The city of Lima, Peru is criss-crossed by a nearly indecipherable maze of bus routes. The buses are often poorly maintained, and the drivers drive like maniacs as they all try to be first at the next stop to pick up waiting passengers. Often, drivers pay little mind to the official stops (known as paraderos) and will pick up and drop off passengers anywhere along the road. There are no posted schedules or routes, making it difficult for the uninitiated to find the right bus for their hoped for destination. So how does a business or tourist traveler make sense of this chaos?
There are several privately owned bus lines in Lima, all of which run their own routes. There are also three types of buses: large buses, medium sized combis, and van sized micros. The larger buses tend to make more stops than the smaller ones, and take less direct routes. Before taking a bus, you should have a good idea of the main streets you need to take to get to your destination. While there are no posted routes, buses do have the names of the main streets on which they travel painted onto their sides. Each bus also has a route number and the starting and ending point of the route posted on the front of the bus. All these are clues to help you find the correct bus. Other people waiting for buses are usually very friendly and will let you know which bus to take if you ask, as will your hotel or hostel.
There is one other person whom you should ask before getting on the bus. Each bus has two workers, the driver and the cobrador (conductor). The cobrador has two main responsibilities: to get as many people on the bus as is humanly possible, and to make sure that each person pays their fare. To this end, he or she will spend a lot of the day jumping out of the bus at each stop and loudly announcing the route. If you believe that you need to be on that bus, you can ask the cobrador if this bus passes your location. Be sure the cobrador understands your exact destination, and he’ll be very happy to let you know whether or not you should be on his bus.
Once you’ve found your way onto the correct bus, you’ll want to have your fare ready. You can travel from one end of Lima to the other on a bus for about 2 soles (about 70 cents USD). Most inter-district trips will cost less, and if you’re traveling less than about ten blocks, you can pay a china (a Peruvian 50 cent piece). The cobrador will ask you for your destination so that they can charge you the correct fare. As much as possible, it’s always best to have exact change.
When the bus nears your desired disembarkation point, you’ll need to shout out ‘Baja aqui!‘ (this loosely translates to “I’d like to get off the bus here”) or “Baja a la esquina” (“let me off at the corner”). Be prepared to push your way through the crowds of people who are packed into the aisle of the bus, especially if you’re traveling anytime close to morning or evening rush hours.
The bright spot in Lima’s public transport system is the Metropolitano, Lima’s new rapid mass transit system. The buses are large, new and run on a dedicated lane. Routes at the moment are very limited, but it is a great way to get from the north and south ends of the city into central Lima. The Metro does have dedicated bus stops, with nice modern platforms. Payment is made via a rechargeable card, which is purchased from a vending machine.
Riding the bus in Lima can be intimidating, but if you’re here visiting, it can be a fun way to see things. The world looks different through the windows of a fast moving combi!