Since I am not really a tour person, I split my time in Peru up into two different tours, just in case one of them went bad. I went with a worldwide known company for my Inca Trail tour but in figuring out what else I wanted to do in Peru, I found a local company that could organize my time in Puno. Edgar’s Adventures is a full service agency for all things Puno and I had them put together a package for Lake Titicaca, hotel and transportation for me.
They booked me on the Turismo Mer bus service from Cusco to Puno, a ride that takes about 10 hours and makes lots of tourist stops along the way. Sign me up! At first, the communication on my ticket was not very good until I found out that I really didn’t have a ticket, just show my ID at the office. Thankfully, they had my name on a list (spelled incorrectly, but it was fine as this was not an air itinerary and they accepted me anyway).
Couple of things about the bus. There are a bunch of different companies and they all pretty much make the same stops and are the same price. If you can bunch it all together in a tour, it will probably end up being cheaper. I know my ticket was. The seats are assigned and at first I was on the aisle, sitting next to this HUGE German man and I groaned the moment he sat down. THANKFULLY the bus was not full (there were actually two buses leaving at the same time, to the same place) and the moment we pulled away, I spotted an empty ROW and bolted for it. So thankfully, I had an empty row for the entire trip. And because there were two buses, what would have been even better is if they split the group into English and Spanish speakers. It was a full on tourist bus, but that doesn’t mean that tourists don’t speak Spanish! I would say my bus was split and I’ll just assume that the other bus was split too. What if they just separated us and then the guides wouldn’t have to repeat everything twice? That would be too easy. While the bus was full service, attendants coming around and offering drinks and bread for free, I have to say BRING TOILTE PAPER for the rest stops! I hate using facilities on my transportation and pretty much all our stops were BYOTP.
I have the worst memory when it comes to the stops (we probably stopped about 5 or 6 times during the day) but here are the ones that made an impression on me:
– Andahuaylillas: beautiful church that they are in the process of restoring in the middle of a cute little town. Very interesting as this is quite far outside of Cusco, so everything in town centers around the church. So European!
– Raqchi: A total tourist trap of a village. Mainly runes, but interesting for that aspect of it. Just don’t get pulled into the shops and you’ll be fine. Love that the locals bring and farm the animals right up next to the runes. It’s all just so different from regular life.
-Lunch was buffet, which meant you got to eat as much as you want. Typical chicken and rice and veggie dishes, nothing much to write home about, decent as always. Good bathroom at this stop!
-We then stopped at a high peak, but I was so tired, that I didn’t get out of the bus. There wasn’t much to see, it was more of a rest stop in the middle of some beautiful scenery, surrounded by women who had set up shop on the side of the road. Luckily, I was sitting on the side of the bus that faced the mountains and had a beautiful view, so I just took some pictures through the window, which was fine for me. I was just pooped.
-Just the ride through the countryside was very interesting, seeing the locals wash their clothes in the river. Just something you don’t see in America anymore and you kind of can’t believe there are still people in this world that live that way. But there you go.
-Like everything in Peru, we arrived in Puno nearly an hour after we were supposed to, but my contact was thankfully still waiting for me. Apparently this happens pretty much every day.
Moral: The reviews on the tourist buses are mixed (vs taking a “locals” bus). Since my time was limited, I didn’t mind at all, plus got to see some more stuff (even though I was a bit ruin’ed out at this point) but I can see the downside if you are long on time but short on funds. They are kind of pricy for what they are, but I am really glad I took one instead of flying, at least on this leg. I budgeted the time for this and it’s a very common route and lots of buses take it and as far as I can tell, they are all pretty much the same. I think they all stop at similar stops, so the only difference was the price or quality of the bus. And I had no problems with the quality and service on Turismo Mer. I would recommend them for anyone traveling this route in the future.