Crossing Into Bolivia from Puno, Peru

Crafts and textiles visible in the foreground with a focus on a dramatic mountain landscape.

Looking beyond the lively border market at Puno, Peru.
Photo by Bruce Tuten licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

From Puno, there are a few ways to make the border crossing to Bolivia. The first, and most popular, is to go from Puno to Yunguyo to Copacabana to La Paz, Bolivia, a route that leads through a series of interesting villages on the lake’s south shore before a scenic ferry ride across the Straits of Tiquina.

From Copacabana, it is easy to visit the Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun), a 20-kilometer boat ride from Copacabana. This island, covered in Inca ruins and graced by a sacred stone, was revered by the Incas as the place from where Manco Cápac emerged to found the empire. Nearby is the smaller but interesting Isla de la Luna (Island of the Moon), birthplace of Mama Ocllo.

Crossing is usually a 20-minute, hassle-free process at either place—as long as you have your passport and a valid tourist visa.Panamericano (Tacna 245, 051/35-4001, tourpanamericano@hotmail.com) leaves Puno daily for this seven-hour route at 7:30 a.m. Tour Peru (Tacna, 051/35-2191, tourperu@mixmail.com) also has good buses going to Copacabana daily.

Or explore the towns along the way by hopping on and off a local bus from Puno to Yunguyo (2.5 hours, US$3). These colectivo buses leave from the local bus station, two blocks from the main Terminal Terrestre (1 de Mayo 703, intersection with Bolivar). From Yunguyo, take a colectivo from the border to Copacabana (30 minutes, US$0.50). There are several buses daily from Copacabana to La Paz (5 hours, US$4).

A more direct, but less scenic, five-hour route to La Paz goes through Desaguadero, an ugly duckling of a town that straddles the border. Buses along this route pass Tiwanaku, the capital city of an empire whose deities and monumental architecture spread throughout Peru nearly a millennium before the Inca. Though ravaged by grave robbers and modern-day reconstructions, the ruins here were once so impressive that even the Inca thought them constructed by giants.

What stands out today is the Kalasasaya temple, a rectangular temple surrounded by pillars, monolithic figures, and the renowned Gateway of the Sun, chipped from a single piece of andesite and adorned with a carved deity.

Ormeño (051/36-8176) leaves from Puno at 5:45 a.m. (US$17), and Panamericano (051/35-4001) leaves at 8 a.m. Cheaper, slower buses run from Puno to Desaguadero (2.5 hours, US$2) frequently, and the last bus from Desaguadero to La Paz (4 hours, US$3) is at 5 p.m. Bolivia time (4 p.m. Peru time). This border is open 8 a.m.–noon and 2 p.m.–7:30 p.m.

Crossing is usually a 20-minute, hassle-free process at either place—as long as you have your passport and a valid tourist visa, and the border is open (Bolivia’s border shut down for several weeks because of political unrest in 2001 and 2003). Peru gives tourists a 90-day tourist visa, while Bolivia gives only 30 days—always ask for more before having your passport stamped. Border officials occasionally try to charge unsuspecting travelers an embarcación tax, which is illegal.

North Americans, Britons, New Zealanders, and Australians do not need visas to enter Bolivia at this time, while French travelers do. There is a Bolivian consulate in Yunguyo (8:30 a.m.–3 p.m.), although it is best to check updated requirements before you travel.

A longer way to Bolivia leads along the seldom-visited north shore of Lake Titicaca, a string of interesting towns that include Huancané and Moho. As there is no immigrations post at the border of Tilali, travelers must get their exit stamp a day before they depart in Puno at Peruvian Immigrations (Ayacucho 270, 051/35-7103, 8 a.m.–2 p.m.). For this route travelers must hopscotch on frequent local buses from Juliaca onward. If you catch a 7 a.m. bus from Juliaca, it is possible to arrive by 3 p.m. that afternoon.


Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Peru.


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