Exploring Peru With Peru Hop – More Than Just a Bus Ride

Heather Markel, Writer, Speaker, Photographer, Traveler, Business Strategist

How to make seeing Peru simple, enjoyable and fun

During my first visit to Lima I feel the urge to see other parts of Peru. While Larco museum is amazing, and the food is great, I don’t feel like I’m seeing real Peru. Machu Pichu isn’t on my bucket list (I actually don’t even have a bucket list – something Nadine Hays Pisani spoke to in our interview!) but I want to see all those women in colorful clothes in all those photos I see of Peru. I want to see mountains. I want to meet a Shaman. The thing is, I’d really like to travel with some other people. While I do love solo travel, I also love meeting lots of people and haven’t been for a while. So, I decide to check out Peru Hop.

One of the beautiful women that, for me, are part of “real Peru.”

Photograph by Heather Markel. Copyright 2019

One of my family members used Peru Hop a couple of years ago, and a new friend I met in Thailand used them for her trip to Peru a few months ago. Both had good things to say. Let me be honest, I was most worried about whether buses are safe in Peru. I had visions of driving on narrow, ever-curving roads with cliffs with a huge dropoff and an earthquake shaking us too close to the edge. I was equally scared of flying because I heard there are hairpin turns and the flight is either ascending or descending the entire flight, and the bus still seems better. I decide to go to the Peru Hop office to understand not just the safety factor, but also all the options and which is right for me.

“Safe, good driving, and a great way to make new friends.”

After I’m comfortable that the bus drivers are safe drivers, I choose the “Full South to Cusco” option because I have over 2 weeks to travel and I don’t want to pay the $160 visa fee to go to Bolivia (yup, Americans gotta pay up). The only confusing part of my experience is sorting out dates. These trips are mostly for people short on time who stay in each place for one night. But, if you go to all the stops from Lima to Cusco, you’ll have two different nights where you sleep on the bus. That can make booking the hotels you need confusing, especially if you want to spend more than one night in any given location. Once you figure all this out, you can sit back, relax, and let Peru Hop help you. You get a client login to their portal so you can review your dates any time, and even request to change your itinerary at the click of a link. At any moment, if you’re confused by your itinerary, what time your next bus leaves and from where, etc. you can also call or email Peru Hop. Their customer service, in my experience, is excellent. On top of all that, here’s what I think is fantastic about Peru Hop:

  1. It’s transportation and a guided tour. Each bus has a guide, and while some may be better than others, they make sure you have what you need, keep you well informed about tour routes, that the bathroom is for #1 only, what will happen, how long things will take, and, even better, speak to you about the sites you will stop off at along the way. Instead of a 7-hour bus ride, you feel like you were on a day tour. Plenty of time to get out of the bus, stretch your legs and learn something about the amazing places along the way. You even have the option to participate in activities and you can basically decide what you want to do in the heat of the moment because you can book, and pay, right in your bus!
  2. You, literally, will make a bus load of friends each time you ride a Peru Hop bus. Because of the sightseeing that’s included, you’ll have lots of time to get to know your bus-mates who are every age, nationality and background you can imagine. If you’re solo traveling like I am, this is awesome! In a bus that big, there will be at least one person you like. In my case, I liked everyone. 🙂 If you check out my Cool People page and scroll to the bottom, you’ll see many of the awesome people I met throughout my Peru travels! In fact, I was feeling lonely up to traveling in Peru (if this is the first of my posts you’re reading, I’ve been solo traveling the world for 18 months) and was grateful at how easy it was to make new friends.
  3. The discounts. Peru Hop has a discount at many hotels and restaurants in the cities you’ll visit. If you’re on a tight budget, this is GREAT. Make sure you keep that wrist band tied tight so you can show it to get those reduced rates.
  4. The safety. The bus drivers drive well, and each ride, you’ll be reminded they have the best drivers in Peru. 🙂 Having gone through Argentina and Chile with that beeping noise that happens when the driver speeds over 99km, these guys were a relief and for longer trips they have two drivers who can’t drive longer than 4 hours at a time. Also, your bags are safe – they go into the side of the bus, and you’ll have a crowd of people you know around the bags when you arrive at each stop.

The oasis of Huacachina, Peru.

Photograph by Heather Markel. Copyright 2019

With Peru Hop, I got to see Parracas, Huacachina, the Nazca lines, Arequipa, Puno and Cusco. Each stop offered different activities and features. Here  is my honest opinion about each one:

Parracas

  • Stay for only one night. There’s not a lot to do in the town. Let your Peru Hop guide help you book the accommodation. The hostels are fine – very simple/basic, and also very cheap.
  • The day trip to Ballestas Island (organized with Peru Hop) is nice as is the visit to the national park. I got to go to Ushuaia, Argentina, walk with penguins, and see sea lions and whales so, Ballestas Island was less impressive, but seeing the symbol magically carved into the mountainside is pretty cool. And, it’s a nice way to break up your trip if you’re going all the way to Cusco.

Huacachina

  • Another 1 night city. I booked 2 nights and regretted it, and the bus was too full for me to change my reservation. Don’t get me wrong, the oasis is LOVELY but once you’ve seen it, and hiked in it by day and night, well, you’ve done what there is to do. Also, the oasis is man-made, so though it is seriously amazing, it’s not a world wonder.
  • Everyone does the crazy dune buggy ride and sandboarding. It’s only $15. Most people had a huge smile on their face and loved it. Personally, I found the car ride way too bumpy and it just wasn’t for me. Sandboarding, also, not my cup of tea, but you may love it, so definitely try it! Note, if you do have any body issues, that car ride is really, really bumpy, so keep that in mind.
  • If you’re not an all night party-person, do NOT book into the Wild Rover hostel. They play music all day and night, and it’s a complete party scene.
  • You can go to Ica in a taxi in about 5 minutes, but Peru Hop takes you to a pisco distillery there so it’s not a “must see” in my opinion.

Nazca

  • Nobody, apparently, stays overnight there. If you do, it’s even confusing to Peru Hop guides because so few people stay there.
  • You get to see the Nazca lines as part of the trip with no need to stay overnight. The visit is quick – you hopefully make it to the viewing tower before sunset and wait on line as roughly 20 people go up at one time and then come down.
  • If you want to really see the lines, meaning, see all of the different symbols and see each one in its entirety, book the flight. But, be warned, it’s a 4-seater, and a few people I met got motion sick. Apparently you’re turning in circles for about 30 minutes. I didn’t do it, but the folks that did said the view was amazing and it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
  • This will be your first overnight on the bus coming from Lima. As you book your hotels, remember, you are sleeping on the bus one night, don’t book into a hotel that night! HINT – motion sickness tablets can help you sleep on the bus. 🙂

Arequipa

  • One of my absolute favorite cities in Peru! I stayed 3 nights and could have stayed longer.
  • I stayed at the Casa de Avila (they give a Peru Hop discount) and LOVED it. Cheap and has a garden and it’s QUIET. The staff is unbelievably lovely. It’s about a 10-minute walk (5 – 7 minutes if you’re altitude acclimated) to the town center.
  • This city is really beautiful, and a couple of neat places to eat are Sonccolay, featuring pre-Incan cuisine and you can go in the kitchen and watch them cook! And Xarza Mora – a small eatery where you’re likely to share a table with strangers and choose from their daily menu all of which is delicious. And, bonus, cheap, too!
  • Altitude sickness may set in here, especially if you go to Colca Canyon which takes you up to 4,900 METERS at the highest point. Colca Canyon is where you will see condors. It’s a bit of a touristy day, but seeing condors is pretty cool, as is the active volcano. Added bonus – hot springs! Bring a bathing suit and a towel with you.

Puno

  • The city of Puno isn’t that interesting. Well, to be fair, the town center was under construction while I was there, so maybe in reality it’s more interesting than I thought. There are no real sidewalks, so being a pedestrian is a challenge.
  • Altitude sickness was hitting me bad here, so I didn’t have the overall best time. However, there are some interesting ruins to see nearby and a fabulous restaurant near the hostel used for pickup and dropoff. La Tabla del Inca may be one of the best restaurants I ate in in Peru. I splurged for the tasting menu, it was awesome!
  • The hostel is a bit strange – it’s cold in winter and they have heaters in the lobby. Breakfast is on the 4th floor. It’s sort of cozy, but strange, low lighting. Also, if you come in late, you’re probably going to have to knock loudly to wake up the person at the front desk. Price is VERY VERY reasonable.
  • Whether you stay one or two nights in Puno depends entirely, in my opinion, on whether you do a homestay with a family on Lake Titicaca, or a half day or one-day tour. I did the one-day and am very happy I did. What I didn’t realize is that the full-day tour returns by 5/6pm, and the bus from Puno to Cusco leaves at 9pm at night. Plenty of time to stay only one night, do the full day tour, and go to Cusco! I thought about doing the homestay, but didn’t. I heard mostly good reviews about it, though. If you do the homestay, you’ll need one night in the hostel and one night with a family, and you probably will want to leave your luggage at the hostel. Note – the bus from Puno to Cusco is your second overnight – you will sleep on the bus and get to Cusco at 6am the next morning!

Cusco

  • My favorite city in Peru! Mountains, churches, women in those amazing and colorful dresses, llamas, rich in beauty, history, and things to see. 
  • Peru Hop will get you a taxi from the bus drop-off point to your hotel. You will share that taxi unless you are a group of 4, so it feels really safe. This is good because at 5 or 6 in the morning, with quiet streets, you’ll appreciate the safety factor. My taxi driver stayed with me to wake up my hotel staff and be sure I was properly admitted.
  • Even if you have little problem with altitude, you will likely suffer here at some point. Whether from headaches, labored breathing after small walks, or fatigue, count on taking it easy your first few days here.
  • The city center is near the main church and absolutely beautiful. 
  • You’ll of course want to see Machu Pichu if you get to Cusco. Book in advance. If you want to walk the Inca trail, book WAY in advance. You can otherwise take a train to and from Aguas Caliente. This is the only part of my trip I thought was poorly managed. I used www.findlocaltrips.com, per Peru Hop suggestion. The local company they used was awful for the day 1 touring, I got onto night trains so couldn’t see any views, and the guide for day 1 was nice, but an awful tour guide. That being said, seeing Machu Pichu is amazing!
An unexpected bonus is that if you keep on wearing the Peru Hop wrist band, you have an automatic friend-maker around your wrist. All of us Peru-Hoppers wear it, and if you’re solo traveling, you’ll be able to meet many fellow travelers, even after your trip is done, to share great memories with.

All in all, Peru Hop has this down to a science. Whether you’re an advanced planner, or like to fly by the seat of your pants, you can book their services at will. The only part that could use some work is boarding the buses. You end up in this massive crowd and everyone wants to be first onto the bus to get a good seat. But the concept of a bus that’s also a tour that’s also a community of amazing new friends is one that I think every country could benefit from. If you’re planning a trip to Peru, I highly recommend Peru Hop as your foundation for exploring Peru. If you have extra time, stay longer in Arequipa and Cusco, (you can also add in Bolivia stops with Bolivia Hop) and consider flying up north on your own to some of the beach towns, or going to the Amazon. (Note: this post is an authentic representation of my opinion. I was not sollicited to write it, or asked to speak about any specific details, nor have I received any compensation.)

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