Because of its size and natural barriers, including difficult mountain terrain, long stretches of desert coast, and extensive rainforest, Peru is complicated to navigate. Train service is very limited, covering only a few principal tourist routes, and many trips take several days by land. Visitors with limited time tend to fly everywhere they can. Travel overland, though very inexpensive, can be extremely time-consuming and uncomfortable. However, for certain routes, inter-city buses are your only real option.
Flying to major destinations within Peru, including Cusco, is the only practical way around the country if you want to see several places in a couple of weeks or less. Peru is deceptively large, and natural barriers make getting around difficult. Most major Peruvian cities can be reached by air, though not always directly. Flying to major destinations, such as Lima or Cusco, is simple and relatively inexpensive. One-way flights to most destinations are between $200 and $650. Prices fluctuate according to the season.
Peru’s carriers, some of which are small airlines with limited flight schedules, include LATAM (www.latam.com; tel. 212/582-3250 in the U.S., or 01/213-8200 in Lima); LC Peru (www.lcperu.pe; tel. 01/204-1313); Peruvian Airlines (www.peruvian.pe; tel. 01/716-6000); Star Perú (www.starperu.com; tel. 01/705-9000); and Avianca (www.avianca.com; tel. 01/511-8222). All airlines fly in and out of Lima. LATAM is the airline that flies to most major destinations in Peru (Arequipa, Cajamarca, Chiclayo, Cusco, Iquitos, Lima, Piura, Pucallpa, Puerto Maldonado, Tacna, Tarapoto, Trujillo, and Tumbes), while Peruvian Airlines, Star Perú, LC Peru, and Avianca all fly between Lima and Cusco, as well as a few other select routes.
Connections through Lima are often necessary, although a few destinations are accessible directly from Cusco, such as Arequipa, Juliaca, and Puerto Maldonado. Some routes might be limited to only certain days or are seasonal. Flight schedules and fares are apt to change frequently and without notice. One-way fares are generally half the round-trip fare. Flights should be booked several days or weeks in advance, especially in high season, and make sure that you get to the airport at least 1 hour in advance to avoid being bumped from a flight.
By far the most popular train routes in Peru connect Cusco, the Sacred Valley, and Machu Picchu. The train to Machu Picchu is a truly spectacular journey. The two competing tourist train companies, IncaRail and PeruRail, primarily travel from Ollantaytambo, though some extensions can be made to Cusco or Urubamba. For prices and schedules of these and all Cusco and Sacred Valley trains, see chapters 7 and 8. There are no train passes like you might find in Europe. Additionally, PeruRail operates luxury sleeper trains to Puno and Arequipa.
Buses are the cheapest and most popular form of transportation in Peru—for many Peruvians, they are the only means of getting around—and they have by far the greatest reach. A complex network of private bus companies criss-crosses Peru, with many competing lines covering the most popular routes. Many companies operate their own bus stations, and their locations, dispersed across many cities, can be endlessly frustrating to travelers. Luggage theft is an issue on many economy-class buses; passengers should keep a watchful eye on carry-on items and pay close attention when bags are unloaded. Only a few long-distance companies have luxury buses comparable in comforts to European models (bathrooms, reclining seats, movies, Wi-Fi). These premium-class buses cost up to twice as much as regular-service buses, although for many travelers, the additional comfort and services are worth the difference in cost (which remains inexpensive).
For many short distances (such as Cusco to Pisac), colectivos (smaller buses without assigned seats) are the fastest and cheapest option.
Ormeño (www.grupo-ormeno.com.pe; tel. 01/472-5000), Cruz del Sur (www.cruzdelsur.com.pe; tel. 01/311-5050), Oltursa (www.oltursa.com.pe; tel. 01/708-5000), and Transportes Civa (www.civa.com.pe; tel. 01/418-1111) are the bus companies with the best reputations for long-distance treks. Given the extremely confusing nature of bus companies, terminals, and destinations—which makes it impossible to even begin to list every possible option here—it is best to approach a local tourism information office or travel agency (most of which sell long-distance bus tickets) with a destination in mind and let the office direct you to the terminal for the best service (and, if possible, book the ticket for you).
Getting around Peru by rental car isn’t the easiest or best option for the great majority of travelers. It is also far from the cheapest in most cases. Distances are long, the terrain is either difficult or unrelentingly boring for long stretches along the desert coast, roads are often not in very good condition, Peruvian drivers are aggressive, and accident rates are very high. The U.S. State Department warns against driving in Peru, particularly at night or alone on rural roads at any time of day. A four-wheel-drive vehicle is the best option in many places, but trucks and jeeps are exceedingly expensive for most travelers.
However, if you want maximum flexibility and independence for travels in a particular region (say, to get around the Sacred Valley outside of Cusco, or to visit the beaches and towns south of Lima along the coast) and you have several people to share the cost with you, a rental car could be a decent option. By no means should you plan to rent a car in Lima and head off for the major sights across the country; you’ll spend all your time in the car. It is much more feasible to fly or take a bus to a given destination and rent a car there. The major international rental agencies are found in Lima, and a handful of international and local companies operate in other cities, such as Cusco. Costs average between $25 and $80 per day, plus 18% insurance, for an economy-size vehicle.
To rent a car, you need to be at least 25 years old and have a valid driver’s license and passport. Deposit by credit card is usually required. Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a criminal offense. Major rental companies in Peru include Alamo (www.alamo.com; tel. 01/575-1111); Avis (www.avis.com; tel. 01/444-0450); Budget (www.budgetperu.com; tel. 01/517-1880); Hertz (www.hertz.com.pe; tel. 01/517-2402); and Thrifty (www.thriftyperu.com; tel. 01/484-0749). Taxes are included in the price. One U.S. gallon equals 3.8 liters or .85 imperial gallons.
For mechanical assistance, contact the Touring Automóvil Club del Perú (Touring Club of Peru) in Lima at www.touring.pe or tel. 01/611-9999.
Combi or Carro? Getting Around in & out of Town
Getting around Peru demands a mastery of terms that designate varied modes of transportation and a bewildering array of vehicles that aren’t always easy to distinguish.
Within cities, travelers have several options. The most convenient are taxis, which function, for the most part, like taxis elsewhere in the world. However, taxis in Peru are wholly unregulated; in addition to registered, licensed taxis, you’ll find "taxi" drivers who are merely folks with access to a two-bit car—usually rented for the purpose—and a taxi sticker to plunk inside the windshield. In Lima, this is overwhelmingly the case, and unregistered taxi drivers can be difficult to negotiate with for a fair price. There are no meters, meaning that you have to negotiate a price before (not after) accepting a ride. In other cities, such as Cusco, taxis conform to standard pricing (S/3–S/8 within town), so taking cabs outside of Lima is a considerably less daunting proposition for most travelers. An alternative in Lima is to download smartphone apps like Uber (www.uber.com) or Easy Taxi (www.easytaxi.com), which are safe, use GPS so they are rarely lost, and fix prices by distance, eliminating the need to haggle, saving a considerable amount of frustration and money.
Combis are vans that function as private bus services. They often race from one end of town to another, with fare collectors hanging out the door barking the name of the route. Combis also cover routes between towns. These are being phased out in Lima. Colectivos are sometimes indistinguishable from combis—they are vans, or at times, station wagons, that cover regular routes (such as between Cusco and Pisac), and they usually depart when they’re full. Routes are often so popular, though, that colectivos leave regularly, as often as every 15 minutes, throughout the day.
For inter-city transport, there is a similar slate of options. Micros are small buses, often old and quite colorful, that travel between cities. Both colectivos and micros are crowded, have a reputation for pickpockets, and can be hailed at any place along the street without regard for bus stops. You pay a cobrador (money collector), who usually hangs out at the door barking destinations at would-be travelers, rather than the driver.
Autobuses (also called buses or omnibuses) are large coaches for long-distance travel on scheduled inter-city routes. Classes of buses are distinguished by price and comfort: Económico is a bare-bones bus with little more than a driver and an assigned seat; classes designated especial (or sometimes Inka) have reclining seats, videos, refreshments, Wi-Fi, and bathrooms.
As if that complex web of terms wasn’t enough, there’s an additional warning to heed: It’s not uncommon to hear locals refer—loosely and confusingly—to buses as carros (which normally just means “car”) and to colectivos as taxis.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.