“You must put purse down,” the silver-haired cab driver said to me in broken English. “Down, by feet.”
We had just arrived at the Lima airport after 20 hours of travel culminated with one hour in a seemingly never-ending queue to get through customs, and had finally escaped into the fresh air of the arrivals area. The friendly older gentleman was shuttling us to Miraflores, but as I was slightly delirious I was struggling to understand why he was trying to take my carry-on bag as we hopped into the backseat.
“Put by feet, otherwise they smash your window.”
And that was my introduction to the joys of getting around Lima, Peru’s bustling capital city.
Getting to Lima
I’ll get to the story behind that harsh warning in a second, but first things first. Let’s talk about how you actually get to Lima. Most tourists arrive by air, touching down at Jorge Chavez International Airport which is actually outside of Lima in a city called Callao. Frankly, it’s quite the beast. Not only is it about a 45 minute drive from popular areas like San Isidro or Miraflores (without traffic), but it takes a ridiculously long time to get through.
When you arrive from an international destination, you’ll have to queue up in a nearly hour-long line just to get through immigration, then you have to wait for your bags, then you go through another line for customs as they screen your bag. Fortunately most of the wait is eliminated if you arrive domestically.
Heading home is even worse. Make sure you show up about three hours before your flight leaves, as it takes about an hour just to check in—I’ve never seen queues as long as the ones in Lima! Once you get through it and have boarding pass in hand, you’ll go through security before getting to kill a couple of hours because your flight is likely delayed (the Delta flight I was on—a red eye—apparently is ALWAYS delayed because of airport staff). When it’s finally time to board, you will be subjected to another ridiculous screening procedure where they recheck your bags, and take away any liquids. Yes, even the ones you JUST BOUGHT at duty free! So, save your money, and avoid shopping at the Lima airport.
The good news is that taxis are everywhere. And I mean, everywhere. I once watched a quiet side street in the San Isidro district, and counted 19 cabs go by in just 30 seconds.
Taxis are also relatively inexpensive, but the key is to barter with the drivers and agree on a price before you get in, as they’re not metered or regulated. In my experience, third time’s the charm. On a couple of occasions, two drivers tried to rip us off before a third drove up offering a more realistic price. It definitely helps to know the average price of what it costs to get from A to B, otherwise you won’t be in a great bargaining position.
READ MORE: What to do in Lima, Peru
Hotels will usually offer to call a cab for you which can be more expensive, but is usually the safest option especially if you’re heading to the airport. When in doubt, get in one of the Green Taxis (which are, you guessed it, forest green) as they tend to be the safest. Alternatively, look for red and white reflective stickers on the bumpers, as that is the sign of a valid cab.
So you may have guessed by now that safety can be an issue in cabs.
We never had any problems with drivers—in fact, we found them to be quite friendly—but Lima is a place you want to be vigilant and go with your gut. The most common scam is the aforementioned robbery. What happens is, if you leave bags or valuables in plain sight (think, on the seat beside you or on your lap) passing motorcyclists have been known to quickly smash through the window and grab the valuables before speeding off. Sometimes the drivers are also in on it, and will text the car’s location to their cohorts when they pick you up. Keep an eye out for drivers who use their cell phone excessively, or are looking in the mirrors more than usual. Also, keep your bags in the trunk, and small items like purses on the floor between your seat.
Average taxi costs:
Miraflores to airport: 50 soles
San Isidro to airport: 45 soles
Miraflores to Lima Centro: 12 soles
If you’re looking to save a few bucks, you might try hopping on the bus instead of flagging down a cab. This is an exercise in patience, my friends. There really isn’t a route system set up: instead, people just kind of hop in and out of them whenever it’s convenient. I’m sure this is a cheap option, but probably only works if you speak Spanish and happen to know the city very well! One alternative is to hop on the Metropolitano, a bus system that is similar to a train in that it has its own dedicated lanes on the congested roadways. The only negatives are that they can be packed full of people, and the stops are blocks away from touristy areas.
Finally, if you’re looking to get out of town, book a ticket on Cruz del Sur. The bus service has routes all around Peru, as well as to Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador and Colombia. The double-deckers offer comfortable seats, entertainment and on-board food service for a great price. While the journeys can be long, many of them are overnighters so you can sleep on board—and save money on a hotel room! The main station in Lima is one of the cleanest bus stations I’ve ever seen and you can also buy tickets online, so overall it’s a great experience.
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