many old and poorly maintained vehicles is a real health risk, particularly in Lima Centro and to a lesser extent in Arequipa.
Peru's buses are run by a variety of private companies, all of which offer remarkably low fares, making it possible to travel from one end
of the country to the other (over 2000km) for under $30. Long-distance bus journeys cost around $1.50 per hour on the fast coastal highway,
and are even cheaper on the slower mountain and jungle routes. The condition of the buses ranges from the relatively luxurious Cruz del Sur
fleet that runs along the coast, to the scruffy old ex-US schoolbuses used on local runs throughout the country. Some of the better bus
companies, such as Cruz del Sur, Ormeño and Movil, offer excellent onboard facilities including sandwich bars and video entertainment.
The major companies generally offer two or three levels of service anyway, and many companies run the longer journeys by night. If you
don't want to miss the scenery, you can hop relatively easily between the smaller towns, which usually works out at not much more.
Taxis, mototaxis and colectivos
Taxis can be found anywhere at any time in almost every town. Any car can become a taxi simply by sticking a taxi sign up in the front window; a lot of people, especially in Lima, take advantage of this to supplement their income. Whenever you get into a taxi, always fix the price in advance since few of them have meters, even the really professional firms. In Lima, the minimum fare is S/3-4 - around $1 - but it is generally a bit cheaper elsewhere. Even relatively long taxi rides in Lima are likely to cost less than $10, except perhaps to and from the airport, which ranges from $15 to 25, depending on how far across the city you are going, how bad the traffic is, and how many passengers there are. Taxi drivers in Peru do not expect tips.
In many rural towns, you'll find small cars - mainly Korean Ticos and motorcycle rickshaws, known variously as mototaxis or motokars, vying for custom as taxis. The latter are always cheaper if slightly more dangerous and not that comfortable, especially if there's more than two of you or if you've got a lot of luggage.
Colectivos (shared taxis) are a very useful way of getting around that's peculiar to Peru. They connect all the coastal towns, and many of the larger centers in the mountains. Like the buses, many are ageing imports from the US - huge old Dodge Coronets with a picture of the Virgin Mary dangling from the rear-view mirror - though increasingly, fast new Japanese and Korean minibuses are running between the cities. Colectivos tend to be faster than the bus, though are often as much as twice the price. Most colectivo cars manage to squeeze in about six people plus the driver (3 in the front and 4 in the back), and can be found in the center of a town or at major stopping-places along the main roads. If more than one is ready to leave it is worth bargaining a little, as the price is often negotiable. Colectivo minibuses, also known as combis, can squeeze in twice as many people, or often more.
Peru's spectacular train journeys are in themselves a major attraction, and you should aim to take at least one long-distance train during your
trip, especially as the trains connect some of Peru's major tourist sights. At the time of writing, the Central Railway, which climbs and
switchbacks its way up from Lima into the Andes as far as Huancayo on the world's highest standard-gauge tracks, is currently operational
for passengers only on the last Sunday of the month (returning Monday); but this situation is likely to improve.
The Southern Railway, starting on the south coast at Arequipa, heads inland to Lake Titicaca before curving back towards Cusco, from where a line heads out down the magnificent Urubamba Valley, past Machu Picchu, and on into the fringes of the Amazon forest. The trains move slowly, are much more bumpy than buses, depending both on the level of track maintenance (presently poor between Cusco and Puno, for instance) and, of course, the state of the comparative road the bus is taking. Trains, however, generally allow ample time to observe what's going on outside, but you do have to keep one eye on events inside, where the carriages - often extremely crowded - are notorious for petty thefts. Wherever possible tickets should be bought in advance by at least a day.
Most trains in Peru offer three different classes. Ecomonico is the cheapest and most basic, usually with hard seats, overcrowding and a reputation for pickpockets and petty thieves. Pullman costs substantially more, but is still cheap by European or North American standards; this has better security, is more comfortable, has waitress service and tends to be less crowded. Inca or Turimso class is pricier still, has waitress service, a bar and dining, very comfortable seats and generally has more empty seats.
Some places in the jungle can only sensibly be reached by plane and Peru is so vast that the odd flight can save a lot of time. There are three major companies; Aero Continente, who fly to all of the main cities and many smaller destinations; TANS, the commercial arm of Peruvian Air Force; and Lan Peru, which has strong links with Lan Chile. A couple of smaller companies - Aero Condor and Aero Santander - are currently gearing up their operations. Tickets can be bought from travel agents or airline offices in all major towns. The most popular routes, such as Lima-Cusco cost upwards of $60 and usually need to be booked at least a few days in advance (more during the run-up to and including major fiestas). Other less busy routes tend to be less expensive.
Cars can be very handy for reaching remote rural destinations or sites, but if you are planning to explore by car, it is best to avoid Lima as
far as possible. Driving in the capital takes a bit of getting used to, even as a passenger.
If you bring a car into Peru that is not registered there, you will need to show (and keep with you at all times) a libreta de pago por la aduana (proof of customs payment) normally provided by the relevant automobile association of the country you are coming from. Spare parts, particularly tyres, will have to be carried as will a tent, emergency water and food. The chance of theft is quite high - the vehicle, your baggage and accessories are all vulnerable when parked.
There are no coastal boat services in Peru, but in many areas - on Lake Titicaca and especially in the jungle regions - water is the obvious
means of getting around. From Puno, on Lake Titicaca, there are currently no regular services to Bolivia by ship or hydrofoil (though check
with the tour agencies in Puno), but there are plenty of smaller boats that will take visitors out to the various islands in the lake. These
aren't expensive and a price can usually be negotiated down at the port.
In the jungle areas motorized canoes come in two basic forms: those with a large outboard motor and those with a Briggs and Stratton peque-peque engine. The outboard is faster and more maneuverable, but it costs a lot more to run. Occasionally you can hitch a ride in one of these canoes for nothing, but this may involve waiting around for days or even weeks and, in the end, most people expect some form of payment. More practical is to hire a canoe along with its guide/driver for a few days. This means searching around in the port and negotiating, but you can often get a peque-peque canoe from around $40-50 per day, which will invariably work out cheaper than taking an organized tour, as well as giving you the choice of guide and companions. Obviously, the more people you can get together, the cheaper it will be per person.
Even if you've no intention of doing any serious hiking, there's a good deal of walking involved in checking out many of the most enjoyable
Peruvian attractions. Climbing from Cusco up to the fortress of Sacsayhuaman, for example, or wandering around at Machu Picchu, involves more
than an average Sunday afternoon stroll. Bearing in mind the rugged terrain throughout Peru, the absolute minimum footwear is a strong pair of
running shoes. Much better is a pair of hiking boots with good ankle support.
Hiking - whether in the desert, mountains or jungle - can be an enormously rewarding experience, but you should go properly equipped and bear in mind a few of the potential hazards. Never stray too far without food and water, something warm and something waterproof to wear. The weather is renowned for its dramatic changeability, especially in the mountains, where there is always the additional danger of soroche (altitude sickness). In the jungle the biggest danger is getting lost. If this happens, the best thing to do is follow a water course down to the main stream, and stick to this until you reach a settlement or get picked up by a passing canoe. If you get caught out in the forest at night, build a leafy shelter and make a fire or try sleeping in a tree.
In the mountains it is often a good idea to hire a pack animal to carry your gear. Llamas can only carry about 25-30kg and move slowly, a burro (donkey) carries around 80kg, and a mule - the most common and best pack animal - will shift 150kg with relative ease. Mules can be hired from upwards of $5 a day, and they normally come with an arriero, a muleteer who'll double as a guide. It is also possible to hire mules or horses for riding but this costs a little more. With a guide and beast of burden it is quite simple to reach even the most remote valleys, ruins and mountain passes, traveling in much the same way as Pizarro and his men over four hundred years ago.
Hitching in Peru usually means catching a ride with a truck driver, who will almost always expect payment. With most trucks you won't have to pay
before setting off, but you should always agree a sum before getting in as there are stories of drivers stopping in the middle of nowhere and
demanding unreasonably high sums (from foreigners and Peruvians alike) before going any further. Trucks can be flagged down anywhere but there
is greater choice around markets, and at police controls or petrol stations on the outskirts of towns. Trucks tend to be the only form of public
transport in some less accessible regions, traveling the roads that buses won't touch and serving remote communities, so you may end up having
to sit on top of a pile of potatoes or bananas.
Source: TravelNow Destination Guides
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