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“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 and made it to the taxi stand. The friendly older gentleman would be driving us to the touristy Miraflores area, but since I felt slightly delirious I struggled 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.”
Oh. Well then.
And that was my introduction to the joys of getting around Lima, Peru’s bustling capital city.
Lima airport transportation
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 wait for your bags, and finally go through another line for customs as they screen your bag. Fortunately most of the wait is eliminated if you arrive domestically.
Flying out can be even worse, so be sure to know about this big problem at the airport in Lima before heading to the airport.
If you’re booking a Lima airport transfer, there are a few options including regulated taxis (found both inside and outside the terminal) and shuttles:
- Cost of taxi from Lima airport to Miraflores: About 50-60 soles ($15-$20 USD), approximately 45 minutes travel time
- Cost for a taxi from Lima airport to city centre: About 40 soles ($12 USD), approximately 30 minutes travel time
- Taxi Green Lima airport: This company has a counter right inside the airport at baggage claim, who many weary travellers end up booking through because it’s the first one they see and they say they have fixed rates. However, there are mixed reviews about the quality of service.
- LIMA VIP Travel: This highly-rated tour operator offers city tours in Lima, Ica and Cusco, as well as the option of just a Lima airport transfer.
Book a Lima city tour or airport transfer
Taxis in Lima
The good news is that taxis are everywhere. And I mean, everywhere. I once stood on a quiet side street in the San Isidro district, and counted 19 cabs go by in just 30 seconds.
Taxis are also relatively inexpensive and a popular way to get around Lima, 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.
Hotels will usually offer to call a cab for you which can be more expensive, but is usually the safest option especially if you need a Lima airport taxi. 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 which designates it’s an official cab.
Lima public transportation
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. While it’s a cheaper option, it can be a challenge if you don’t speak Spanish or aren’t familiar with the city!
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. It’s also a safe option for solo travellers and the main station in Lima is one of the cleanest bus stations I’ve ever seen. You can easily buy tickets online, so overall it’s a great experience.
Uber in Lima
Ride sharing apps like Uber and Beat are available in Lima, and many drivers work for a few different ones. That means you might end up paying a premium depending on which app you book through, since drivers are more likely to pick up whichever fare is the most expensive ride. It’s also not uncommon for them to cancel your ride because they’ve found a more lucrative fare to pick up, so if you’re in a rush (like trying to get to the airport on time) it might be better to hop in a cab.
Regardless, fares for an Uber in Lima versus taxis in Lima are generally quite comparable, and as a bonus you’re able to track your ride via GPS if you use a ride sharing app.
How to get around in Lima: safety tips
Safety can be an issue when getting around Lima, so it’s important to stay vigilant and listen to your gut. The most common scam is being robbed, which usually happens when you leave bags or valuables in plain sight (like on the seat beside you or on your lap). Passing motorcyclists have been known to quickly smash through the window while you’re stuck in traffic, 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.
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