Peru covers an area of South America of over 1 million square kilometers, making it the 20th largest country in the world, and travelling around it no easy feat. Each one of the 25 Departments I’m told has at least one major airport but if travelling by plane isn’t for you or you just can’t afford it, it might be time to consider one of the continent’s many long distance bus services.
During my two years living in Peru, I have travelled around a fairly large part of the country, most of it by long distance bus and it is, in my opinion, a fantastic way to travel around South America, especially for those on a budget You don’t have to pay the earth to get a bit of luxury (that can include a seat that really does fold down almost horizontally, a screen in the back of the chair in front, and food and drink served directly to your chair!) on a bus here in Peru and remember: all the scenery that others fly over in planes will be yours to enjoy.
Going by bus in Peru does require some planning. The distances are vast and sometimes you will want to break up your journey with rest stops including overnight stays. This of course can be an advantage as you take in a town or village you wouldn’t necessarily otherwise have seen! (Some buses, like the ones that travel along the side of the Colca Canyon near Arequipa for example, actually stop near viewpoints and allow you to hop on and off to explore.) No one bus company covers the whole of Peru so one way to approach the situation is take a map of Peru with you; have your final destination in mind; decide on your first stop and then go to a major bus station to purchase your tickets. You can of course decide on all your stops but you may not necessarily be able to buy tickets to all of them at the first station.
Most of the long distance bus companies have offices inside the main bus terminal and you purchase your tickets directly from them. You can also use travel agencies but that may be more expensive. It is advisable when in remoter regions to buy or reserve your ticket the day before travel as buses in these areas may not be as frequent.
When it comes to choosing a bus company, the old maxim ‘you get what you pay for’ applies. The more expensive tickets for similar distances (or in fact some companies have luxury buses distinct from their more economical services) mean there can be two or more drivers so that they take turns over long distances; larger seats with more legroom which fold down further; food and drink served on the bus and often, movies played during the journey with English subtitles. Once you get out to the remoter regions of Peru you may not have as much choice as in the major cities as less-traveled and rural routes are often served by older, more uncomfortable vehicles but even these really aren’t too bad. If they don’t have a bathroom on board and/or don’t serve food they will stop at rest areas for bathroom breaks and meals though the choice can be somewhat limited so you may prefer to bring you own food. As for luggage there doesn’t seem to be a limit to how much you can bring with you on the bus in Peru – I even saw one conductor help a man load his refrigerator into the hold of a bus here – and you can bring hand luggage with you as well.
In summary: long distance buses here are cheap and frequent and get you to your destination in relative comfort. What more could you ask for?
Editor’s note: Some popular companies to look out for are Cruz del Sur Ormeño and Transportes Linea What experiences have you had with Peru’s long-distance bus companies? Share your recommendations and tips in the comments!Consider taking the cheaper and more scenic option when traveling around Peru if you’re poor in money but rich in time.