Peru Hop: aka The Gringo Express

In 2013, two Irish guys named Will and Conor had the idea to create a hop on hop off bus service for backpackers in Peru. This way backpackers had a safe, convenient and affordable way to visit spots in Peru that previously were missed on the backpacker circuit, but were worth visiting. Now they have 20 employees and most are local Peruvians. We heard about this great service from other travelers we saw wearing their iconic red wristbands long after leaving Peru.

The bus travels between Lima and Cusco or vise versa and recently added a small leg into Bolivia called Bolivia hop from Lake Titicaca to La Paz. You get to stop in several towns along the way and stay one night or as many nights as you please. There are also several pitstop tours along the way that make it worth the journey.

We decided to take it from Cusco to Lima including the lake stop in Puno for a full day tour. The route stops in Puno, Arequipa, Nazca (pitstop), Huacachina, Paracas, and Lima. It was the only way for us to visit all of these towns in the 8 days we had available between Cusco and Lima. The cost for the tickets are $189/each and $169 each if you skip the lake. They give you discounts at selected hostels in each town, several free tours, and they help you book other tours for each town right on the bus.

The Pros:

  • Convenient- picks you up and drops you off at your hostel.
  • Easy- they have a user friendly website and they will book hostels and tours for you on board.
  • Affordable- the cost includes discounts at hostels and free tours.
  • Clean- most of the buses are modern and clean. Their toilets work, which is rare on public buses.
  • Guides- the guides on the buses are helpful, friendly, speak English and Spanish.
  • Safe- you don’t have to deal with bus stations, taxis, and sketchy buses with tired or drunk drivers.
  • Social- you get to meet tons of other backpackers on board and in the hostels.

Highlights:

  • Puño: the full day floating islands and Isla Tequile tour are worth 65 soles. You visit with the indigenous people of these islands and learn about their culture firsthand. The women are colorful and friendly. The floating islands are unique- made of reeds and an elaborate floating root system that acts as a buoy for the islands. Everything is made of these dried reefs that grow in Lake Titicaca. The women make the islands, the houses, handicrafts for sale and take care of the family and tourism, while the men fish and cut the reeds. They ride around in traditional bright yellow boats with two buoyant, cylindrical rafts built of reeds and with a double decker platform at the center for sitting. The yellow banana floats have scary cat faces on their helm. The Taquile Island is inhabited by indigenous people, known as the Taquileños, who knit and weave wool hats that are red for married men and red and white for single men. They are quiet, but colorful people. They make you a delicious lunch of fried rainbow trout with rice, fries, and veggies. You learn their customs and watch them perform a traditional dance. The views from the island of the lake are beautiful. This tour is definitely worth it.
  • Arequipa- the tour here is of the Colca Canyon for 1 full day, 2 days and 1 night, or 3 days and 2 nights. The canyon is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and you get to stay at an oasis in the bottom if you stay overnight. We did not have time to visit Colca Canyon, but everyone raves about how worth it it is. We wandered around Arequipa instead and loved the city itself. It’s surrounded by one of the highest volcanoes at 6,075 meters that is 19,931 feet high. It erupted hundreds of years ago. The Plaza de Armas is one of the prettiest in South America with a beautiful white cathedral turned sideways to the plaza. There’s palm trees and bright red flowers on the square and a statue with a fountain at the center. The plaza is surrounded by aqueduct-looking buildings with two floors facing out on the plaza with open-air cafes. The architecture of the cathedrals and old colonial houses integrates indigenous beliefs into their design. One of the cathedrals features a painting of the last supper being held at a round table with guinea pig on the menu. The city is easy to walk around and full of peaceful plazas and old meets new architecture.
  • Nazca lines- this quick layover for 20 minutes let’s you climb a metal lookout tower and see clearly three of the Nazca lines for free. The Nazca lines were made 300 AD during the Nazca culture, but believed to possibly of been created by aliens, because of their ability to draw perfect pictures in the sand and the lines have not been damaged by weather. We could see the tree, a hand, and a lizard. The other 30 or so lines must be seen by airplane tour.
  • Huacachina- this desert oasis outside of Ica, provides a relaxing place to enjoy sitting poolside and surrounded by sand dunes. They offer a free Pisco tour to learn how Pisco is distilled from wine and you get to taste the El Catador wine and Pisco. The other tour offered for 50 soles ($15) is the dune buggy and sandboarding tour. It is totally worth it. You fly and bounce across the sand dune in an open dune buggy, then you zip down the dunes on a thick wooden board, rode on your stomach. It’s exhilarating and slightly scary, which adds to the adrenaline rush. You end the tour with a colorful sunset over the dunes and a view of the oasis town from above. Go on this tour, you won’t regret it!
  • Paracas- In this quaint beach town on the Pacific Ocean you can take a two hour boat tour to the Ballestas Islands for only 50 soles ($15). The islands can only be seen from the speedboat as they are craggy land formations that due to earthquakes have arches and caves making it challenging to walk on them. They are rich in wildlife though. You can view pelicans yawning their long beaks, Peruvian boobie birds, mini Humboldt Penguins waddling on the rocky surface, turkey vultures with red heads waiting on ledges for prey, and sleepy sea lions resting in caves and on jagged cone-shaped rocks. There’s an industry of collecting the bird poop on top of the island for fuel and dye. You also pass the mysterious Candelabra carving in the rock that resembles cactus and has existed since before Christ. When you’re not lunching on seafood by the lively waterfront decorated by bright colored umbrellas, you can attend the free tour offered to the National Park of Paracas. It’s not worth paying for, but for free you can visit where the desert meets the sea and view rock formations off-shore that look like a cathedral, the large isthmus/peninsula, and a very unique red sand beach. Paracas in Quechuan means sand storm, because this area is very windy making it popular for wind sports like windsurfing and paragliding. I suggest extending your stay here beyond the one night included, because it’s beautiful and relaxing with plenty to do and see.
  • Chincha- the last stop on the way to Lima is the Country Mansion of San Jose. It was built by the Jesuits to convert and educate the indigenous people of Peru. Then the Spanish King got angry with them educating the people, so they ousted them. The enormous plantation home was then purchased by a rich Spanish family that bought over 1,000 slaves. They had slave tunnels to hide their purchased slaves, bought at the market, from taxers. We visited this enormous Home turned hotel and saw the rusted tools of the old days hanging on the walls and walked in the dark, narrow, and dank slave tunnels. It’s a very interesting tour with a sad history.

Cons:

  • The bus timetables aren’t the best. Your first two buses from Cusco to Puno and Puno to Arequipa leave at 10pm and arrive an hour earlier than listed- at 5am and 4:45am. It’s exhausting!! It saves time, but you barely get sleep and the bus leaving Arequipa departs at 5:45am.
  • Casa de Arenas hostel, their top choice in Huacachina, is an outdated hotel with dirty rooms, no hot water on the 2nd floor, and a very loud lobby if your room is by the front desk. The pool and bar are nice, but on weekends the dance club on sight keeps you up all night
  • You are secluded from locals on a bus full of gringos. It’s safer, but more sheltered from the real Peru. It depends what kind of experience you want. If you want to avoid riding with locals, it’s perfect.
  • Our first bus had a broken toilet with no toilet paper and they never turned off the bright blue lights for the whole night, so we couldn’t sleep.
  • In addition to riding with only gringos, the average age of passengers is 22. So if you aren’t young backpackers looking to party, you can feel quite old and out of place.

Overall, this is an amazing service that makes Peru and it’s hidden gems more accessible. You get the convenience of door to door service and the ability to book tours on board. The free stops and tours are an added bonus to the whole experience. It’s comfortable and easy. If you’re coming to Peru with only a week or two to see it all, definitely sign up for Peru Hop and you can fit it all into your itinerary.

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