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Taking the Bus in Lima

Riding the city bus system in Lima, Peru can be a nerve-wracking experience for a variety of reasons. First of all, there’s the buses themselves. The fleet consists of a combination of privately owned buses of various sizes: full size buses, mid-size combis and the small micro vans. Whatever the size, they’re generally old and not well maintained. There are few regular bus stops, although that has recently been improving. The buses do cover nearly of all of Lima’s major avenues, although it can be difficult to decipher the routes.

If you’re new to the bus system in Lima, there are a few things to know that can make city bus travel a little easier. It’s important to have a good idea of the main streets near your destination before you get on the bus. Most buses have the name of the main avenues they travel painted onto their side. You can also look on the front of the bus for the route number – it will appear as a combination of letters and numbers, like IO-50. Additionally, you’ll find the start and end point of the route posted on the front. Buses that travel the same route will be painted with the same colors.

Although there are no official bus route maps, expat Jeroen Prinsen has created the site Rutas Recomendables, where (among other things) he provides downloadable maps showing 12 recommended routes that will get you all around Lima. It’s highly recommended for anyone considering using the local buses in Lima.

Finally, you can confirm you are on the right bus with the bus conductor, or cobrador. The cobrador’s job is to attract passengers to the bus by calling out the streets and neighborhoods that the bus passes through, and also to collect fares from the passengers. Fares are inexpensive; traveling from one district to the next will only cost one sol, while very short distances of less than 10 blocks or so can be had for as little as a fifty cent piece (commonly called a “china”). To travel the full distance of a route, you may pay anywhere from two to three soles. School children pay fifty cents, regardless of distance. There are no transfers, so if you need to take two buses to get to your destination, you will need to pay for both buses. When riding the bus, it’s always best to have change in hand. It’s considered bad form to give the cobrador large bills. When you pay your fare, the cobrador should give you a small ticket in return which acts as your receipt and is also your insurance in case of an accident.

When the bus arrives at your destination, you’ll want to shout out “Baja aquí!” (I want to get down here!) or “Baja a la esquina” (Let me down at the corner). If the bus is crowded, you’ll find it best to start making your way to the door a block ahead of time. During rush hour, the buses are packed, and it can be difficult to get through the aisles. Make sure to keep a good grip on your bags, as this is a prime time for pick-pockets.

There have been recent improvements in the city’s public transportation. Besides bus lanes and more bus stops, the city has recently started service of a rapid transit system called the Metropolitano. “El Metro” is a fleet of new double-length buses that run on a dedicated lane that runs from the south of Chorillos through the center of Lima, then on north to Comas. During the weekdays, there are some express buses which only stop at certain platforms, while other buses stop at each platform along the route. Six more routes are planned for the future. Payment is made using an “e-card” which can be purchased or recharged at vending machines on the platformfors 5 soles, each trip will cost you 2 nuevos soles.

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