The Metropolitano of Lima
Lima is a very large and sprawling city with traffic jams to match. The traffic congestion can make what should be a relatively short ride last for a long time, and that can raise cab fare significantly. In addition, it can be surprisingly difficult to get around Lima unless you want to use a taxi or one of the many minibuses that shuttle passengers to all parts of the city. While I am sure most of the taxi drivers in Lima are perfectly reasonable and safe, taxis do have a well-known reputation for not being the most secure way of getting around since there is a possibility of getting robbed or something worse happening. Unless you know Spanish or are up for an adventure, it is not recommended to try and use the minibuses since the routes can be puzzling to a newcomer.
Instead, a better and safer option for getting around Lima is to use the Metropolitano. The Metropolitano is a bus transit system that goes from the northern part of Lima to the southern part. Unfortunately, it does not go east or west at the moment, so it is rather limited in its reach, but it hits a vast majority of places that would interest a casual visitor and tourist.
The main benefit of using the Metropolitano is that it can significantly cut down on travel time since the buses that are assigned to the line have a lane that is dedicated solely to them. Cars, motorbikes, and other buses are prohibited to use those lanes. Because of the reserved nature of the lane, this can easily halve the travel time you might spend in a taxi, minibus, or car. Typically, when I took the Metropolitano in order to reach the historic center from my hotel in Miraflores, it took around 30 minutes because of the stops, but I could easily imagine it taking even longer had I not used the Metropolitano system.
Using the Metropolitano is quite easy. There are stations dedicated specifically to the Metropolitano buses, and there are different routes which are clearly labeled “A,” “B,” or “C.” There is also an Express line that will bypass several of the stations in order to get to the final destination faster.
In order to use the Metropolitano, a person simply has to go to the nearest Metropolitano station. There will be ticket machines near the entrance of the stations that will supply a prepaid card that can be refilled with credit when it gets low. All one has to do is simply follow the directions (they are in Spanish) and put the required coins or banknotes in. Once the required amount is in the machine, a plastic travel card will be issued. This card will then be held up to a machine connected to a turnstile. The fare will automatically be deducted, and a passenger can then proceed through the turnstile to the boarding platform to wait for the bus. In order to exit the station, a passenger simply holds up the card at the turnstile that leads out.
NOTE: In the event you have difficulty with the directions, all of the stations have station attendants and security guards who are able to help you, but please be aware that it is entirely possible that the station staff will not be able to speak English, so it will be helpful to know some basic Spanish phrases.
When the bus comes, the safety doors leading to the bus lane will open up, and passengers will board/disembark, and then a passenger simply stays on the bus until the desired stop is reached. There are not many routes (only 4 - A, B, C, and Express), and the doors for the different routes are clearly marked. In addition, each bus that comes through shows the route on an electronic screen on the front, so it should not be difficult to determine which bus to get on.
The whole process is very simple and straightforward, and it definitely saves money that would otherwise be used on taxis. However, be aware that this bus system while convenient, is not perfect. Lima is an extremely large city, and the Metropolitano line only goes north and south. If you want to get to other areas, a taxi or other form of transportation will be needed. In addition, many people tend to use the system since it somewhat helps decongest the already congested highways. As a result, it is entirely possible the bus will be completely full by the time it reaches the stop you’re at, so it might be necessary to wait for the next bus to come. Also, be prepared to possibly wait your turn since there are times, especially at rush hour that the lines can be quite long. Therefore, it is entirely possible that you might have to wait for 2 or 3 buses to go by before you have a chance to get on. When I used the Metropolitano, I made it an effort to try and avoid rush hour by leaving near the end of it and returning to my hotel either before it started or after it died down.
Also, while the Metropolitano is convenient, it can be very crowded and packed. Therefore, it is extremely important to keep an eye on your valuables while on the bus. During the time that I used the Metropolitano going to the historic center, the bus was completely packed with almost zero room to move each time. In fact, it was a bit of struggle trying to fit in, so the doors could close. Because I was phobic about pickpockets, I moved my backpack to the front and kept a hand near my pockets at all times. Because of the extremely cramped quarters, it is very easy for a pickpocket to remove something with little problem and then get off at the next stop. A victim would be none-the-wiser.
In closing, I was very thankful for the service that the Metropolitano rendered. It certainly saved me money and avoided the need to use taxis and get stuck in traffic. The next time you visit Lima, I would strongly recommend trying to get a hotel within easy walking distance of a Metropolitano station. It will make your life easier, and it will be easier to travel to and from your accommodation to wherever you want to go.
Have you used the Metropolitano? What was your experience with it?