By Tony Dunnell
There are various types of public transport in Peru, ranging from modern air fleets to antiquated trucks. As you travel around the country, try to strike a balance between practicality, cost, comfort and safety. Some of the cheaper options are not particularly safe, but you won't always have much choice, especially in rural areas.
Flying is the quickest, easiest and safest form of transport in Peru. Four airlines dominate the domestic routes, with little separating them in terms of quality: LAN Perú, StarPerú, TACA Perú and Peruvian Airlines. Lima's Jorge Chávez International Airport serves as the hub for all four airlines. Coverage is good, with daily flights to many of Peru's major cities. Ticket prices change frequently, but expect to pay $40 to $60 for a one-hour flight.
Buses are the main form of long-distance public transport in Peru. If you want to travel on a shoestring, buses are the way to go. Don't try to go too cheap, however, as the cheapest companies are neither safe nor reliable. Stick with companies such as Cruz del Sur, Ormeño, Oltursa and Movil Tours, all of which have modern fleets and good safety records.
Taxis are common in Peru's larger cities, but be careful when flagging one down. Only use registered, modern-looking taxis, as some unlicensed drivers are far from trustworthy and potentially dangerous. Remember to set the price in advance, as Peruvian taxis do not run on meters. Smaller taxis, commonly known as ticos, serve the same purpose as their larger cousins.
Shared taxis, known as colectivos, are similar to regular taxis but follow a set route with set fees. They carry up to four passengers (legally, at least) and will pick you up from anywhere along the route. Routes range from inner-city circuits to long distance trips along roads not served by major bus companies. Prices are low within towns and cities, but much higher for longer trips (the better the company, the higher the price).
Love them or hate them, minibuses are an incredibly cheap way to get around Peru's big cities. There are two types: the combi (normally an old Nissan or Toyota minivan) and the larger micro (typically an antiquated Toyota or Mitsubishi minibus). Combis are everywhere in Lima, their drivers rocketing around the city while the ticket collector hangs out the side door shouting out the destinations. If you can stand the chaos, a combi can take you half way across Lima for about $0.50.
If you've been to India, you are probably familiar with rickshaws, small, three-wheeled contraptions with a bench seat in the back. Peruvian rickshaws, known as mototaxis or trimovils, dominate the roads in many provincial towns, providing a quick and easy way to get from place to place. As with taxis, you'll need to set the price in advance -- and be prepared to haggle.
Pickup trucks (camionetas) ferry rural workers from the towns to the countryside. It's arguably the most basic form of public transport in Peru, and not one that many tourists will experience. Passengers sit or stand in the cargo area, generally hanging on for dear life. You should avoid camionetas, especially over long distances, unless there really is no other option.
Large passenger ferries and small lanchas (motorboats) take care of all terrestrial traffic in the Amazon region. Port towns such as Yurimaguas and Pucallpa are, quite literally, the end of the road. Travel by passenger boat is adventurous and scenic, but you'll need stamina and patience for the voyage (it takes three days to get to Iquitos from most large port towns). Pack enough supplies for the trip, as only basic meals are available onboard.
Train travel is a rarity in Peru. Three companies operate trains to Machu Picchu, with further services from Cusco to Puno. The Ferrocarril Central Andino is the country's most spectacular train trip, running from Lima over the Andes until it reaches Huancayo. This is the highest standard-gauge train track in the world, so a big draw for train buffs. The train leaves only twice a month, so plan in advance. Another train crosses the Peru-Chile border from Tacna to Arica.