When you travel in Peru by bus, you’ll need to decide what to do with your bags. Most of the country’s long-distance bus companies offer the same options as Peru's domestic airlines: checked baggage and carry-on luggage.
Checked baggage is normally stored in the luggage compartment below decks (if you travel with a really low-budget company, your bags might end up strapped to the roof).
Luggage compartments are normally secure, especially with midrange to top-end bus companies. I’ve spent a ridiculous number of hours on buses in Peru and I’ve never lost a backpack or bag stored below decks.
When you hand over your bags, you should always receive a ticket (if you don’t, ask someone). You’ll need to keep this for when you collect your bags at the end of your journey. If possible, try to keep an eye on the baggage handlers as they load up the luggage compartment -- it’s always reassuring to see your bag safely stored.
Spills and seepages from other bags and packages can seriously mess up a luggage compartment. This can happen on any bus, even with a top-end company like Cruz del Sur. If you don’t want your bag -- and possibly its contents -- covered in oil or other potentially unidentifiable liquids, consider placing it in a sack or plastic bag. If your backpack has a rain cover, use it.
Travelers always need to guard against opportunistic theft in Peru. If you take a daypack or other small bag onto a bus, keep an eye on it. Don’t leave it in the overhead compartment. Instead, keep it on your lap or by your feet.
I always place my main backpack below decks and keep my small backpack between my feet, with one strap looped loosely around my leg (to stop it sliding -- or being pulled -- beneath the seat in front or behind me).
Never, ever, leave your bag -- or any other item -- unattended on the bus. If you go to the toilet or leave the bus to buy a quick snack, take your bag with you (unless you have someone reliable to look after it while you’re gone).
As a side note, I’ve seen people taking large suitcases and backpacks onto long-distance buses as hand luggage. Even if the bus attendant doesn’t have a problem with this, it won’t make for a comfortable journey. Large bags are unlikely to fit into the overhead compartments, which aren’t safe anyway. Putting a large bag between your legs or on your lap isn’t comfortable, while getting on and off the bus with hefty luggage isn’t fun. If you’re lucky, you might have a vacant seat beside you on which to place your bag. If not, you may well regret not placing it in the luggage compartment.
Deciding Where to Place Valuable Items
In general, checked luggage is more secure than carry-on luggage (especially with the more reputable companies). Deciding where to keep your most valuable items, however, is not always easy. Should you keep things like your passport, credit cards, laptop and camera in your hand luggage, or store them below decks?
It may be slightly control-freakish, but I like to keep all my most valuable items with me on the bus. I keep my laptop, camera and wallet in my small backpack (between my feet). I put my passport, a credit card and some cash in a pocket (a jacket pocket, normally) while I’m on the bus.
In the event of a random police inspection, you will need to show your passport and possibly your tarjeta andina to a police officer, so it’s a good idea to have both with you during your journey.
If you don’t carry a daypack and don’t want to keep your laptop or camera with you on the bus, it’s perfectly reasonable to put them in your suitcase or backpack in the luggage compartment. Make sure they are well protected against both spills and knocks -- and don’t lose your baggage ticket.