Most backpackers travel in Peru by bus. And while it’s certainly cheaper than flying, long distance bus travel can be quite a test of endurance, both physically and mentally. You’ll find a good selection of bus companies in Peru, but twenty hours non-stop can be quite a nightmare even with one of the more luxurious companies. Here are some bus travel tips for Peru that should help you to stay sane…
Tips for Traveling in Peru by Bus
Most of the major national bus companies in Peru at least try to look after their passengers. Some supply blankets, pillows, and edible food; they have air conditioning and they show half-decent movies (often pirated, but at least you won’t be subjected to a Steven Seagal movie marathon).
The budget and mid-range buses, on the other hand, are not generally so accommodating, and the following tips are especially pertinent when traveling with the cheaper long-distance companies.
Temperature – Prepare yourself for extremes of temperature by taking layers of clothing with you on the bus (especially on night buses). Even if you start your journey in the blistering heat, a short hop over the Andes can see the temperature drop to uncomfortable levels. Some bus companies also like to torture their passengers by setting the air conditioning to “Freeze,” turning the bus into a testing ground for deep-space cryogenic technology.
Food – Some buses provide food on board, some stop at a company-affiliated restaurant, some do both, and some won’t have a clue what they are doing. Take snacks on board to stave off hunger and help pass the time. You can normally buy more snacks en route, but there’s no harm in taking some supplies with you.
Toothbrush or chewing gum – Long distance bus travel can make your mouth feel like a llama’s armpit after a few hours. If you take a toothbrush and toothpaste with you, you can quickly brush your teeth when the bus pauses at a terminal (you will probably have to pay 10 to 50 centavos for using the facilities, or just buy some bottled water). Chewing gum is a handy alternative.
Chapstick (Lypsyl) – Dry or sore lips can be extremely irritating on a long journey. Having a chapstick with you can be a true blessing: a magical healing wand in a world of pain.
Toilet paper – Don’t expect to find toilet paper in the on-board toilet or in the public toilets at terminals and road-side restaurants. Such luxuries are rare in Peru. A handy stash of toilet paper is always a good idea, especially when you’re traveling by bus.
Pillow / cushion – If you’re not concerned about maintaining the “hardened traveler” look, you might want to carry an inflatable travel cushion (available in a variety of pretty colors). Take a look at this: the inflatable TravelRest travel pillow – it may not look tough, but it makes long trips more manageable. Otherwise, roll up your jacket or sweater for a far more respectable Jack Kerouac-style cushion.
Music – Don’t forget to take your MP3 player/phone/gadget/device/anything that plays music with you on the bus. Peruvian buses often show movies or pipe out music, both of which can be in poor taste or just incredibly awful. Listening to your own carefully curated playlists through headphones will help you block out the world and help you sleep. If you have a Spanish language audio course, a bus trip is a good opportunity to get some studying done (Spanish audio courses are also excellent for helping you sleep).
Book or Kindle (or Whatever) – A book is always a good time killer, as long as the roads are smooth and you don’t mind reading while sat on a bus. If you have a travel guide then you can stare at the maps and try to figure out where the hell you are actually going.
Backpacks — Store your main backpack in the bus luggage compartment, and take a small backpack with you on the bus to hold all of the stuff mentioned above (as well as your cash, passport and other valuables). If you’re traveling with a laptop, it’s a good idea to keep it with you on the bus rather than in you main pack in the luggage compartment.
Disembarking — Worrying about missing your stop is one of the worst things about bus travel, especially in a foreign country, and especially if you don’t speak the language. Before you get anywhere near your destination, try to explain to the driver or bus host/hostess that you’d like them to tell you when to get off. Ideally, they’ll let you know half an hour or so before arriving at you destination.
If you have any other Peru bus travel tips or tricks, feel free to post a comment below.