Updated October 22nd, 2018.
There’s a lot of stigma attached to tour companies and organised trips, particularly amongst backpackers and quite rightly so.
Many of these tours are designed for people on tight schedules and so much to see that you can feel like you’re being herded from tourist hot spot to tacky night market like fat cash cows ready for a damn good milking at every opportunity.
Freedom of choice and the flexibility to change your plans are perhaps the greatest advantages of backpacking and part of what make it so exciting in the first place, so to lose those fundamental aspects is to lose the essence of travel.
That said, there are times when we could all benefit from a local travel companion to give us guidance on our journey; not a tour guide in the traditional sense, but a friendly source of honest information and advice, always available when you need them, but never infringing on your freedom and flexibility, or your preference to discover things on your own.
To find this perfect combination, coupled with the ability to book your own transportation and travel where and when you want seems like a pretty tall order, unless you have a local travel friend with you for your whole trip, who can also balance the tight rope of advice and direction.
That’s exactly why when we heard about an Irish-owned coach company in Peru offering exactly that, we decided we had to check them out.
Driving through breathtaking desert scenery
At just one year old, Peru Hop appears to be a new paradigm in backpacker travel through Peru, providing a flexible hop-on-hop-off service of buses running from Lima to Cusco, via Paracas, Huacachina, Nazca and Arequipa, with a variety of optional activities along the way.
The way it works is simple; up to five buses are constantly plying their way backwards and forwards from Lima to Cusco and you can buy a ticket at any destination, for as much or as little of the route as you want.
They offer an all-inclusive option, which includes all tours, activities and accommodation in the best hostels at each location.
Of course as the name suggests, you can hop off the bus for as long as you like and hop back on again days, weeks or even months later, as long as you complete your journey within a year.
If you prefer, you can just book your transport with Peru Hop and choose your own accommodation along the way, with the choice to pay extra for individual tours and activities along the way. So far so good, but what about the magical travel guru we mentioned, where do they come into all this?
Each bus is accompanied by a Peru Hop guide who knows exactly who is on the bus, what they want to do and how to help them do it if required. They are also a fountain of useful knowledge as well as a direct connection back to head office in Lima.
What has struck us most about the journey so far (we’re currently on our way to Cusco as I write this!) is that everything is extremely well organised, the whole system runs practically like clockwork, with fixed timetables and direct connections to hostels in all locations along the way, yet none of this organisation affects your travelling experience as it all happens in the background.
Of course, everybody’s journey is different, but here’s how our 5 day / 4 night Peru Hop experience went…
Our Journey with Peru Hop
The bus picked us up at around 9 am from Kokopelli Hostel in Miraflores, Lima, before taking us straight to the coast, with a brief history of old and modern Lima and a visit to the Christ of the Pacific statue and viewpoint on the hilltop.
Seafood will never taste the same again
Then we jumped back on the bus to grab some ceviche on El Silencio beach for an awesome early lunch. From there, we headed south, stopping at the Hacienda de San Jose, formally a farm estate which used underground tunnels to smuggle African slaves from the coast into the farm.
It’s an eerie experience which conjures up some unpleasant imagery, but well worth it. We arrived in Paracas shortly after dark and checked into our double room in Kokopelli’s beachside hostel, with swimming pool and outdoor beach bar.
We opted to join the early morning boat tour to the Ballestas Islands, a protected group of rocky formations and caves that are home to colonies of penguins, sea lions and various species of sea birds.
The two hour tour is really interesting and you get pretty close to the wildlife without feeling like you’re disturbing their natural habitat.
Ballestas Islands speedboat tour
Our original itinerary had us leaving Paracas at midday, but as we liked it so much, we chose to make use of Peru Hop’s flexibility and stay an extra night on the beach!
So instead of getting on a bus, we headed back to the beach an afternoon of kite surfing with Peru Kite and chilled out in the pool as the sun went down.
Penguins on the Ballestas Islands
Knowing we were picking up the next bus to Huacachina in Ica at midday, we made the most of the morning to pack our bags, do some work online and chill by the pool.
We loved this beach so much, we’re even thinking of moving here! So at midday we jump on the bus and head out into the desert in search of an isolated oasis surrounded by some of the biggest sand dunes in South America.
We weren’t really into the whole party-hostel-vibe on offer with Peru Hop’s usual hostel of choice, so we found ourselves a great little hostel called Casa de Bamboo.
It’s a cool little family garden restaurant with two comfortable bedrooms for rent in part of the house. As the name suggests, most of the building is built from bamboo, making one of the most natural and environmentally friendly hostels in the village.
It’s important to us to maintain the freedom to choose our own accommodation if we feel like doing something a little different, so it’s great to see we could still do that and keep involved with the group too.
Relaxing gardens of Casa de Bamboo, Huacachina
At 4pm we jumped into one of the monstrous, Mad Max looking vehicles parked along the street for our dune buggy and sand-boarding tour, which we chose to organise with Peru Hop in advance.
This was one of the best adrenaline-fuelled experiences we’ve had since arriving in South America.
Dune-buggying with our Peru Hop group
Our driver, Guillermo, expertly threw his converted Chevrolet V8 truck-buggy up and down the sand mountains like an unchained roller-coaster out for revenge! Next was the sand-boarding, which we were advised to try lying down at first for safety reasons!
There were four dunes to conquer, each one higher than the next and requiring more walking to get to the top, but it was worth it; from the top of the highest dune you hit speeds of over 30mph.
Try to keep your limbs on the board, sand gets pretty hot at those speeds! Finally, a short ride up to highest point of the dune for what must be one of the most stunning sunsets in world.
Sunset over the sand dunes
After showering the last of the sand out of the cracks and crevasses, we had the whole morning free to chill in the garden of Casa de Bamboo where we met up with an old friend from our Vietnam days, had some lunch and prepared ourselves for the long journey from the desert oasis to mountainous Cusco, via Arequipa.
At 1.30pm we got on the bus that would become our home for the next 28 hours! We’ve been on busses longer than this before in Asia, but I was intrigued how the experience would compare.
We weren’t disappointed; our first stop of the day was a very ‘interactive’ tour of a Pisco distillery, where we spent more time chanting Incan rituals and sampling the many varieties that we did actually learning about the process, but there were no complaints that we heard!
Cheers! So much Pisco!
The Pisco tour definitely helped to relax everyone on the bus as we rolled on to our next port of call, the Nazca Lines viewing tower. The simple steel tower sits at the side of a main highway and until you get up to the top you have no idea what you’re going to be looking at.
The proximity of the lines to the highway is surprising to say the least and made me wonder if they even knew they were they until the road was built! Back on the bus and onwards to Arequipa, after a short stop for dinner.
The night-time part of the ride flies by; with a democratic choice of movies and comfortable reclining seats we woke up to daylight streaming in through the window and a clear view of the unmistakable Misti volcano as we arrived at the outskirts of Arequipa.
When we reached the centre, about half of the passengers hopped off to spend a day or two in La Cuidad Blanco and take a tour of Colca Canyon.
Exploring the Colca Canyon with Peru Hop
For the rest of us though, it was back on the bus for the last leg of hour journey to our final destination, Cusco, where most of our Peru Hop companions would be setting off on different tours and adventure treks to the holy grail of Peru, Machu Picchu.
One lunch stop, several movies and 12 hours later, our wheels landed on Cusco soil. The last several hours of the drive are by far the best, as you watch the desert rise up into rolling hills and sharp cliffs, gradually turning from a grey-beige to the luscious green of crops and trees reminiscent of the European Alps in summer.
So that was it, we had reached the end of our Peru Hop journey. We spent a total of 34 hours on a bus over 4 nights and 5 days, although it never really felt like we were on a bus for that long.
The organisation of the various stops and activities along the way break up the journey, yet the relaxed vibe and flexibility of everyone involved gives the whole experience more of a hostel feeling. Friends are made very quickly, advice and stories shared and new ones made every step of the way.
Peru Hop guide Jorge keeping us running like clockwork!
So with all that said, Peru Hop is certainly not your regular tour bus; all of advantages of a well-oiled machine get you where you want to be, when you want to be there with the advice and support of knowledgeable guides who blend into your group like helpful friends rather than the rigid timekeepers you normally associate with fast-paced guided tours.
This is a new, original and exciting way to see one of the most varied and spectacular countries in the world. But don’t just take our word for it – give them a try for yourself!
Fun, Flexibility, Excitement, Experiences, Friendships
= Peru Hop!
This Article Was Written By:
South America Backpacker Ambassadors, Jon and Kach Howe, of Two Monkeys Travel. The adventurous couple, from the Philippines and the UK, have been traveling and working for 18 months; starting in South East Asia, via India to South America!
They decided to make traveling a lifestyle, something truly sustainable. To support this choice, they work, volunteer, work exchange and even have their very own Yoga and Healing Massage business: www.omyogamassage.com.