How to get around Peru

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Crushed between the Pacific coast and the Amazon rainforest, with the Andes mountains along its spine, Peru is a patchwork of contrasting regions, each with its own unique landscapes and ecosystems.

Although this geography makes Peru an exciting country to visit, it is also difficult to navigate. Paved roads between regions are often absent, the rail network is sparse, and most flights require a connection through Lima, the capital. But don’t be put off by the logistics; exploring this country is a real adventure and worth every extra minute of planning. Here is our guide to getting around Peru.

A bus travels on the Pan-American Highway through Peru © tirc83 / Getty Images

Public transport

Most travelers arrive in Peru through Jorge Chávez International Airport in Lima, the country’s main international airport, and quickly discover the Peruvian public transport scene, with microphone (bus) and combi (trucks) hurtling down the avenues and residential streets of the capital. Public transport in Peru is a developing service, so there are road safety issues (erratic driving and speeding top the list), as well as seemingly little organization – you’ll be hard pressed to find a schedule. fixed. However, it is an extremely cheap and easy way to get around.

In metropolitan cities such as Lima, Arequipa, Cusco, and Trujillo, passengers can get to the other side of town by bus for less than S / 4 (almost $ 1). With constant drop-offs and pick-ups, however, travelers shouldn’t expect a quick arrival at their final destination. For example, a 40 km (25 mile) bus ride from the Comas district at the northern end of Lima to Chorrillos in the south can take around two hours.

For an exceptionally local (albeit biting) experience, combi are fast-driving overcrowded vans that turn into nightclubs at night, screaming reggaeton and illuminating the streets with their fluorescent lights.

There is no set schedule for microphones or combis, and routes are not readily available online, so ask locals waiting at the bus stop for details of the schedule and destination. , otherwise the Cobrador (the person who assists the driver by receiving the fare from each passenger) can tell you where to get off.

Coaches

For longer inter-regional journeys, various companies offer organized coach services. It is one of the most economical and visually appealing ways to get around Peru, but look for your choice of service as not all are created equal.

One of Peru’s most reputable bus companies is PeruHop, which caters to tourists rather than local families and business travelers. The service allows passengers to hop on and off along the route, with travelers deciding how long they want to spend in each destination before continuing on their journey. Keep in mind that bus lines are largely limited to southern Peru.

If you fancy heading north to the beaches of Mancora (15 hours by bus from Lima), the picturesque jungle town of Oxapampa (10 hours), or maybe to Huaraz (8 hours) to browse the Andes, recommended bus companies include Cruz del Sur, Oltursa and Movil Tours. Please note: buses can be significantly delayed during the rainy season (January-April), especially in the highlands and the jungle.

A taxi walks down a steep cobbled street in the historic center of Cusco.  The buildings lining the streets have been turned into quaint hotels.
Taxis are an easy and relatively inexpensive way to get around cities in Peru, such as Cusco © Cheryl Ramalho / Getty Images

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Getting around Peru by private car is a real adventure, but should only be undertaken by those with the time, an indulgent budget, and the ability not to be confused by the chaotic traffic.

Running from north to south, Peru’s most important highway is known as the Carretera Panamericana and is part of the Pan American Highway of the Americas. Long stretches of coastal desert can become mundane at times, but look forward to stopping to get out of the oven pan a la leña (fresh bread) on the way south, or discovering a secluded beach on the way north.

Rental cars aren’t cheap in Peru, so they’re more suited to a 2-3 day mini-trip than a full tour of the country. When renting a car, especially if you are heading to the jungle or the Andes, go for a four-wheel drive model due to the rough terrain.

Taxis and motorcycle taxis

Taxis can help tourists get from place to place in a city or town quickly and relatively inexpensively. Just be sure to ask locals for standard prices so you don’t pay the “foreign special” (an unfairly expensive rate for tourists). Lima is by far the most expensive city in Peru for transportation (and most things, in fact), however, compared to the United States and Europe, taxis are incredibly cheap and an average fare isn’t will cost no more than US $ 4.

Taxis in major cities in Peru can be waved from the street or, for added safety and consistent prices, ordered through ridesharing apps such as Uber (available in Arequipa, Cusco, and Lima) and Beat.

In the case of small towns in the jungle and highlands, motorcycle taxis replace the conventional offer and are much cheaper. Spotting a crowd of these motorcycle taxis, Peru’s answer to Thai tuk-tuks, arriving somewhere is a big sign that the place has not yet been gentrified. Most races won’t cost more than S / 4.

Side view of a train crossing the Peruvian landscape.  The image is taken by someone leaning out of the moving train, with the Andes mountains reflected in the train windows.
Expect epic landscapes aboard the Ferrocarril Central Andino train © Mark Green / Alamy Stock Photo

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There are only a handful of destinations in Peru that can be reached by train, but the landscapes along these routes are so awe-inspiring that they’re arguably worth dictating an itinerary.

The most famous (and popular) train ride in Peru is the Scenic Journey to the Inca Citadel, Machu Picchu. Departing from Cusco or the town of Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley, passengers can take in views of the Vilcanota River and watch the green hills of the valley begin to blend with the Amazon rainforest as they approach the stop final, Aguas Calientes. From there, it will take you 30 minutes by bus to reach the Unesco World Heritage Site. The two rail companies for this route are PeruRail and Inca Rail, both offering different prices and levels of comfort.

For those looking to truly savor every transition in Peru’s geography, PeruRail’s Andean explorer offers luxury sleeper trains between Cusco and Puno (for a scenic ride to Lake Titicaca), as well as a Cusco- route. Puno-Arequipa which brings passengers to the “Ciudad Blanca” (White City).

Operating since 1999 but unknown to many visitors, the Ferrocarril Central Andino is an exceptionally thrilling ride; in fact, it once claimed to be the tallest train line in the world. Connecting Lima with Huancayo, a city in the central Peruvian Andes, the train reaches a height of 4,782 meters (15,685 feet) above sea level as it traverses the mountain range. Clocking in at around 12 hours, this rail experience needs to be planned in advance as the train only runs once or twice a month.

Airplane

Besides buses, planes are one of the most common and efficient ways for travelers to visit all parts of Peru. The main airline in Peru is LatAm, operating internationally as well as in major national cities. Cheaper prices can be found with smaller domestic airlines although dates are limited (three to four days a week for most flights via VivaAir) and destinations are scarce (StarPerú only offers flights to Cajamarca, Huanuco, Iquitos, Lima, Pucallpa and Tarapoto).

The biggest flight setback in Peru? Most flights between cities other than Lima are not direct and will need to connect in the capital. Before the global pandemic, a few selected destinations could be reached directly from Cusco, Peru’s tourist heart, including Arequipa, Juliaca and Puerto Maldonado, but are not currently operating. Over time, these roads should reopen.

While planes are a convenient way to get from A to B for those short on time, they lack the atmosphere travelers can find on Peru’s long-distance bus or train journeys. They are also much more harmful to the environment.

A small old bus rolls along a mountain dirt road in the Peruvian Andes mountain range.  Next to the road is a steep slope that descends into a green valley.
Getting around Peru can be a challenge, but the trips are often memorable © Christian Vinces / Getty Images

Accessible travel in Peru

Peru has a long way to go in terms of inclusive access and amenities for travelers with visual or physical disabilities. In recent years, new infrastructure has been built in Lima, with ramps and elevators increasingly common in places like shopping malls. However, basics such as wide, smooth sidewalks, Braille signs, and hearing-impaired phones are few and far between; in other regions and provinces, they are totally non-existent.

In Lima, the tram is wheelchair accessible and other passengers are required by law to grant preferential access to people with disabilities. It’s a smooth ride that consists of 26 stops around the city.

Useful resources for travelers with disabilities in Peru include Conadis, a government agency offering information and advocacy for people with disabilities in the country, and Apumayo Expediciones, one of the few adventure travel companies that organizes trips for people with disabilities. disabled travelers to Machu Picchu and other historic sites. sites of the Sacred Valley.

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