Posted by: Ali | September 4, 2009

Taking the Bus: A Lesson for Beginners

Taking the bus in Lima is fun.  You never know where you’re going to go!  Actually taking the bus anywhere is fun.  You have to consult schedules and maps, know where to get on and where to get off, meet crazy bus people…

In Lima it’s a bit different.  There’s no schedules, and no set bus routes.  Or I suppose they are set, but instead of looking at a master plan, each bus has its own route.  For example.  If I’m on a street called Arequipa, I might see ten different buses going by, all of which have different routes.  So I need to discover which one is going where I want to go.

Now, in order to find out where the bus goes, it’s pretty easy.  Each bus has words written on the side, which are usually street names or districts.  Here are some examples!

Notice, for example, that they are all weird colours.  If you get really good, you remember, “oh, I have to take the orange one with the blue and yellow stripes.”  If you really know your way around, you can draw a map in your head and say “well if the bus goes on this street and ends up there, it turns this way and…” whatever.  But since you, like me, might have no idea where you’re going, you might have to ask.  Thankfully, they’ve figured this system out!

Notice in the first photo a guy hanging out of the bus?  Apparently here it takes two people to drive a bus route.  One person drives and the other hangs out the door and shouts out the bus route.  So when you get on you can ask the guy if you go by X street or whatever.  They talk really fast and mumble a lot.  “Arequipa” becomes “kee-pa” so it’s usually a good bet to just ask anyways.

Also, because Lima is so big, instead of having one fee for the bus, they charge you an amount based on how long you’ll be staying on the bus.  It starts off at 1 sol, but if you’re riding for half an hour it might be 1.20 soles.  More like taking the train.  Except instead of having stops, you just say “esquina” when you want to get off, which means “corner”, as in “can I get off at the next corner”.  Or “puedo bajar” which means “for the love of god let me off of this crazy contraption.”  Does it?  Maybe I made that part up.


  1. The bus system is like the buses in Merida Yucatan where we go every year. The buses all go to the Centro and from there you have a choice (more or less). The names on the windshield are sometimes written using Bon Ami (a chalk like window cleaner). There is always music on the buses. Drivers have there favourite performer giving great variety for the passengers.

    Many of the things you write about are like Merida but on a smaller scale.

    G y G


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