Driving in Lima is not for the faint-hearted, but if you keep your sense of humour and sharpen your reflexes, you will soon be able to flow into the traffic. During weekdays, city traffic can be aggressive and exhausting, but the advantage of driving your own vehicle comes on the weekends or during your free time, when there are literally hundreds of places you can discover and explore both inside and outside of Lima.
When you first arrive in Peru, you can use your license from back home for up to 6 months. After that, you will need to get a local license. (Follow the link to learn how to obtain your Peruvian driver’s licence.) If stopped by the police, you will need to show your passport to demonstrate that you have been in the country for less than this period. An international driver’s permit can also be helpful since it helps the police understand the driver’s license from your home country. Note the the International Driver’s Permit is not a driver’s license itself. You must use it with your current valid license.
Before you start driving around Lima and discovering other parts of Peru, you must purchase the national vehicle insurance known as “SOAT” (Seguro Obligatorio de Accidentes de Tránsito). The SOAT is purchased annually, it is obligatory, and it provides immediate third party coverage for personal injuries and death. We recommend that you also purchase additional private insurance for your vehicle. Auto insurance is widely available through most insurance companies and brokers, so do some research to make sure you find the one that best suits your needs. Very few people in Peru take out any kind of private insurance on their vehicles, and even bus companies are truant.
- Unless expressly indicated, you never turn right at a red traffic light.
- Cars circulating in a traffic circle, or roundabout, have right of way – you’re not expected to fully stop when entering a circle, but you will have to ease into the traffic.
- To most drivers, the amber light means ‘speed up’ rather than ‘start slowing down’, so beware at crossings. Be particularly careful late at night, when some drivers ignore traffic lights altogether.
- Some drivers neglect to flash directional lights to turn, or worse, they forget to turn them off. If a driver urgently needs to merge into your lane, it is common to poke a hand out of either the driver’s or passenger’s window.
- Drive defensively and keep your cool. Playing chicken or dare (basically, “me first”) is a national sport and is played by almost everyone – from the lady in her suburban van in San Isidro to the combi driver on the road into Villa El Salvador.
- Drivers don’t always respect the One Way signs, especially if it is in their own neighbourhood.
- If the police signal or whistle for you to stop (a long, sharp whistle), pull over, but remember that you are not required to get out of your car. The police cannot impound your driver’s license or other documents. Traffic violation tickets can be paid at the Banco de la Nación, and there is a discount if it is paid in the same week of the violation. If there is any disagreement, insist on solving the problem at the nearest police station.
Article written by Eleanor Griffis. Author of The Lima Survival Kit.