Many cities in Peru may lack a centralized public transit system with underground trains and covered bus stops, but to say that any city of size doesn’t have a public transit system at all would be a mistake. In fact, most larger Peruvian cities are crowded with buses running on well-established routes and charging uniform fares for a ride, just like any major US or European city. In smaller cities the system is more or less the same, but the ‘buses’ may actually take the form of vans with sliding doors or even cars that, from down the street, can look like taxis. These cheap and extensive public transportation systems are a great way to get around the city, and a great way to learn its layout.
These privately operated, publicly accessible buses, vans and cars are called collectivos and are generally extremely safe, though often not used by tourists. Using one requires finding out what area or street you need to get to and where near you to pick up a ride. In major cities such as Lima you may easily find paradareros, or bust stops and destinations painted on to the side of large buses. In smaller cities like Puno, there are few formal stops, just routes that are followed, and the destinations are usually on a sign on the top of the car. In medium size cities like Arequipa, a mix of all possible vehicles will be offering service and in vans the routes are often posted on the front window in rotating, suction cup based boards. Once you know what sign to look out for based on the area you’re going to, just go to a major street and scan the painted sides, roof top signs and windshields for the right ride.
Before you leave, ask your hostel staff what landmarks will tell you you’ve arrived and what cross streets to look for. If you feel unsure once you’re en route, ask your driver to alert you when you’re near your destination, they’re usually more than willing to help.