Check out these fun and affordable bus trips, whether you're looking for a next destination without spending a lot of time on the road, or just a day trip somewhere from your current hangout.
For only $25 you can go from the exciting capital of Colombia to the heart of 'zona cafetera' or "the coffee triangle" where the weather is exquisite and full of fun things to do. Coffee farm tours abound out of Armenia, or plan on taking a hike up to the beautiful Valle Corcora to see Colombia's imposing national tree, the wax palm, in its spectacular natural environment. Armenia has a beautiful living butterfly house filled with thousands of species wanting to rest for a while on your cap or wrist. Or, get away to the nearby pueblos of Filandia or Salento (ranked as the top small town in South America).
It's hard to get enough of Cartagena, but Santa Marta is not so far away and has become the hotspot of its own over the past several years for its nearness to the magical Parque Tayrona, launching city for treks to the Lost City, or the hippie getaway of Taganga. Equally worthwhile are the perfect beach of El Rodadero and visiting the memorial site where Simón Bolívar died. If you leave Cartagena in the morning and make a plan to visit one of these spots (except Tayrona and the Lost City), then you can still get back to Cartagena the same night.
Even if you're not planning to go to Bolivia, why not get a taste of it without leaving Peru! Go to Puno, one of the most underrated cities of the Andes. Puno has some very interesting museums, lake tours where you can go visit the Uros villages built entirely out of reeds floating on the lake, and climb to the mirador to get spectacular views of the city and the famed lake. Several buses depart daily from Cusco to Puno, and while you can spend more on luxury routes, there are also budget options that serve just fine too.
Technically, you can start from the Argentine side of the border too, but the most direct route is from Brazil's side of the falls to the capital of Paraguay, and South America's oldest colonial capital. In just five hours, you'll be in the heart of this most exotic country and be able to spend your day and perhaps the night seeing its well-preserved palaces and churches, museums, plazas, parks, and all the many forms of Paraguayan city life. An additional advantage is that Paraguay is the major connector point of routes going to Bolivia and western Argentina that you can't otherwise get to very easily unless you go all the way south to Buenos Aires.
Ica is not so much a destination itself (although they have a great shamanic district) as it is for the famous oasis in the middle of the dunes right on the edge of town, Huacachina! And, it's only a five hour getaway from the metropolis of Lima. Huacachina has become a big party spot lately and for those looking for the thrill of skiing and sliding in the dunes in one way or another. From Ica, it's also a short jaunt away to either Nazca or Paracas, two other very popular destinations for those visiting Lima.
An equally tempting day trip from Lima or to overnight with your tent is to the unique and breathtaking national park and beach of Paracas, very popular with tourists, and therefore quite accessible and cheap by bus! The cliffs that fringe the beaches are teeming with life, millions of birds that live here year-round, and thousands of others that fly from the northern hemisphere and from further south, ranging from guano birds to Humboldt penguins.
Now why wouldn't we be suggesting the opposite direction as the default (Santiago - Valparaiso)? Well, we could, but we know budget travelers well, and they typically avoid higher-priced Santiago for lodging and flock to the way cool Valparaiso instead! But that doesn't mean you have to rule out Santiago, because it's just a cheap bus ride and two hours away -- totally easy for a day trip, but just make sure you have a short list, because Santiago will overwhelm you with choices too much for a single day. Particularly recommended are the Museo de la Memoria and the La Italia neighborhood, but there are lots of other things to do and places to see!
There are two ways to get from Puno to La Paz, and one of them is just a short trip over the border to the captivating beauty and spiritually intriguing center of Lake Titicaca, Copacabana. It's just a small and very charming town, but an important base camp for the islands of the Sun and Moon nearby that have been vital worship centers for ancient cultures and offer a rich look into the anthropology of the respective civilizations. Plus, there are scores of hiking trails for those that just want to fill themselves with the endlessly beautiful nature only Copacabana can give.
You would have as much reason to start this route in Chiclayo and to visit Trujillo for a day, but in most cases travelers make their way from Lima to Trujillo to see Chan-Chan and the temples of the Sun and Moon. To get to Chiclayo is just another hop and skip away, and in four hours you will be treated to the equally mesmerizing site and royal tombs of Sipan, one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the 20th century.