This post is one of a six-part series on our recent family trip to Perú. The dentist will be visited. Jorge el Curioso will be watched. Paracas will be braved. Bread will be eaten. Spanish will be spoken. Mmm, Spanish will be spoken badly. And more bread will be eaten.
In 2013, Roberto, Kid Number One, and I took a (sometimes terrifying) bus ride to the top of the famed Cerro San Cristobal, the tallest hill overlooking the city of Lima. It is where Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro once replaced an indigenous spiritual site with a Christian cross in the 16th century and many, many battles to regain control of the hill ensued. As we looked down at all the lights stretching toward the horizon in all directions, Roberto admitted, “I’ve probably seen only five percent of Lima.”
This seemed unbelievable to me since Roberto had lived there for twenty-five years before he came to the United States. But, he assured me this was probably the case since he tended to stick to the historical center and just a handful of the surrounding districts. Lima, the historical center, is an urban district that was once surrounded by a wall and is now one of the thirty urban districts that comprise the capital of Lima. The population of the capital is approximately nine million, which is a third of the entire population of Perú and three times the population of the entire country of Uruguay.
In other words, Lima, the capital city, is big.
Lima also has a lot of traffic with some, umm, incredibly creative drivers, and there’s a lot of honking at all hours of the night . (In Roberto’s mom’s apartment in Breña, I never stopped being surprised at how it sounds like the middle of the day with all the honking and food selling that’s still going on at two, three in the morning.)
To get around Lima’s urban center, we relied mostly on taxis. You could also take the bus, the Metropolitano, or the exciting mototaxi, but they’re a little trickier with the kids.
- Taxi: To hail a taxi, you raise your hand at passing, empty cars that have “Taxi” signs as you would in most major cities. When a driver pulls over, you tell him where you want to go, and he offers a price, e.g. “Buenas, al Parque X?” “Ocho.” Here, is where Roberto says it’s always important to offer one sol less than the price the driver asked. Usually, the person agrees. Sometimes though, the guy (I never saw a female driver) drives off as though he’s insulted, so watch out for your feet. My favorite was when Roberto or his parents made a noise of disgust and waved their hands at the driver, like, “I can’t believe you’d have the audacity to suggest such a thing!” Often, though, they’d haggle a little bit back and forth on a price, and the driver would agree. I had no idea what made a price good for a destination. Roberto has an innate knowledge of prices in the urban center that I never quite figured out. He assures me it is something that comes to you once you’ve been in the city for a while. A tip for those with kids is NEVER to leave your child alone in the taxi. I always went first, and I held Kid Number One or Two by the hand or in my arms, and Roberto held our other little guy. Nothing dangerous ever happened to us, but Lima is a city, and it’s best to be safe.
- Bus: For this trip, we didn’t brave the bus. When we took the bus in 2013 with Kid Number One, the buses were often hot and packed, but because we had a child with us, as per la ley Nº 28683, someone ALWAYS got up. The law states that preferential treatment must always be given to the elderly, pregnant women, children, and people with disabilities in public establishments. If the crowd was a little slow to jump, a person who was standing close to us would call out to the sitting passengers to please give their seats up to us. At first, it was surprising that this happened everywhere we went—from the bus to the grocery store to the line at the movie theater to the zoo. It really is everywhere, and it begins at the airport! On the side of each bus are the names of avenues the bus route takes. To take the bus, you need a city map or a map of the city in your head. You choose the bus that has the avenue you want to go to listed on its side. To get on, you just get on! You don’t say anything to anyone. In some buses, you pay immediately. In other buses, someone comes around collecting fare. The fare depends on the distance. It’s often between one and two soles.
- Metropolitano: The Metropolitano is a very modern articulated bus system that bypasses main roads on its own dedicated course in an attempt to reduce traffic. It is also an attempt to reduce pollution as it uses natural gas. As of right now, only one line is in place, and it cuts through sixteen districts from Chorrillos in the south to Comas in the north and connects to Line 2 of the Lima Metro, or Tren Eléctrico, a rapid transit metropolitan railway that connects the urban center to the suburbs. There are plans to add nine more lines. To board the Metropolitano, you need to purchase a Smart Card, una tarjeta, at a dispensing machine for S/. 4.50. Once you have the card, you can add money to it using change or bills, but not a debit or credit card. The flat fee for a ride is S/.2.50. On this trip, we did take the Metropolitano to the Barranco District. Roberto’s mom suggested we go mid-morning to avoid the morning rush. The car we chose wasn’t too crowded, and we arrived quickly since we took an express bus. It was a much faster ride than if we took a taxi. Like in the bus, people jumped immediately to offer us seats since we have children.
- Mototaxi: This is another form of transportation that we didn’t make use of this time around but did the last time we were in the city. I’ve seen it described as an “three-wheeler auto rickshaw,” a “moped cargo tricycle,” and a “passenger tricycle.” If you have just one child with you, I suggest giving it a try. The fare is cheaper than a taxi, and you haggle with the driver the same way. For me, the novelty of being in a three-wheeled car was worth any nervousness I felt about cruising around in a grown-up tricycle.