Lima, Peru is a fascinating city, but the traffic is enough to make even seasoned travelers take pause. Roads are narrow and congested, and drivers seem to make up the rules as they go. For someone accustomed to more orderly and regulated traffic, it can sometimes seem as if there are no rules at all. For tourists and travelers in the city, there are generally three methods of transportation. First, there is Lima’s chaotic public bus system. For those not ready to take a risky combi ride, there are taxis. And for the truly brave, you can rent a car to drive yourself around.
Lima’s public transportation system consists of three different kinds of buses. There are larger buses, medium sized buses called combis and smaller vans called micros. Taking a bus is a very economical method of travel throughout the city; you can generally go from one spot to another for one or two soles – around half a dollar. However, it’s important to note that the buses are very crowded, and aren’t always what you might call well-maintained. However, for the more adventurous among us, seeing the city through the windows of a combi certainly provides a different point of view and often exposes you to sights you might not have seen otherwise.
Taking a taxi in Lima is another type of adventure. The most important thing to know about taking taxis is that there are no meters. The price for the ride is negotiated ahead of time with the driver. If you speak Spanish poorly – or not at all – you will be at a distinct disadvantage. While most taxi drivers are honest, hardworking men (and a very few women), there are those who will try to rip you off and charge much more than the typical rate if they think you don’t know what you’re doing. Flagging down any passing taxi on the road can also be dangerous, as it’s estimated that two-thirds of the cabs on the roads here are unlicensed. The best bet for travelers is to call a licensed taxi service for pick-up. These cars often have GPS devices installed for the protection of the driver and his passengers. If you find a taxi driver you like, ask for his business card or phone number – most will offer hourly or daily rates, and many will even double as a tour guide.
If you aren’t accustomed to driving in city traffic, it is not recommended that you rent a car to drive around Lima. This is definitely the most expensive way to get around the city, and for the uninitiated is arguably the most dangerous. Road rules are rarely followed by other drivers and getting in an accident – even a small fender bender – can be enough to ruin your trip. Many experienced travelers claim that Lima has some of the worst traffic of any large city in the world. If you do decide to rent a car, please stick with the large international companies. There have been many problems reported with some of the smaller companies, from unexpected surcharges right up to credit fraud.