Buses in Peru
Transportation in Peru on the right buses rivals business class on a plane.
We took an overnight bus from Ica (where we stopped in the desert dunes of Huacachina) to Arequipa which was the most comfortable sleepytime bus I’ve been on.
For $4 extra dollars per ticket, your seat is as long as your whole body and almost fully reclines. You have your own TV with movies and W-Fi. Warm blankets and pillows come with a meal of your choice and complimentary drinks. We could not have been comfier! And for only $30 we traversed the country and saved a night of accommodation.
For non-overnight travel, buses between cities remain a great way to get around and are just as comfortable. We seem to be fed on each one, and somehow by the end of the day rack up net positive on goods, with extra bottles of water, snacks and apples collecting in our hotel rooms.
However, not all bus travel is safe in Peru. Going with trusted companies (like Cruz del Sur) is a must. It is also preferable to pick direct destinations as there is less chance of your bags being lost or the bus being stopped by hooligans.
Further, just because buses are modern doesn’t mean the roads are. Big fancy tour buses will still be driving small secondary highways through the countryside, or sometimes on a road that’s not paved at all. Buses will be splashing through rivers cascading over highways, dodging giant potholes, and weaving through narrow roads in tiny villages. Sitting at the back of the bus means you might be flying off your seat as the vehicle rides over the bumpy roads. By no means is the road infrastructure comparable to the standard of the buses!
Buses in Bolivia
Buses in Bolivia are like what I described above but with less of the fanciness. Buses are old with worn fabrics and stained shades. They are much creekier, making sleeping slightly more of a challenge. And take away all the embellishments – no TVs, no food, and no blankets. In fact, people climb aboard with huge llama blankets, bags of snacks, and sometimes even giant parkas.
Booking a bus in Bolivia is also a challenge. In Peru, online booking is possible and it is clear which bus companies are trustworthy. In Bolivia, you can only book at the central bus station, where there are 200 different companies to choose from and all of them trying to entice you to book with them. Asking around will give you a glimpse into which companies are less likely to have a drunk driver and be slightly more comfortable…
Unfortunately Bolivian buses have a bad reputation for accidents. Buses are the main form of transportation from city to city, and most tend to run overnight. This means that at times the drivers have had too much to drink that night or have been working an already long enough shift and fall asleep at the wheel.
Reading online will also tell you the buses might blare Latin music all night long, might blast air conditioning until you’re an icicle, or overheat the bus until everyone is sweating. Thankfully we didn’t experience any of this on our two overnight bus rides. Our experiences went like so:
Overnight bus #1 (El Dorado from La Paz to Potosi) had no issues; just a simpler version of our Peruvian experience. Vendors selling snacks and drinks would meander onto the bus at stops. The ability for anyone to hop on meant we felt we needed to be more vigilant with our items. And other than our bus driver ripping it down the road at what I’m sure was way over the speed limit with my sleeping body sliding back and forth across my chair, the ride was just fine.
The other truth found online is that the bus drivers notoriously lock the bathroom door, because they are responsible for cleaning it. We definitely found this was true, and had to rely instead on designated stops where you hope to run back onto the bus before it drives away. No one’s doing a head count!
Overnight bus #2 (Tupiza Express from Potosi to Tupiza) was no where near an “express” bus. We got on the already full bus, and were definitely the only gringos present. The bus got going nearly an hour late, and then the driver stopped randomly to pick up hitchhikers for a small pocketed fee. These people slowly filled up the aisles sitting down until the bus was full down to the last stair.
While I slept, Shane had the pleasure of a 90-year old lady behind him who wouldn’t let him recline his seat, yet spent most of the drive standing up leaning pulling against his chair. Occasionally she would hit him with a plastic bag she was holding, which she used as a receptacle for her spit. True story.
And just as we got excited that we were only an hour away from our final destination, the bus driver decided to grab himself a bite to eat and pulled over at a roadside restaurant where he disappeared for 30 minutes while we sat on the bus confused. Thank goodness that Spanish cover songs of 90’s hits were playing loudly in the background (ex. “Total Eclipse of the Heart”).
But eventually we did make it to Tupiza safely. And overall we found most of what we read about online to be scary, but fortunately untrue. Though our experience did not compare at all to Peru’s bus options, we had overall reliable rides between cities.
Photo Credit: Cruz Del Sur and BusLovers.com