Public transportation in Peru includes everything from modern air fleets to antiquated trucks. And as you travel around the country, you might find yourself trying to strike a balance between practicality, cost, comfort, and safety when it comes to the various methods of transport available.
Flying is the quickest, easiest and safest form of transport in Peru. Four airlines dominate the domestic routes, with little separating them in terms of quality: LAN, StarPerú, Avianca and Peruvian Airlines. Lima's Jorge Chávez International Airport serves as the hub for all four airlines. Coverage is good, with daily flights to many of Peru's major cities. Ticket prices change frequently.
- Safety: Flying remains the safest way to travel in Peru
- Comfort: Small seats, but comfortable overall
Buses are the main form of long-distance public transport in Peru. If you want to travel on a shoestring, buses are the way to go. Don't try to go too cheap, however, as the cheapest companies are neither safe nor reliable. Stick with companies such as Cruz del Sur, Ormeño, Oltursa and Movil Tours, all of which have modern fleets and good safety records.
- Safety: Poor in general, but much safer with the top-end companies
- Comfort: Terrible on the cheapest buses, almost luxurious with the top-enders
Taxis are everywhere in Peru's larger cities, but be careful when flagging one down. Only use registered, modern-looking taxis, as some unlicensed drivers are far from trustworthy and potentially dangerous. Remember to set the price in advance, as Peruvian taxis do not run on meters. Smaller taxis, commonly known as ticos, serve the same purpose as their larger cousins.
- Safety: Stick with licensed taxis to avoid corrupt cabbies.
- Comfort: Okay, but shut your window to keep out the big-city fumes
Shared taxis, known as colectivos, are similar to regular taxis but follow a set route with set fees. They carry up to four passengers (legally, at least) and will pick you up from anywhere along the route. Routes range from inner-city circuits to long-distance trips along rural roads not served by major bus companies. Prices are low within towns and cities, but much higher for longer trips (the better the company, the higher the price).
- Safety: Good for short hops, but be careful on remote roads
- Comfort: Comfortable with four passengers, but horribly cramped with six or seven and a chicken or two
Love them or hate them, minibusses are an incredibly cheap way to get around Peru's big cities. There are two types: the combi (normally an old Nissan or Toyota minivan) and the larger micro (typically an antiquated Toyota or Mitsubishi minibus). Combis are everywhere in Lima, their drivers rocketing around the city while the ticket collector hangs out the side door shouting out the destinations. If you can stand the chaos, a combi can take you halfway across Lima for about $0.50.
- Safety: The drivers are reckless. Watch out for pickpockets
- Comfort: Sudden stops and swerves in a mobile sardine can
If you've been to India, you are probably familiar with rickshaws, the small, three-wheeled contraptions with a bench seat in the back. Peruvian rickshaws, known as mototaxis or trimovils, dominate the roads in many provincial towns, providing a quick and easy way to get from place to place. As with taxis, you'll need to set the price in advance and be prepared to haggle.
- Safety: Mototaxis are flimsy things, good in the open but risky in heavy traffic
- Comfort: Fine on smooth roads, but backbreaking when things get rough
Pickup trucks (camionetas) ferry rural workers from towns to the countryside. It's arguably the most basic form of public transport in Peru and not one that many tourists will experience. Passengers sit or stand in the cargo area, generally hanging on for dear life. You should avoid camionetas, especially over long distances, unless there really is no other option.
- Safety: If you fall off the back, just hope that someone notices (It pays to have travel insurance.)
- Comfort: None
Large passenger ferries and small lanchas (motorboats) take care of all terrestrial traffic in the Amazon region. Port towns such as Yurimaguas and Pucallpa are, quite literally, the end of the road. Travel by passenger boat is adventurous and scenic, but you'll need stamina and patience for the voyage (it takes three days to get to Iquitos from most large port towns). Pack enough supplies for the trip, as only basic meals are available onboard.
- Safety: Keep an eye on your gear and be careful in the busy docks
- Comfort: It's just you, a hammock and the mighty Amazon
Train travel is a rarity in Peru. Three companies operate trains to Machu Picchu, with further services from Cusco to Puno. The Ferrocarril Central Andino is the country's most spectacular train trip, running from Lima over the Andes until it reaches Huancayo. This is the highest standard-gauge train track in the world, so a big draw for train buffs. The train leaves only twice a month, so plan in advance. Another train crosses the Peru-Chile border from Tacna to Arica.
- Safety: Overall, much safer than any road-based public transport in Peru
- Comfort: Smooth and spacious, with luxury cabins on Cusco's Hiram Bingham Train