Travelling with Peru Hop vs public buses: An honest comparison
Are the buses in Peru safe? How do I buy tickets?? Where can I even go?!? For first-time visitors to Peru, it can be a bit daunting to figure out how you’re going to get around the country on a bus and actually see all of the places you’ve been dreaming about— but is a hop-on/hop-off bus service like Peru Hop really worth the extra money? I’ve spent 2 months travelling around Peru, both with Peru Hop and by public bus, and I can absolutely see the appeal in both modes of transport, depending on your priorities and your itinerary. This handy guide compares Peru Hop and public buses across a whole heap of categories so you can get an idea of what makes the most sense for your own trip!
Peru Hop generously provided me with a pass in exchange for an honest review of their service, but all opinions expressed within this post, good or bad, are entirely my own.
What is Peru Hop?
Peru Hop is a relatively new hop-on/hop-off bus service started by a group of Irish guys who felt there had to be an easier way for backpackers to get around to all the top destinations in Peru. It’s not an original concept (there are heaps of hop-on/hop-off buses in places like Australia and New Zealand), but it was totally ground-breaking in South America and has revolutionised the way a lot of people travel around Peru.
How does Peru Hop work?
Unlike a normal bus company where you purchase a single ticket to one destination, you purchase a pass with Peru Hop that includes a number of popular destinations between Lima and Cusco, some of which are not accessible by a direct public bus. The bus route also includes interesting little stops between cities, like a visit to the Nazca Lines viewing tower, a free Pisco tasting in Ica, or a tour of the secret slave tunnels at Hacienda San Jose— these stops are an awesome way to see more of Peru in a short amount of time.
There are also a couple of local guides on board who can help you book tours and hostels at discounted rates or even just provide awesome recommendations on where to go once you get off the bus. Peru Hop isn’t a tour, though— you have complete freedom to build your own itinerary around their stops, hopping off and staying a couple days if you see something you like and then getting back on the bus when you’re ready to keep travelling.
When you buy a Peru Hop pass, you’ll get a log-in which enables you to reserve your buses in advance through their online system (you can still change these up to a few hours in advance) and access some of the exclusive discounts provided on accommodation and tours to Peru Hop passengers. It’s incredibly easy to use, and guides on the Peru Hop buses can also help you modify your itinerary if you really want to hop off sooner or stay longer in a destination at the last minute.
What are public buses in Peru like?
Peru actually has one of the best networks of public buses I’ve seen anywhere in the world. All main cities in Peru have large bus stations (sometimes several) that service heaps of near and far destinations around the country, buses constantly running throughout the day and night, dozens of competing companies, and usually at a fraction of the cost of flying. I’ve taken countless bus journeys around South America and Peru’s buses are definitely among the best in terms of comfort and actually running on time (looking at you, Colombia).
Most buses in Peru will have toilets and comfy semi-cama seats, which means the seats recline to about 150° or nearly horizontal. Really long overnight journeys with nicer companies might even offer full cama, where the seats are actually horizontal beds, but this is not super common. Seats are also assigned on buses in Peru, so try to ask for a seat at the front or on the lower level— these tend to be larger, nicer, more expensive VIP seats, but I promise it’s worth the extra soles on a long journey (usually only about S/10 more).
Just like on a plane, you can carry a smaller bag onto the bus and they will put your big backpack underneath (you’ll have a ticket that corresponds to your bag so you can collect it later). Some buses will serve snacks or hot drinks and I’ve even had a couple with seat-back entertainment systems, although the movies are always in Spanish. Basically, buses in Peru are NICE.
How do I buy bus tickets in Peru?
Bus terminals in Peru range from small regional stations with only a few operators, like in Huaraz, to enormous airport-sized stations with multiple levels and wings, like Lima’s Plaza Norte. Either way, there will be ticket booths for each bus company lining the perimeter of the station, with bright signs advertising their destinations or vendors shouting out places like “Arequipa, Arequipa, Arequipa!“. Companies servicing a particular region tend to be grouped together, so you can visit a few neighbouring windows to compare prices if you’re on a tight budget. Also keep in mind that you’ll be asked for your passport when you purchase bus tickets, so have it handy!
It really is incredibly simple to rock up to a bus station in Peru and purchase tickets to anywhere you want to go, but this is somewhat dependent on your level of Spanish— don’t expect anyone to speak a word of English. Here are the most essential phrases to know:
- Yo necesito comprar un boleto a [your destination] | I need to buy a bus ticket to [your destination]
- A qué hora es el próximo bus? | What time is the next bus?
- A qué hora el bus llegas en [your destination]? | What time does the bus arrive in [your destination]?
- Cuánto cuesta? | How much does it cost?
- Es posible pagar con una tarjeta? | Is it possible to pay with a credit card?
- El bus tiene un baño? | Does the bus have a toilet?
- Los asientos son semi-cama? | Are the seats semi-cama?
- Es posible tener un asiento en el primer nivel? | Is it possible to have a seat on the first level?
- De donde sale el bus? | Where does the bus depart from? (they’ll usually give you a number corresponding to the parking spot or boarding door)
It’s also possible to buy bus tickets online for some companies in Peru, which is obviously convenient if you want to plan ahead. Cruz del Sur has a great reputation and a super simple website, so I usually travel with them if I’m pre-booking online for a longer journey. Otherwise, check out RedBus, an awesome site for comparing and purchasing tickets from a number of different companies. This is also useful for checking bus times when you’re planning your trip from home.
*Peru Hop vs public buses
Even though Peru Hop’s passes are reasonably priced for what you get, they are still far more expensive than taking public buses along the same route. I justified this added expense since it saved me so much transit time and crammed in so many awesome destinations, but it probably won’t appeal to those travelling on a shoe-string budget.
- Lima to Cusco pass with Peru Hop S/600 ($179USD from their website)
- Public buses between Lima and Cusco S/170 total
You’ll also need to consider the cost of taking a taxi or an Uber to and from the bus terminal in each of these places, but even an extremely conservative estimate of S/10 per taxi ride only brings the grand total to S/270, less than half of what the Peru Hop pass costs. If stretching your funds is your absolute top priority, public buses are a better option for you.
The most cost-effective option: public buses
Instead of having to get yourself to the bus terminal (which is sometimes wayyy out of town and can be really overwhelming in larger cities), the Peru Hop bus will drop you off and pick you up directly at your hostel. The only exception to this was Cusco, but Peru Hop paid and organised for shared taxis to take us to our various hostels!
Transporting my heavy backpack and all of my valuables through a busy bus terminal in a shady part of town by myself probably tops the list in terms of travel stress, so it was pretty amazing to completely eliminate this and just get straight to exploring a new place. If you are looking to minimise stress on your trip, Peru Hop is hands-down the best choice.
The most convenient option: Peru Hop
Let me start off by saying that Peru is, on the whole, an extremely safe country to travel in, even as a solo female. The people are incredibly friendly and there’s not a lot of violent crime in most of the places tourists go, but sadly the bus terminals always seem to be in the worst parts of town. I know way too many people who’ve had their wallets and passports or even their whole bags stolen at a bus terminal— there’s just so much activity, especially in larger cities like Lima. Cutting out the bus terminal makes the trip inherently safer (not that you shouldn’t still exercise some common sense!).
And the bus station isn’t the only way that Peru Hop provides extra safety. I haven’t heard about it happening too terribly much in Peru, but there are a number of scams in South America that revolve around someone “moving” your bag under the bus or vendors boarding the bus and quickly pocketing things while you’re distracted. I’ve never experienced it personally (thank goodness), but it was nice to let my guard down a bit on the Peru Hop bus, knowing my bags and all my belongings were totally safe, even if I got off the bus to eat or use the bathroom at a stop.
The safest option: Peru Hop
Peru Hop uses relatively new, comfortable buses with partially reclining seats— but they simply don’t compare to the higher-end public buses like Cruz del Sur that have enormous semi-cama seats, blankets and pillows, entertainment systems, complimentary hot tea, and snacks, all for a fraction of the price of a Peru Hop pass. That’s not to say that Peru Hop is uncomfortable, but on a really long journey, I would actually rather be on a public bus!
The most comfortable option: public buses
One of the things I loved about Peru Hop was being transported directly to all the best places along the coast, including towns like Huacachina that aren’t serviced by the public bus. This means less time in a taxi or waiting at a bus terminal and more time actually enjoying yourself, which is a huge bonus for those trying to cram as much as possible into their trip.
Peru Hop also integrates their itinerary perfectly with the most popular activities in each destination to help you maximise your time. For example, you arrive in Paracas in the afternoon with plenty of time to hire bikes, hang out at the beach, or go searching for flamingos. The following morning, you have time to take the morning boat out to the Ballestas Islands AND join Peru Hop’s free tour of the Paracas Nature Reserve, all before the bus departs for Huacachina.
However, it’s definitely important to note that Peru Hop can’t take you everywhere in Peru. There are some absolutely amazing places, like Huaraz, Manu National Park, and Puerto Maldonado, that aren’t part of the Peru Hop route, which means you will need to take a public bus to visit a lot of these destinations. Plus, public buses are running pretty much constantly throughout the day to various destinations, so you have heaps of options for when you want to leave compared to the single daily departure for Peru Hop. So really, the best option in terms of route is going to depend on what you want to see!
The best way to maximise your time: Peru Hop
The most flexible option: public buses
Without a doubt, one of the best things about Peru Hop was the community vibe on board the bus. A lot of people are travelling at a similar speed through the country and stopping in all the same place, so you can easily make friends and see a lot of these people on the bus over the course of your journey. As a solo female traveller, I loved how easy it was to meet people and I ended up having dinner or exploring with some of these friends even after we’d finished the Peru Hop portion of our trips. Considering that a majority of people on public buses are locals, and even other travellers are on their own schedule, it would be pretty rare to make any friends on a public bus.
The guides on the bus were another awesome part of the experience, and I’ll just tell you about two different bus journeys I’ve done in Peru to illustrate this point. Back in 2014, I took a 24hr public bus from Lima to Cusco and it was the worst experience I’ve ever had on a bus, not because the company was bad, but the route is just terrible. The roads are insane and everyone was motion sick, not to mention the massive change in altitude, so people were vomiting and just suffering for TWENTY FOUR HOURS, ON A BUS. There are few worse places to be so ill. I swore I’d never do this trip by bus again (and I didn’t actually), but I did end up doing a 16hr trip from Nazca to Cusco with Peru Hop in 2019. Same terrible roads, same motion and altitude sickness, probably even more people vomiting and suffering, BUT this time we had the Peru Hop guides. They came around to people with bags and tissues, sat with passengers on the stairs, stopped for people to run off the bus and spew, they even plunged the toilet when it got clogged from all the vomit (graphic, I know). And therein lies a big difference between public buses and Peru Hop: there are people on the bus looking out for you.
The most social option: Peru Hop
So…Peru Hop or public bus?
Peru Hop is best for:
- Travellers whose time is at a higher premium than their money: I find that every trip I take is a constant balance between the time I have and the budget I’m trying to stick to— if you have nothing but time, you could take a taxi from Huacachina to Ica, a cheap public bus to Nazca, a tour out to the Nazca Lines, and then get on a public bus the next day to Arequipa. BUT if you don’t have heaps of time and you’re trying to fit a lot in, you could pay a bit extra to travel directly from Huacachina to Arequipa with Peru Hop, which includes a free stop at the Nazca Lines. Peru Hop helps you jam-pack your days, and even though the cost is higher than taking the public bus, you will see more in a shorter period of time, no question.
- Solo or first-time travellers who are willing to sacrifice a little flexibility for safety and convenience: If you’re a bit wary about getting to the bus terminal on your own or buying a bus ticket with limited Spanish, Peru Hop completely eliminates that stress.
- Solo travellers or couples who want to meet other travellers: Peru Hop is an incredibly easy way to make friends and socialise with other people, all without having to actually join a tour and compromise your independence.
Public buses are best for:
- Travellers on a shoe-string budget: If your money is more valuable than your time, public buses are substantially cheaper and will help you stretch your funds farther on a long trip.
- Travellers who want maximum flexibility: There are so many bus companies in Peru operating myriad routes throughout the day and night, so opting to travel by public bus will give you the greatest amount of flexibility to design your own itinerary and travel whenever you want.
- Travellers who want to visit destinations not included with Peru Hop: If you want to visit other amazing places like Huaraz, Mancora, or Iquitos, public buses can take you to thousands of destinations around Peru that aren’t yet part of the Peru Hop route.