At some point in every Round the World trip, you have to suffer some long, painful travel experiences. At least that’s what I kept telling myself as I spent 3 days just getting from Baños to Lake Titicaca.
It would have been wonderful to fly from Ecuador to Lake Titicaca and avoid the headache of slow bus travel, but my budget doesn’t have a lot of room for expensive flights when I want to do things like the Salt Flats tour and still have Australia and New Zealand in my future. I’ve been saving money in arguably not so healthy ways, like eating two free rolls at the hostel for breakfast instead of buying eggs or fruit, but skimping on food costs alone isn’t enough to cover the fun activities. So travel became the next best way to try to save money. And when you have months instead of weeks to travel, it’s hard to justify doing the quickest route for double the money. Thank god Jasmin and I were in the same boat here; it helped to have each other throughout this crazy process.
So here’s how I spent three days on the road.
Sunday night we left Baños with the goal of getting to Loja, a town in southern Ecuador from which we could get a direct bus over the border to Piura, Peru, and then a cheap domestic flight down to Titicaca. A bus company had a sign posted in the station about how to get to Loja from Baños by going through Riobamba, so we trusted them and boarded their bus. 2 hours later we arrived in Riobamba to find that all buses to Loja were fully booked until Tuesday. Hell no were we waiting till Tuesday. We heard a call for Cuenca, leaving immediately, and jumped on that bus instead; this was my backup option, since Cuenca was on the way to the border anyway. At 4 am we arrived in Cuenca and immediately booked tickets on a 5 am bus to Loja. Only an hour to kill in a bus terminal wasn’t too bad. At 9 am and three buses later we arrived in Loja.
Then it started to get painful. The 1:30 pm bus over the border was sold out, so we had to wait until 11:00 pm. We bought our tickets and beelined to an internet cafe to figure out if it was possible to catch the flight I was hoping to get from Piura to Arequipa, Peru the next day. The bus would get into Piura around 8:30 am, the flight was at 8. No good. We researched a few different options and ended up booking an overnight bus from Piura to Lima and a flight from Lima directly to Juliaca on Lake Titicaca. Arequipa wasn’t necessary anyway, we just wanted to get to Bolivia.
This probably sounds like a crazy way to travel, and maybe it is, but we had to cover a lot of distance and do it as cheaply as possible. The bus portions themselves weren’t the worst part though, it was the waiting. If everything had lined up nicer we would have been able to save a day, but the first bus from Piura to Lima was at 3:30 pm, and because of when that arrived the next day, we had to book a 7:00 pm flight from Lima to Juliaca. This meant a lot of time waiting in terminals.
Here was the schedule:
- Sunday: 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm bus to Riobamba, 10:00 pm bus to Cuenca, sleep on bus
- Monday: 4:00 am arrive Cuenca, 5:00 am – 9:00 am bus to Loja, wait in Loja till 11:00 pm, sleep on bus
- Tuesday: 4:00 am get off bus to get Ecuador exit stamp, walk across to Peru, get entry stamp, back on bus, arrive Piura 8:30 am, wait in terminal until bus at 3:30 pm, dinner and sleep on bus
- Wednesday: 8:30 am arrive in Lima, try to get standby on earlier flight to Juliaca, no luck, wait in airport till 7:00 pm flight, land in Juliaca 9:00 pm, get on minibus to Puno, arrive at hostel 10:30 pm, finally sleep in a bed
By doing it this way, we saved on both travel costs and accommodation, since we slept on the buses. Food and drink costs also went down since we just had a lot of snacks and didn’t go out at all. In the end, we saved around $400. The buses in Ecuador were not great, but Cruz del Sur in Peru was luxury travel. We had reclining seats with blankets and pillows, movies, dinner, and even a game of bingo. I also booked the first row on the top level so we had tons of leg room and a great view. But after these three days, you cannot imagine how happy we were to get to Lake Titicaca.
I have a few more bus rides in my future but nothing that will be this long – I’m trying to break them up as much as possible. (Except the 24 hour ride from San Pedro de Atacama to Santiago, Chile. Unfortunately that one is unavoidable.) If I had more time and hadn’t already been to Peru I would have broken up this part more too, but I just wanted to get to Bolivia so this is how it worked out. Now that I’m in Bolivia it is all a memory, and it feels like a right of passage I had to endure as RTW traveler. To backpackers, flights are a luxury. We want to see as much as possible but don’t have the budget to do it in the ideal way, so we lose some time to travel like this. I like to think it builds character.