When we first started planning our trip to Peru, we knew that there was no way we could just stay in one city or area. The entire country is so beautiful and there is so much to see, so we started weighing the different options for transportation within Peru. Eventually, we decided to rent a car and drive ourselves where we wanted to go.
While we are happy with our decision to rent a car and drive since everything went fairly smoothly, there are a few things we wish we would have known before renting a car. This blog post is an attempt to cover all the information you need to know about driving in Peru, and the things we wish we would have known in advance.
We drove over 1,000 km during our time in Peru. And while we’re by no means experts, we would sum up the driving that we did in Peru in a single word: Hectic.
Driving in Peru is certainly no easy task. Anytime you are a driving a car in a foreign country there are going to be some differences, but nothing could have prepared us for the driving conditions in Peru. It’s unlike anywhere we have ever driven before.
Renting A Car
While much of the costs in Peru fairly low compared to western countries, renting a car costs approximately the same. We rented a Toyota Yaris for about a week, and it cost us about $350.
The rental process is similar in Peru to everywhere else. Most major airports offer car rentals, and you’re required to provide a deposit in case anything happens. You’re also subject to fees if you are under the age of 25.
We recommend you make a reservation ahead of time at your car rental company of choice. This will ensure the vehicle you want is available, or you aren’t forced to pay more for an expensive vehicle.
We rented our car from the Cusco airport, which was very convenient. The rental car company–Sixt–was just a few blocks from the airport. The people were very friendly and helpful, and had the car ready right away.
The road conditions changed drastically depending on where in Peru we were. Sometimes the roads were well-paved, smooth and flat, and fairly easy to drive on. Other times, they were riddled with pot holes and winding turns and were impossible to go over 30 mph on.
One of the major things we noticed was the amount of roadwork and construction happening, especially outside of Cusco. Peru is currently improving a lot of their road infrastructure, which is great, but does cause significant delays in driving time since most roads have only two lanes.
Since the road conditions vary so much, it takes far longer to drive somewhere than you would expect. For example, the drive from Cusco to Puno is 387 km or 240 mi, which would normally take about 4 hours driving in the U.S. In Peru, it took us about 6.5 hours since we had to go so slow on many of the roads, plus there was construction traffic.
Another thing that really slowed us down was the speed bumps. On the main roads, there are speed bumps every mile or so and sometimes they’re marked, sometimes…not. This means you have to be really careful while you’re driving to watch for speed bumps so that you don’t accidentally drive over one at full speed.
The city drivers in Peru (like in many countries) are very aggressive, so you’ll want to drive defensively. Roads frequently merge from two lanes down to one, and cars will fight their way in to go first. It’s best to just let the locals do what they want; you don’t want to get in an accident in a foreign country.
Another thing to note is that honking is very common in the cities. We heard way more honking in Peru than we have ever heard in any other country. It seems to be engrained in their driving customs; you honk just to let someone know you’re there, not necessarily because they did something wrong.
In Puno, many of the intersections didn’t have stop signs. To alert drivers that you are going through an intersection, you honk your car horn loudly before you drive through. Scary, huh?
Driving in the Countryside
Driving in the more rural areas of Peru is a little better than city driving. There aren’t that many cars and the roads are less narrow, so you don’t have to be as worried about colliding with another car or scraping your car’s paint on a city corner.
That being said, there is a whole new set of other hazards that you have to worry about when driving in the countryside. Alpacas, cows, and other livestock cross the roads in random places, so it’s important to stay alert at all times.
One of the most important things to be wary of when driving in rural Peru are sharp turns. Drivers coming in the other direction tend to stray into your lane when going around a sharp turn, so honk your horn to let them know that you are coming.
Gas Stations & Bathrooms
Gas stations can be found fairly regularly on roadsides, so you don’t have to worry about running out of gas in the countryside. As a general rule of thumb, we tried to never let our tank get below a quarter tank just because gas stations were somewhat sporadic.
The cost of gas is similar to the costs that we were used to in the United States, but Peru has high octane gas. The regular gas in Peru is the equivalent to premium gas in the United States. The octane level in Peru’s premium gas is 95–which is basically unavailable in the U.S., unless you go to a specialty gas station.
Most gas stations also have bathrooms in them, but they extremely pretty unclean. One particularly bad gas station bathroom that we used was simply a shack with a hole in the ground. Also, every gas station bathroom that we used had no toilet paper or soap. We learned to bring our own.
Hitchhiking is very common in Peru. We saw hitchhikers varying in age from 4 year old children to elderly people in all parts of the country. While we didn’t feel comfortable picking anyone up, be aware that this is a normal part of their customs. Also, drive slow to avoid accidentally hitting someone who may be walking along the roadside.
We didn’t see a single cop with a speed detector pulled off on the side of the road the entire time that we were driving. My guess is that speed enforcement just isn’t something that’s in law enforcement’s budgets. The result is people driving pretty much whatever speed that they want–especially when speed limits are set unreasonably low at 30 km/h on rural country roads.
However, we were stopped twice at police roadblocks on the side of the road. Basically, police would just pull over all the cars on a rural back road and ask to see their vehicle papers and driving license/passport. They didn’t give us a hard time either time, but it was still scary to have to deal with cops while driving in a foreign country not once but twice.
Driving in Peru can definitely be intimidating, but there are plenty of alternatives if you still want to see the more rural areas of Peru.
- Take the bus. There are numerous bus companies that run routes all over Peru, so you can let the bus driver do the heavy lifting. As long as you select a reliable bus company, taking the bus can be a breeze.
- Take the train. Peru has rail lines running in various parts of the country, so check to see if there is a train route available for where you are going. There is even a luxury train if you want to shell out a little extra money.
- Buy a tour package. You can buy a tour package to become part of a tour group that has their own private transportation. We saw many of these buses, which vary in size from full-size buses to vans that seat around 10 people. Just ensure that transportation is included when you buy the package.
Driving in Peru can be an intimidating thought at first. We were definitely scared when a stranger came up to us in the airport and basically called us crazy for renting a car to drive in Peru. We quickly learned that just by exercising extra care and caution and staying alert at all times, we could easily get from point A to point B safely.
Peru is an incredible country, so don’t let driving deter you from seeing all there is to see.
Did you like this post? Pin it for later!