Hitchhiker's Guide Through Peru - The Urban Menu
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Hitchhiker’s Guide Through Peru
Photo by saiko3p from freepik

Hitchhiker’s Guide Through Peru 

Traveling can be expensive and if you are young and still not financially stable, moving around and spending time in different countries can be costly. There are 3 main costs of traveling – accommodation, food and transport – and if you manage to completely cut off the transport expenses, your chances of being able to afford the journey are instantly higher. So, if you are an adventurous type, the first thing that is probably going to cross your mind is hitchhiking.

Standing on the side of the road with your thumb in the air can, believe it or not, actually take you very far. To be honest – it’s not for everyone. But if you’re up for an adventure and you don’t mind getting a little dirty and uncomfortable, you could have one of the most profound experiences of your life. So how do you do it and why Peru?

First, let’s see what is so special about Peru. Peru is located on the east coast of the South American continent, next to the Pacific Ocean. South America is unique, multicultural, colorful, and diverse. Coastal lands of the capital and the dunes of Ica, crossing the Andes Mountain Range up to the Peruvian Amazon. It is also home to the citadel of Machu Picchu, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, located outside Cuzco City, in the forest brow. And even though Machu Picchu is one of the most visited sites in Peru, it alone is not enough to fully comprehend this exotic country.

Photo by martin_skogli from flickr.com

Safety is the number one concern most people have when it comes to hitchhiking. Sticking your thumb out in the middle of the street means that you are open to the unexpected. In order to control your destiny, try approaching drivers at gas stations. Look for people who seem trustworthy. Talk to them and explain why you need help. Offer to chip in for their gas. Once you establish a connection, it’s more likely that you’ll get a safe lift. The slower cars have to go, the better. That gives them ample time to check you out, debate your sketchiness with their wives, and eventually decide to pick you up. Favor the top of a hill (or near the top). It’s easier for a car to stop when it’s going uphill – nobody wants to get into an accident just to pick you up. Make sure there’s plenty of space for the car to pull aside. Favor the edge of the city, just before the cars begin to accelerate. A sign with your final destination could also be helpful. One reason people pick up hitchhikers is that they want some company. They want to chitchat. But nobody wants to chat with a grumpy jerk. So smile. Wave. It Looks cheery. Dance. Also, sometimes trust your senses and know when to say „no thanks“, if the people offering to help look sketchy.

Photo by A. Duarte from Flickr.com

The Sechura Desert, and the Pan-American highway are good places to start. Hitchhiking is easier on this highway, and works well around the clock. This is where you will get the longest, smoothest rides of Peru. You will rarely be charged for rides on this sector of the highway. Not to mention the endless swathes of campable desert. The easiest part is Panamericana – the motorway connecting Piura in the north, through Chiclayo, Trujillo and Lima along the coast with Nazca in the south. So many  trucks  you won’t have any problems there. Most of them go long distances, so you’ll easily do 400+ km in a day. 

In the deep south of Perú there are the towns of Ilo and Boca del Rio between the bigger inland cities of Moquegua and Tacna. Hitchhiking here is so easy that you may wonder why there are still people taking the bus. Although people here are utterly relaxed, be sensitive when talking about Chile, as the next cities that you’ll encounter (Arica and Iquique) used to be Peruvian territory, and Tacna used to be Chile for a while. There are many Chileans in town that go shopping, so one might find a direct ride to the border from the city center. Tacna is also the only place in Perú with a big mosque, due to Pakistani immigration in the ‘90s, because right-steering-wheeled cars were allowed in Perú back then. The mosque is possibly a place to sleep in too if you ask the Imam nicely and respect Islamic customs (no shoes inside and both men and women cover up, try to be clean). If you go to one of the Pakistani restaurants, they might invite you to their home too.

It gets more difficult once you’re heading to the jungle or the Andes – roads are worse, with less traffic, majority of which is due to public buses, combis and the like, so there are not so many options to hitchhike, but if you’re patient and stick to the guidelines, it’s still doable. Expect very slow, long rides in old trucks. There is a train from Puno to Cusco, but it is very expensive. However, there is also a very hoppable freight train that runs during nights and is an exhilarating ride.

Photo by Elisabeth Van Gompel from flickr.com

From Puno to Moquegua the route is Ruta PE-36B and the best way to get out of town is with micro number 33, which stops at the end of the city next to a speed bump. As a lot of people moved from Puno to Tacna for economic reasons, there are many big buses passing through and if you ask nicely you can go for free for a bit. Try to hitchhike from one of the peajes (toll stops), where there are usually policemen checking papers who are willing to stop cars for you. It gets really cold and rainy here, and between Puno and Moquegua there’s no roadside accommodation, so carry a tent. 

Once you pass Titire, the mining area starts, with its heavy trucks full of ore. There’s plenty of Toyota Hilux on the road for faster transportation and they’re more likely to stop than any other kind. This is a popular route for Bolivian trucks too, and all Peruvian drivers seem scared of them as they tend to treat curves as straight lines. The landscape here is some of the most changing you can witness in one day of hitchhiking, as it goes from Titicaca mountain lake, to altiplano, rocky peaks, snow (in summer too), sand mountains, Dakar-worthy dunes, desert and finally oasis and the Pacific. 

Hopefully I got you warmed up and if you actually decide to do it, you are going to have a lot of fun, so good luck champ!

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