A handful of domestic airlines in Peru provide a quick and reasonably efficient way of traveling around the country. Most flights within Peru take about an hour, and there are regular scheduled flights to most of Peru’s major cities (see a map of Peru’s major airports here).
On the downside, flying in Peru is quite expensive, especially if you’re on a tight budget. Don’t expect domestic flights for anywhere near as cheap as in India or Malaysia, for example. Even flying within Europe can be cheaper than flying domestically within Peru, thanks to budget airlines.
Gaps in Peru’s domestic flight network also mean that overland transport (bus, normally) is sometimes unavoidable. You can’t, for example, fly to cities such as Puno, Ica or Moyobamba, at least not by any regular scheduled flights.
The good news, however, is the emergence of budget airline Viva Air in early 2017 (see below for more info). This could be a game changer, and will hopefully force the more established airlines in Peru to lower their prices — without sacrificing service or safety, we hope.
Brief Reviews of Domestic Airlines in Peru
Below are the five most established domestic airlines in Peru, each with regular scheduled flights to at least a few of Peru’s major cities.
Determining which airlines are “the best” is subjective. LATAM and Avianca arguably have the best service, but tend to be more expensive. And due to their cheaper fees for Peruvian nationals, both airlines have been accused of applying a “Gringo Tax” to foreigners. That’s not true, but you do have to be careful when purchasing tickets with Avianca and LATAM.
A LAN airplane (now LATAM) at Lima Airport in 2015. Photo by Tony Dunnell.
LATAM Perú (LAN)
LATAM Perú (www.latam.com), formerly LAN Perú, is a subsidiary of the Chilean LATAM Airlines. For the last few years, LATAM has been the dominant force in the domestic market, carrying about 60% of all passengers in 2015 and 2016.
As well as flying to all major airports in Peru, LATAM also has international flights from Lima to various South American nations, the U.S.A, Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Spain.
- Pros: LATAM Perú is a good airline, there’s no doubt about it. The service is solid, the planes (Airbus 319 and 320) are in excellent condition and flights normally run on time.
- Cons: It’s often more expensive to fly LATAM in comparison to airlines like Star Perú and Peruvian. You also have to be careful with the fine print (it’s not so fine, to be honest). If you accidentally purchase a ticket aimed solely at Peruvian nationals, you could get hit with an additional US$177 fee at the airport.
In recent years, Peruvian Airlines (www.peruvian.pe) has sat in second place in terms of market share, carrying about 13% of all domestic passengers (therefore a long way behind LATAM and just ahead of Avianca). Peruvian began operating in 2009.
Despite a few blips, it remains a popular alternative to LATAM — but a March 2017 incident involving Peruvian Airlines Flight 112 may have tarnished the airline’s reputation, at least temporarily. Peruvian operates only one international flight, from Lima to La Paz, Bolivia. It has regular scheduled flights to eight cities in Peru: Lima, Arequipa, Cusco, Iquitos, Piura, Pucallpa, Tacna and Tarapoto.
- Pros: Competitive prices, especially compared to LATAM and Avianca, with no hidden fees. The overall service is good.
- Cons: Peruvian’s reputation is in the balance. In 2011, the Peruvian government grounded the airline for 90 days due to a perceived lack of safety measures. Peruvian Airlines fiercely disputed the claims. Despite the grounding, Peruvian recovered quickly. But with the undercarriage collapse of Flight 112 on March 28, 2017, safety issues have once again emerged to trouble the airline. It remains to be seen how it will affect Peruvian Airlines’ performance in the coming months.
Peruvian Airlines at Lima Airport. Photo by Tony Dunnell.
Avianca (www.avianca.com), formerly TACA Perú, is part of the Synergy Group, a South American conglomerate headquartered in Brazil. Avianca still uses TACA codes and some planes have not been rebranded yet (so don’t worry if you book an Avianca flight but start boarding a TACA airplane).
Avianca has flights to more than 20 different countries across the Americas. Within Peru, Avianca has regular scheduled flights from Lima to Arequipa, Cusco, Iquitos, Juliaca, Piura and Trujillo, and from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado.
- Pros: Similar to LATAM, with good service and high reliability.
- Cons: Avianca’s network in Peru isn’t as extensive as that of some other airlines. Ticket prices tend to be higher than Star Perú, LC Perú and Peruvian Airlines. And, as with LATAM, you have to watch out for fares aimed only at Peruvian nationals (especially promotional fares), as you could be hit with an additional fee if you accidently purchase a resident-only ticket.
Star Perú (www.starperu.com) has been around in one form or another since 1997, but it seems to be losing ground lately in terms of passenger share. In the first two months of 2017, the smaller LC Perú airline has carried more passengers than Star Perú (9.5% compared to 4.6%), which must be troubling for the more established airline.
Star Perú has no international flights. Domestically, it flies from Lima to Cusco, Huánuco, Tarapoto, Iquitos, Pucallpa and Puerto Maldonado.
- Pros: Among the established domestic airlines in Peru, Star Perú is one of the cheapest. It’s a no-nonsense airline in terms of cost, with no hidden fees. Its accident record is also good.
- Cons: Reliability can be an issue with Star Perú. I once had to wait eight hours in Tarapoto Airport for a delayed flight; apparently, the plane had hit a truck in Iquitos (an explanation that left much to the imagination). You’re more likely to experience delays with Star Perú during the rainy season in parts of Peru, especially in jungle regions.
Up until 2015, LC Perú (www.lcperu.pe) was on the fringes of the domestic air travel market, operating limited flights to only a few destinations. But then it expanded its operations, adding aircraft to its fleet and operating along more routes.
Previously, the LC Perú fleet consisted of small Bombardier Dash propeller-driven passenger planes. With the addition of Boeing 737-500s, the airline has become more of a contender and a viable inclusion in the list of the main domestic airlines in Peru.
LC Perú has no international flights, but its range of destinations within Peru is impressive. It flies from Lima to 12 other Peruvian cities. These include destinations most other airlines don’t fly to, such as Tingo Maria, Andahuaylas and Huaraz.
- Pros: Fairly cheap and reaches places other airlines do not reach. A perfectly reasonable alternative to the airlines above, although delays are more common.
- Cons: Despite its expansion, LC Perú remains a small outfit in comparison to the other four major airlines in Peru. The service is basic, so don’t expect much in the way of freebies or personal attention. The baggage allowance on smaller LC Perú planes is also less than normal.
The look of Viva Air, the new low cost airline in Peru. Image from www.vivaair.com.
Budget Airlines in Peru
Finally, a budget airline in Peru!
With a small amount of fanfare and a crashed website due to a sudden surge in traffic, Viva Air Peru (www.vivaair.com/pe) began selling its incredibly cheap tickets in April 2017. These inaugural fares started at just under S/ 60 for flights from Lima to destinations including Cusco, Piura, Arequipa, Iquitos, Trujillo, Tarapoto and Chiclayo. In comparison, the average ticket price for domestic airlines in Peru is about S/ 300.
It remains to be seen how successful this low-cost airline will be in the long run. Viva Air only has a couple of airplanes right now, which is obviously a big constraint on its immediate performance. Looking ahead, however, Viva Air could force down prices across the board — including flights and long-distance bus travel in Peru — if it’s successful.
It looks like the inaugural S/ 60 fare will eventually rise to around S/ 150 to S/ 170 for standard one-way tickets, which is still significantly less than other airlines in Peru. Baggage allowances, however, are far more restrictive, as is common with low cost airlines.
Viva Air might also have some direct low-cost competition of its own in the future. According to reports by Peruvian news agencies Gestión and La República (both articles in Spanish), as many as 10 low-cost airlines are eyeing opportunities in Peru. Will they emerge? Will Viva Air find a long-term foothold in the market?
I hope so, but there’s still a long way to go….
Regional Domestic Airlines in Peru
Smaller domestic airlines pop up in Peru every now and then, but few of them last for long. They typically operate along just one or maybe two routes, plugging a gap in the nationwide network. Some are subsidized by the government in order to help boost tourism in a particular city or region.
Current regional airlines include:
- SAETA (www.saetaperu.com) — Subsidized by the Peruvian government, SAETA flies small nine-passenger Piper Cheyenne III turboprop aircraft between Tarapoto and Chachapoyas. The price? Just S/ 60 for Peruvians and other legal residents of Peru, which is about the same as taking the bus. Unfortunately, foreign tourists have to pay S/ 220, which is pretty expensive for a 25-minute flight. But it’s either that or the bus, which takes eight hours.