Peru Overland By Bus Summer 2012


Expedition Leader
Its usual on this forum to read accounts from folks who have visited exotic places using vehicles that they have procured, modified and outfitted for the task. If you look hard enough you'll even find a couple of my accounts of such travels, generally involving much mechanical expense.

This trip was a little different because we traveled by public transport and therefore didn't have to worry about that kind of thing. Besides, Peru is too far to drive from Massachusetts, USA for a five week vacation. Not to mention we didn't think our Jeep would make it there, even with a new engine, gearbox and the fourth (or is it fifth?) fuel pump.

The four-strong team consisted of two couples: Debbie-and-Graham and Eileen-and-Rob. I'm Graham and somehow this was all my idea. It started when Rob and myself were driving back, probably from a day spent whitewater kayaking or rock climbing, musing over something interesting that all four of us could do and enjoy so I suggested hiking the Inca Trail in Peru.

For various reasons the four day hike along the Inca Trail in Peru wasn't even remotely achievable but we all liked the idea of going to Peru and cruising the Gringo Trail by bus instead, seeing Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca and a host of other interesting places. We would even stay in cheap hotels and because of that we'd be able to travel light with just hand luggage and arrange everything as we went.

Debbie and I wanted something around four or five weeks but unfortunately Eileen and Rob could only scrape two and a half weeks of vacation together and, understandably, didn't want to leave their four year old daughter with grandparents for too long. We agreed to all fly out together, see the popular stuff in Southern Peru, then Debbie and I would head North after Eileen and Rob had flown home from Cusco. Dates were set in stone, airline miles were redeemed, bosses were informed, we resolved to learn Spanish and general excitement set in.

Hotels and hand luggage sounds like a straightforward combination but as we got closer to departure that turned out not to be the case for one of us.

Eileen is a travel agent by profession, plans trips down to the hour and I don't think she's ever stayed in a hotel that doesn't have a private bathroom, robes and chocolates on the pillow. She was worried about everything and then some. Lack of luggage. Lack of planning. Lack of bathrooms. Lack of security. Lack of everything. Rob, Debbie and I had all been trying to keep her calm and objective but it really wasn't looking promising. Finally Debbie turned the tide by demonstrating that four outfits, a down jacket, rain coat, towel, medicines, toiletries, cigarettes, etc. all easily fit into a 30 liter daypack with room for more.

To be honest I didn't have much patience for that. Its not that Eileen didn't have real concerns but I was simply more worried about Debbie who was recovering painfully slowly from foot surgery, couldn't hobble for more than a few minutes at a time, and couldn't squeeze that foot into regular shoes. Then two weeks before departure she got bronchitis which turned into pneumonia. The day before we left the x-ray finally indicated it was showing signs of healing.

Finally on June 6, 2012 the packing was as done as it was going to be, none of us had learned Spanish, and we met at Boston Logan airport for an overnight flight to Lima via Miami.
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Expedition Leader
June 7: Lima

We landed at 04-dark-30, cruised through immigration and found, for the first time in my life, somebody waiting for me a little sign with my name on it. We were pretty beat and were glad to arrive at the plush El Pardo Doubletree hotel. Its definitely not a budget hotel but since it was paid for by Hilton points accrued during work travels it suited my budget. We had requested an early checkin but the helpful and good humored hotel staff suggested something to the effect that sunrise was a little optimistic. So we hung out in the lobby while our room was prepared.

Shortly afterwards we found out how good humored the hotel staff were, when Rob reached his arms out to stretch and stretched out and a large glass vase toppled off the table behind him. “Don't worry, we'll contact the artist and you can buy another one.”

Before any more damage was inflicted, we headed out to get some fresh air and breakfast and found ourselves sitting outside a small 24 hour restaurant (Glotons, not Denny's!) trying to work out the coffee menu. Requesting omelets was significantly easier. After a long wait, Debbie's cappuccino art arrived, my coffee was black as hoped and Rob and Eileen went off in search of cream which turned out to be steamed and also turned out to be the most expensive thing on the bill.

Our second lesson in Spanish happened when Debbie found a pharmacy to buy painkillers for her foot. Prescriptions aren't needed in Peru and its called “codeine” there too but the Pharmacist quickly realized we needed elocution lessons. “Co-day-eena”.

After returning to the hotel to find our room ready, we spruced ourselves up as best we could and hopped on a downtown bound bus where the Catholics have been busy.

In the main square -- called the Plaza de Armas in most Peruvian towns -- the guard was changing outside the Government Palace. A well guarded event...

Dogs, we found, are everywhere. Does that make them Perovians?

Lunch was procured, contemplated and consumed. Most meals start with tasty chicken soup, generally with noodles, vegetables and a surprise chicken piece. Generally followed by a main dish of chicken or beef served with both rice and french fries, and a fresh drink.

The Monasterio de San Franciso houses impressive paintings, roofs, and catacombs housing chambers containing neatly separated bones. We saw femurs, skulls and a few ribs. Every few years an earthquake strikes, generally revealing older artwork underneath the damaged areas so the monastery is in a continual state of restoration.

Outside, kids on a field trip found Eileen fascinating. They hadn't seen a tall, pale, redhead before.

We started running out of steam in the Plaza St Martin so we retired to a bar to recharge while watching the traffic. The Lonely Planet guide goes out of its way to describe how bad the drivers are but in reality its a continual stream of very near misses with no hits. The pedestrians are justifiably cautious, though!

Originally we had planned to stay in Lima a couple of days but we all thought we'd seen what we needed to and decided to head South in the morning.


Expedition Leader
June 8: Lima to Huacachina

Huacachina is an oasis in the desert, supposedly chill and popular with the international backpacker crowd that just grew by four. Getting there would be straightforward: bus to Ica and taxi the remaining few kilometers. We picked a street that had two bus companies -- Ormeño and Cruz del Sur -- with morning departures to Ica and hopefully somewhere close by to eat breakfast. We found the Ormeño office first around 9am and bought tickets for the 9.30am bus, an activity that requires showing passports which we found a little strange but would soon get used to. Breakfast came in the form of tasty ham and egg sandwiches from street vendors outside which we needn’t have rushed down because the bus didn’t leave until 10.30. While we waited we read the signs on the walls and learned that the bus company services the whole continent. Its a mere 4 days and 12 hour bus ride from Lima to Sao Paulo in Brasil.

Dusty, sandy, city outskirts gave way to dusty, sandy, slums and then nothing but desert and the occasional prime real estate.

The bus stopped frequently to pick up passengers but mostly to allow vendors to board and sell food and drinks. Vendors outside were selling more interesting stuff; hopefully the driver wasn’t tempted!

Believe it or not, this arid desert is home to plenty of farms and is also Peru’s wine heartland, where grapes are grown to make the famous Pisco drink. Really.

We finally arrived in Ica early afternoon and walked towards the main square, looking for somewhere to eat lunch. We chose a pollo restaurant with an extensive menu including beer (one of the reasons we chose the place) but found that only one chicken dish was being served. At least we could chose between Coca Cola and Inca Kola but Debbie wasn’t having either and bought a fruit smoothie next door. The food was tasty but we had lots left over which somebody occupying a table in the shadows pounced on as we left.

Ica is the wine capital of Peru and the drivers behave like they’ve been drinking plenty of it. On the short ride to Huacachina we almost crashed many times but our taxi driver said it was normal. Then a three-wheeled moto-taxi driving on our right did a U-turn in front of us, causing our driver to spend a few seconds recovering before shouting at the errant driver. One thing about Peruvian cars is they might look like a pile of junk and may not start every time but they do stop well!

We didn’t really have a hotel in mind so the taxi driver dropped at us Carola del Sur which has rooms with private bathrooms and hosts free range rabbits and turtles as well as the usual dogs. The guinea pigs -- not pets -- were caged. We arranged a sunset dune buggy tour for the next evening.

Despite the idyllic setting with hammocks hanging between lemon trees and with rabbits frolicking in the grass, Eileen was not impressed. Apparently the room wasn’t as whatever it was she was expecting. So we did the honest thing and bought beer. After that she stopped complaining and by all accounts slept fine that night.


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Christian P.

Expedition Leader
Staff member
Awesome - traveling by bus is a very different experience, one that really does test your patience in many ways, but can also brings a very different perspective to the journey.

Looking forward to the rest of the story!


Looks really interesting. I'm actually going to Peru (also not driving there) in a few months, so I'm looking forward to the remainder of your trip report.


This brings back great memories. I lived in Peru for two years and loved it. I'm glad you spent some time to actually see some of Lima, as many tourists skip it and go straight to Cuzco or wherever. Looking forward to hearing more.


Expedition Leader
Awesome - traveling by bus is a very different experience, one that really does test your patience in many ways, but can also brings a very different perspective to the journey.

Looking forward to the rest of the story!
Looks really interesting. I'm actually going to Peru (also not driving there) in a few months, so I'm looking forward to the remainder of your trip report.
This brings back great memories. I lived in Peru for two years and loved it. I'm glad you spent some time to actually see some of Lima, as many tourists skip it and go straight to Cuzco or wherever. Looking forward to hearing more.
Thanks! Now the Tour de France is over I can get back to writing some words. Watch this space...


Expedition Leader
June 9: Huacachina - Arequipa

Despite being in the desert, we woke up to cold and damp that didn't burn off until lunchtime. Rob and I wandered around town and up a sizable dune behind the hotel before breakfast. Snowboards and lemon trees. Now I've seen everything!

Peru has a problem with garbage and this is the first time we saw somebody picking it up.

What mermaid?

What mermaid?

We ate breakfast at the hotel and had another coffee surprise: The cups were filled with hot water and were accompanied by a can of instant coffee and a carton of long-life milk. The rest of the “Americano” breakfast turned out to be the norm: nice fresh bread with butter and jam and scrambled eggs.

The clerk at the hotel tried to get us to buy a tour to a local winery but we found the tasting was free and a taxi would take us all there and back for less than the price of one. Bodega el Catador is one of the older family run wineries in the area and still squashes its “premium” grapes by foot to make quality Pisco. The owner gave us a tour and we found that he had spent quite a bit of time studying marketing and wine production in the USA and claimed to be more progressive and more successful than the local competition which didn't want to change. He was looking forward to “Ica Week” which celebrates the founding of the city and sees thousands of wine buying tourists every day so he didn't seem to worried that we were happy tasting but weren't filling our backpacks with his booze. We did fill our bellies with some tasty food and maybe a little wine and beer from his restaurant though so he didn't lose out entirely.

Back in Huacachina, Debbie decided that we need a pergola at home.

There are plenty of ways to spend your money in Huacachina...

Instead, we chose to save a few brain cells and leave town on the night bus to Arequipa. In the mean time, I was more interested in waited impatiently for the dune buggy tour.

Finally we climbed aboard some rather scary looking contraptions with exposed engines and big tires.

The buggies were fully equipped with sandboards which were little more than pieces of wood with some loose velcro straps. Debbie and Eileen were sensible enough to decline but Rob and I stunned the youngsters in our buggy with our skills as we managed to carve a few turns on the steep sand before eating it.

Unfortunately the promise of a nice sunset was thwarted by the overcast weather but the view was nice anyway. Back at the hotel we showered the sand off as best we could and dined at the hotel before what I was expecting to be a long and sleepless night in a bus.

The Cruz del Sur bus was comfier than it looked with two story accommodations with fully-reclining seats downstairs and semi-reclining seats upstairs in the cheap seats that we'd arranged. Complete with toilet (pee only), food service (at midnight), loud movies dubbed into Spanish and also bingo. We nominated Debbie as the person who most needed to learn some numbers and gave her all four sheets as we tried to sleep. Earplugs rule but I didn't sleep much.
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Expedition Leader
June 10: Arequipa

After driving through the desert all night we awoke to more desert.

We arrived in Arequipa which had a lot more vegetation than that and headed to the Plaza de Armas for breakfast and found a selection of places on a balcony overlooking the square. The place we selected, it turned out, had opened that morning and were eager to impress. We dived straight into another Americano breakfast and consumed enough coffee to counteract the lack of sleep.

We checked ourselves into the Los Andes hostel a block away, which has a fine view out of the window.

In the afternoon we took a touristy bus tour around town which was a good way of getting acquainted with all things llama and volcano.

These pizza delivery bikes were all parked outside the police station. Most motorcycles in Peru are 125cc and seem to be ideal for around town jousting with the traffic. I did see a KLR 650 like mine later in the trip and it dwarfed the other bikes around it.

Rebar sticks out of most roofs giving the distinct impression that most buildings are unfinished.

Unfortunately the llamas weren’t for riding but horses were on hand for those who didn’t need a beer.

Later in the chilly evening we found ourselves the target of multiple restaurant menu wavers and chose the chap who offered us some free wine. We ate a great meal and then got a large bill for the free wine, which apparently due to a misunderstanding was a different wine to the stuff they brought to the table. We negotiated a settlement that left everybody a little dissatisfied and settled in for the night. The plan for tomorrow, according to the ladies, is cooking classes. Hopefully they learn how to prepare guinea pig!