The short two weeks I spent in Lima, Peru were dependent on one major thing– public transportation. It was impossible to walk across town to get to the church I was helping in, and because there are different districts in Lima, of course the one I was in was farthest away from the center of the city… where all the good shopping, food, entertainment was. Therefore, I had to rely on public transportation to get where I needed to go; namely the bus system. (because taxis are a rip-off! And the motor-taxis are sketch)
In Lima, there are busses (micros) everywhere. And you have to pay attention and be cautious as to what bus you are going to take! Riding the bus in Lima is definitely an art that is acquired by spending time there and having to constantly rely on public transportation. Whatever you do, don’t be discouraged- it’s a tough system to learn, so keep at it!
First of all, you need to know where to bus stops are.
In El Agustino where I stayed, the nearest stops were on a main road about 3 blocks from the house. The main road was the busiest because it led in and out of El Agustino and was about six lanes wide. Doesn’t sound as impressive as our major highways here in the States, but traffic in Peru is horrendous and dangerous, and nobody pays attention to stop lights or pedestrians. So you need to know the road name where the bus stop is, and the district you are in.
Once you find out where the busses come, you need to find a place to stand….
…preferably one with a good view of the road so you can see what bus is coming, and one close to the road so once the bus stops you can hop on it. Literally. Those bus drivers do not wait forever like they do in the States. Sidewalk space is limited though, so you really have to push through people and be aggressive. Be be aggressive!
Now, figure out where you need to go.
Busses in Lima are painted different colors depending on what districts they are going to, there’s usually a letter and number sequence painted on the very top of the front and somewhere on the side. If you’re lucky, the district names that the bus drives through will be on the side of the bus (seen below.) Basically, if you don’t know what you are looking for, it makes it hard to spot! And even two busses that are the same color could take you to opposite places. Some busses run only East to West, North to South, and vice versa… so be careful when choosing which bus and route you need to take! (AKA ask someone the best bus for your destination!!!)
When you make it to the bus stop, find a place to stand, and spot the right bus, you need to make a speedy maneuver onto the bus!
Easier said than done because chances are, half the people waiting with you on the curb are trying to get on the same bus as you. Of course they are, because that’s how transportation works! Basically, I learned to push my way onto the bus and forget about anyone else. Something that was hard for this kind-hearted girl to do ;p
What?! That’s so rude, right?! Well, sometimes you just have to do what you have to do! Push through the crowd to get on the bus. Push people to the back of the bus if you have to in order to find a place to stand. Ignore the rude man not offering you his seat. And most of all, ignore the beggars on the bus. This was so hard for me because once a beggar would start sharing their story about how their parents died, they had no job, their brother was blind (pointing at a fragile little one next to him or her), and how they were hungry and thirsty and needed money, I would become entranced in their words and instinctively reach for my money. But I was informed that you do not give money to beggars on the bus. Nor do you buy candy or food from them if they happen to be selling any. Instead, you look out the window, or down at your book, or you sleep until it’s time to depart from the bus. Ignore people.
You’re on the bus… now what?
Either sit or stand, simple as that. Honestly, most of the time you are lucky if you get a seat. This is something that kind of bothered me, being a young lady in a foreign country. See, here in the States, I expect a man to offer his seat to a lady…but that’s just me. In Peru, forget about it. I had multiple men push past me onto the bus just so they could get a seat. I thought it was so rude!
Paying the fee.
Bus rides are super cheap… as in, I would pay less than 1 USD for a ride all the way into the big district of Miraflores (the richest and most tourist-friendly district in Lima, and where the main airport is located). I don’t know the distance in between both locations, but I do know that the bus ride would take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. Especially in the afternoons when traffic was at its worst. Anyways, the first time I rode a bus, I made the mistake of keeping my wallet in my bag which was safely tucked under my arm. So as the bus bounced around, I had to dig in my coins and find the right ones to give the attendant. Most of the time I would give the wrong amount, so she would exhale sharply, give me my change, and tear me off a ticket. By the end of my time in Lima, I knew the bus-riding deal :: keep change in your pocket and before you even get on the bus, find out how much the fare is and have it ready. You don’t want to look like a tourist, after all 😉
Wait for your stop.
Oh this is so much harder than it would seem. Especially when you are travelling at night… every city street looks the same! (to a Gringa, at least) I remember one night I was on my way back from Miraflores and I had to stand the entire way back… and because we chose a different bus route than normal, it literally took an hour to get back. My arms were sore from holding onto the bar above my head, and my legs were shaky from having to brace myself against the crazy Lima bus driving that sometimes ensues. When I finally got off the bus on the right street, I felt so relieved!
Any form of public transportation in a new place, city, or country can be overwhelming. Especially when you don’t know the system at all. But, I hope with my simple tips, you can master the art of bus riding in Lima, Peru!
Have you ever struggled with public transportation?