Domestic-flight schedules and prices change frequently. New airlines open every year, as those with poor safety records close. Most big cities are served by modern jets, while smaller towns are served by propeller aircraft.
Airlines in Peru
Most domestic airlines have offices in Lima. Smaller carriers and charters are also an option. The most remote towns may require connecting flights, and smaller towns are not served every day. Many airports for these places are no more than a dirt strip.
Be at the airport two hours before your flight departs. Flights may be overbooked, baggage handling and check-in procedures tend to be chaotic, and flights may even leave before their official departure time because of predicted bad weather.
Most airlines fly from Lima to regional capitals, but service between provincial cities is limited.
LATAM Reliable service to Arequipa, Chiclayo, Cuzco, Iquitos, Juliaca, Piura, Puerto Maldonado, Tacna, Tarapoto and Trujillo. Additionally it offers link services between Arequipa and Cuzco, Arequipa and Juliaca, Arequipa and Tacna, Cuzco and Juliaca, and Cuzco and Puerto Maldonado. With international services as well.
LC Perú Flies from Lima to Andahuaylas, Arequipa, Ayacucho, Chachapoyas, Chiclayo, Cajamarca, Huánuco, Huaraz, Iquitos, Trujillo and Huancayo (Jauja) on smaller turbo-prop aircraft. Gets low marks for frequent cancellations and the difficulty in obtaining a refund.
Peruvian Airlines Flies to Arequipa, Cuzco, Piura, Iquitos, Jauja, Pucallpa, Tarapoto, Tacna and internationally to La Paz, Bolivia.
Star Perú Domestic carrier, flying to Ayacucho, Cuzco, Huanuco, Iquitos, Pucallpa, Puerto Maldonado and Tarapoto.
Viva Air Budget flights to Arequipa, Piura, Cuzco, Iquitos and Tarapato.
Most travelers travel in one direction overland and save time returning by air. You can sometimes buy tickets at the airport on a space-available basis, but don’t count on it.
Peak season The peak season for air travel within Peru is late May to early September, as well as around major holidays. Buy tickets for less popular destinations as far in advance as possible, as these infrequent flights book up quickly. It’s almost impossible to buy tickets just before major holidays, notably Semana Santa (the week leading up to Easter) and Fiestas Patrias (the last week in July). Overbooking is the norm.
Discounts Domestic flights are usually cheaper when advertised on the Peruvian website (vs its international version), so if you can wait until you arrive to Peru to buy regional tickets, you may save money.
Reconfirming flights Buying tickets and reconfirming flights is best done at airline offices in remote areas; otherwise, you can do so online or via a recommended travel agent. Ensure all flight reservations are confirmed and reconfirmed 72 and 24 hours in advance; airlines are notorious for overbooking and flights are changed or canceled with surprising frequency, so it’s even worth calling the airport or the airline just before leaving for the airport. Confirmation is especially essential during the peak travel season.
Safety The major drawback to cycling in Peru is the country’s bounty of kamikaze motorists. On narrow, two-lane highways, drivers can be a serious hazard to cyclists. Cycling is more enjoyable and safer, though very challenging, off paved roads. Mountain bikes are recommended, as road bikes won’t stand up to the rough conditions.
Rentals Reasonably priced rentals (mostly mountain bikes) are available in popular tourist destinations, including Cuzco, Arequipa, Huaraz and Huancayo. These bikes are rented to travelers for local excursions, not to make trips all over the country. For long-distance touring, bring your own bike from home.
Transporting bicycles Airline policies on carrying bicycles vary, so shop around.
There are no passenger services along the Peruvian coast. In the Andean highlands, there are boat services on Lake Titicaca. Small motorized vessels take passengers from the port in Puno to visit various islands on the lake, while catamarans zip over to Bolivia.
In Peru’s Amazon Basin, boat travel is of major importance. Larger vessels ply the wider rivers. Dugout canoes powered by outboard engines act as water taxis on smaller rivers. Those called peki-pekis are slow and rather noisy. In some places, modern aluminum launches are used.
Some travelers dream of plying the Amazon while swinging in a hammock aboard a banana boat with cargo on the lower deck. It’s possible to travel from Pucallpa or Yurimaguas to Iquitos and on into Brazil this way.
Departures At ports, chalkboards with ships’ names, destinations and departure times are displayed; these are usually optimistic. The captain has to clear documents with the capitanía (harbor master’s office) on the day of departure, so directly ask the captain for updates. Nobody else really knows. Departure time often depends on a full cargo. Usually, you can sleep on the boat while waiting if you want to save on hotel bills. Never leave your luggage unattended.
Sleeping Bring your own hammock, or rent a cabin for the journey. If using a hammock, hang it away from the noisy engine room and not directly under a light, as these are often lit late at night, precluding sleep and attracting insects. Cabins are often hot, airless boxes, but are lockable. Sanitary facilities are basic and there’s usually a pump shower on board.
Eating Basic food is usually included in the price of the passage, and may be marginally better on the bigger ships, or if you are in cabin class. Finicky eaters or people with dietary restrictions should bring their own food. Bottled soft drinks are usually available.
Buses are the usual form of transportation for most Peruvians and many travelers. Fares are cheap and services are frequent on the major long-distance routes, but buses are of varying quality. Don’t always go with the cheapest option – check their safety records first. Remote rural routes are often served by older, worn-out vehicles. Seats at the back of the bus yield a bumpier ride.
Many cities do not have a main bus terminal. Buses rarely arrive or depart on time, so consider most average trip times as best-case scenarios. Buses can be significantly delayed during the rainy season, particularly in the highlands and the jungle. From January to April, journey times may double or face indefinite delays from landslides and bad road conditions.
Fatal accidents are not unusual in Peru. Avoid overnight buses, on which muggings and assaults are more likely to occur.
Luxury buses Invariably called Imperial, Royal, Business or Executive, these higher-priced express services feature toilets, videos and air-conditioning. Luxury buses serve paltry snacks and don’t stop.
Bus-camas Feature seats which recline halfway or almost fully. Better long-distance buses stop for bathroom breaks and meals in special rest areas with inexpensive but sometimes unappetizing fare. Almost every bus terminal has a few kiosks with basic provisions.
Económico For trips under six hours, you may have no choice but to take an económico bus, and these are usually pretty beaten up. While económico services don’t stop for meals, vendors will board and sell snacks.
Costs & Reservations
Schedules and fares change frequently and vary from company to company; therefore, quoted prices are only approximations.
Fares fluctuate during peak and off-peak travel times. For long-distance or overnight journeys, or travel to remote areas with only limited services, buy your ticket at least the day before. Most travel agencies offer reservations but shockingly overcharge for the ticket. Except in Lima, it’s cheaper to take a taxi to the bus terminal and buy the tickets yourself.
You can check schedules online (but not make reservations, at least not yet) for the major players, including:
Cruz del Sur (www.cruzdelsur.com.pe)
Transportes Línea (ww.linea.pe)
- Watch your luggage in bus terminals very carefully. Some terminals have left-luggage facilities.
- Bags put into the luggage compartment are generally safe. Hand luggage is a different matter. Items may be taken while you sleep. For this reason, never use the overhead compartments and bring only items which can fit below your legs or on your lap.
Car & Motorcycle
- Distances in Peru are long so it’s best to bus or fly to a region and rent a car from there. Hiring a taxi is often cheaper and easier.
- At roadside checkpoints police or military conduct meticulous document checks. Drivers who offer an officer some money to smooth things along consider it a ‘gift’ or ‘on-the-spot fine’ to get on their way. Readers should know that these transactions are an unsavory reality in Peru and Lonely Planet does not condone them.
- When filling up, make sure the meter starts at zero.
A driver’s license from your own home country is sufficient for renting a car. An International Driving Permit (IDP) is only required if you’ll be driving in Peru for more than 30 days.
Major rental companies have offices in Lima and a few other large cities. Renting a motorcycle is an option mainly in jungle towns, where you can go for short runs around town on dirt bikes, but not much further.
Economy car rental starts at US$25 a day without the 19% sales tax, ‘super’ collision-damage waiver, personal accident insurance and so on, which together can climb to more than US$100 per day, not including excess mileage. Vehicles with 4WD are more expensive.
Make sure you completely understand the rental agreement before you sign. A credit card is required, and renters normally need to be over 25 years of age.
Road Rules & Hazards
Bear in mind that the condition of rental cars is often poor, roads are potholed (even the paved Pan-American Hwy), gas is expensive, and drivers are aggressive, regarding speed limits, road signs and traffic signals as mere guides, not the law. Moreover, road signs are often small and unclear.
- Driving is on the right-hand side of the road.
- Driving at night is not recommended because of poor conditions, speeding buses and slow-moving, poorly lit trucks.
- Theft is all too common, so you should not leave your vehicle parked on the street. When stopping overnight, park the car in a guarded lot (common in better hotels).
- Gasoline or petrol stations (called grifos) are few and far between.
Hitching is never entirely safe, and we don’t recommend it. Travelers who hitch should understand that they are taking a small but potentially serious risk. Hitchhikers will be safer if they travel in pairs and let someone know where they are planning to go. In Peru hitching is not very practical, as there are few private cars, buses are so cheap and trucks are often used as paid public transportation in remote areas.
In most towns and cities, it’s easy to walk everywhere or take a taxi. Using local buses, micros and combis can be tricky, but is very inexpensive.
Local buses are slow and crowded but cheap. Ask locals for help, as there aren’t any obvious bus lines in most towns.
A faster, more hair-raising alternative is to take micros or combis, sometimes called colectivos (though the term usually refers to taxis). Typically, micros and combis are minibuses or minivans stuffed full of passengers. They can be identified by stickers along the outside panels and destination placards in the front windows. You can flag one down or get off anywhere on the route. A conductor usually leans out of the vehicle, shouting out destinations. Once inside, you must quickly squeeze into any available seat, or be prepared to stand. The conductor comes around to collect the fare, or you can pay when getting off.
Safety is not a high priority for combi drivers. The only place for a passenger to safely buckle up is the front seat, but in the event of a head-on collision (not an unusual occurrence), that’s the last place you’d want to be.
Taxis seem to be everywhere. Private cars that have a small taxi sticker in the windshield aren’t necessarily regulated. Safer, regulated taxis usually have a lit company number on the roof and are reached by phone. These are more expensive than taxis flagged down on the street, but are more reliable.
Fares Always ask the fare in advance, as there are no meters. It’s acceptable to haggle; try to find out what the going rate is before taking a cab, especially for long trips. The standard fare for short runs in most cities is around S5.
Tipping Tipping is not the norm, unless you have hired a driver for a long period or he has helped you with luggage or other lifting.
Long-distance trips Hiring a private taxi for long-distance trips costs less than renting a car and takes care of many of the problems with car rental. Not all taxi drivers will agree to drive long distances, but if one does, you should carefully check the driver’s credentials and vehicle before hiring.
The privatized rail system, PeruRail (www.perurail.com), has daily services between Cuzco and Aguas Calientes, aka Machu Picchu Pueblo, and services between Cuzco and Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca three times a week. There's also luxury passenger services between Cuzco, Puno and Arequipa twice weekly. Inca Rail also offers service between Ollantaytambo and Aguas Calientes.
Train buffs won’t want to miss the lovely Ferrocarril Central Andino, which reaches a head-spinning altitude of 4829m. It usually runs between Lima and Huancayo from mid-April to mid-November. In Huancayo, cheaper trains to Huancavelica leave daily from a different station. Another charmingly historic railway makes inexpensive daily runs between Tacna on Peru’s south coast and Arica, Chile.