Peru by train or Peru by bus?
May 21, 2010 12:00 PM   Subscribe

Another question about an upcoming trip to Peru: we are thinking of taking either the train or the bus between Cusco and Puno and Puno and Arequipa. Any thoughts or recommendations??
posted by graventy to Travel & Transportation around Peru (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
A couple of years ago I took the all-night "express" bus from Cusco to Puno. I was hoping to sleep on the bus and then start the day fresh in Puno and maximize my sight-seeing time.

It was horrid.

First, even though it was an "express" bus, the fact that there were no scheduled stops didn't keep the driver from stopping about six times that night and picking up people who sat in the aisles and paid him a small sum each that he pocketed. And, every time, lights on, people talking, folks milling about--me wide awake.

Second, the temperature inside the bus was probably around ninety degrees--truly miserably hot. Outside it was about forty. So I cracked a window hoping to moderate the temperature, but I was just miserable two different ways at the same time.

Third, the information at the bus station had said that even though the bus pulled into Puno about 6:00 or so, you could stay on until 7:30, keep resting, and then hit the town in time for breakfast. Completely true. What it didn't say was the the driver and his three pals would all sit down two seats behind you, talking a laughing the entire time.

After all this, I re-read one of our guide books, which mentioned that all-night buses were one of the most common ways that tourists were killed in Peru, from falling to a fiery, tangled death when a tired driver slipped off the road on a steep mountain pass. I took this as hopeful news. Death, at least, would have been a kind of rest.

Maybe daytime buses are better. But I recommend the train.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 12:10 PM on May 21, 2010

I took the bus from Arequipa up to Puno in 2000 and it was a full-on South American Bus Experince...driver picking up extra people to fill the aisles, chickens on board, heinous bumpy road. I was admittedly in beginning-of-trip-anxiety mode, but I'm talking bounce you out of your seat bumpiness. Looking back, I'm sort of glad I had the experience, but it really sucked in the moment.

Don't know what the train is like. We found the South American Explorers Club to be a good resource in general.
posted by huckit at 12:17 PM on May 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

when is your trip? i'll be taking a cruz del sur bus between puno and arequipa (more expensive than normal buses, definitely a 'tourist bus', but good online reviews) and then one of those day tourist buses from puno to cuzco that stop at ruins along the way, in late june - early july. i can let you know how it goes when i get back if your trip isn't until fall or something.
posted by raw sugar at 12:21 PM on May 21, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks! It's planned for mid-August.
posted by graventy at 12:31 PM on May 21, 2010

Last summer, we took Cruz Del Sur between Arequipa and Puno as an overnight. If you do it, pay extra for the extra legroom, but even then, I don't recommend it. It wasn't bad - it was only a bus full of Peruvians laughing at Beverly Hills Chihuahua, no chickens or anything - but you spend the whole night half dozing because it just doesn't feel safe to sleep, and the bus keeps stopping and you don't know why and you worry about someone taking the bags off the bus and you arrive so tired and disoriented that you wind up being vague and snippy the whole next day, which really doesn't help when you're at altitude, cold, and in a town which is famous for being full of scams (although we had no problems in Puno). Also, the bathrooms get *very* gross, very quickly. Oh, and the drivers think very slowly driving over tire fires make an acceptable way to deal with road block protests. If your tolerance for adventure is higher, that's one way to go.

We wound up having to fly from Puno to Cuzco because of the protests. We arrived and wondered why on earth we'd ever seriously considered busing it. We spent a week in Sacred Valley and saw plenty of ruins such that we don't feel we missed out by not taking the day tourist bus.

We only trained between Cuzco and Machu Picchu, because you have to, but it was very nice. It was total bunk to pay extra for the "upgraded" tickets with the panoramic roof - the plexiglass is so scratched up, and it's so humid anyway, you can't see much more out of the roof than you can from the regular seats.

We did a day bus between Lima and Ica and it was perfectly fine, so it's probably just the overnight thing that's so miserable.
posted by arabelladragon at 1:24 PM on May 21, 2010

Nthing the recommendation to avoid night buses. The Harvard student-run series Let's Go recommends that its researchers avoid night transportation in general because one of their researchers, Haley Surti, died in a night bus crash in Peru in 2001.
posted by purpleclover at 1:54 PM on May 21, 2010

one of those day tourist buses from puno to cuzco that stop at ruins along the way

I took this (the other direction, from Cuzco to Puno) and it wasn't bad, although in retrospect I also think it wasn't worth the money/time. We ran into some people we knew from the Inca Trail later on in Puno who had taken the train, and they really enjoyed it--it took about the same amount of time (I want to say around 12 hours?) but they could get up and walk around, eat in the dining car, and so forth. If I could do it again I think I'd either try to fly or take the train.

Actually, in all honesty, if I could do it again I'd skip Puno entirely. The floating islands were cool, and the lake was nice, but not fantastic; I hear the Bolivian side is much better. Puno itself was kind of a huge letdown after Cuzco, and it was so far away that it took a bigger chunk of our vacation than I'd like just to get there and spend 2 or 3 days. If I were to do it again I'd try to fit in a visit to Manu instead--that was highly, highly recommended by almost everyone we talked to who did it.

Not that you asked. Just wanted to give my $0.02, since IMHO the guidebooks made Lake Titicaca sound better than I found the reality to be, and it was a shame because literally everything else we did in Peru so far, far exceeded my expectations, even Lima which everyone was like "oh it's a boring city."

posted by iminurmefi at 2:08 PM on May 21, 2010

I have never taken the train either way, but I've taken buses back and forth between Cuzco and Puno many times. The bus is only seven hours or so, and tourist-grade service is available (see others' comments above).

As far as fiery accidents at the bottom of a cliff--this route doesn't really see much of that, as you are in the altiplano, which is the high plateau, meaning there's not a lot of switchbacks. Some, but not like in Bolivia!

If you can afford it, fly into Juliaca (I don't think Puno has an airport, but I could be wrong). From there, it's only an hour by bus to Puno, which I think is underrated, to be honest. (The altiplano is totally distinct in geography from the Sacred Valley, and worth a trip! I also think the quinua will be fully grown at this time of the year; it's really cool to see all the beautiful crops coming up in the Titicaca mudflats around harvest time.)

From there you are SO close to Bolivia. Just go! There's nothing like looking down from the lip of El Alto onto La Paz! (But get a visa first if you are from the U.S.)
posted by mixer at 2:35 PM on May 21, 2010

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