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The Bolivian border from Peru | Our practical guide and more

The Bolivian border crossing was quite a pleasant surprise.  We had been expecting it to be a little tricky but it turned out to be a quite simple process.  If like us, you tend to do a little research before any major event while travelling you may have read, as we did, that the crossing was difficult and time consuming.  We had a very different experience at the Bolivian border and hopefully it will be the same for you.

We found Puno to be an unpleasant place, sorry if that comes across as being a little blunt but that’s just how it was for us.  We found very little of interest and our three nights there was far to long.  In complete contrast we found Copacabana to be quite pleasant.  I’m not saying it was the most exciting place we have ever been however it’s certainly worth a day or two if your not pushed for time.

Copacabana
Trans Copacabana Bus

How did we get to Puno from Cusco?

We love train travel, although it was a little expensive we decided to have a little treat to ourselves and take the train from Cusco to Puno. The train did not disappoint. Sometimes when you dream about something for a long time the reality cannot live up to the imagination, however the train journey from Cusco to Puno was magical.  It was like being transported back in time to glamorous days when victorian Ladies and gentlemen would go on grand adventures into unknown lands.
Unfortunately the glamour ends when you get to Puno.  We found it to be a very unpleasant place with very little of interest there for us. Our picture of Lake Titicaca was quickly transformed when you see all the sad pedalos rusting away with no one there to peddle them, surrounded by  rubbish.  We paint a sad picture but unfortunately that’s how it is.  We had pre booked a three night stay and in our opinion this is far too long and our advice would be to skip straight through to the Bolivian border if at all possible.
 
There are of course cheaper ways to get to Puno if you’re not into trains. A regular bus service runs between the two cities or you could just skip straight through to the Bolivian border and La Paz.  We didn’t do any research as we had different plans but we believe there’s an overnight bus between the two cities.

Puno to Cobacabana and beyond

We believe from our research that in the recent past the Bolivian border crossing from Peru has been a complete nightmare. We had a very different experience.  Before that though you need to get some transportation.  We usually try and buy our bus ticket the day before just to make sure everything is in place and this was no exception. Puno’s big new transport hub is down by the lake and from what we could find out, there’s only one bus company currently doing the Bolivian border crossing to Copacabana and beyond to La Paz.

The Trans Titicaca bus company has a desk in the centre of the terminal. They run two buses every morning.  The first is at six in the morning and the second is at seven. The journey takes two and a half hours plus the time it takes to get everyone on the bus through the two passport controls.  The ticket costs 45.00 PEN per person. Try and be at the terminal half an hour before the bus is due to leave and don’t forget to buy your ticket to get through the embarcation gate.  There is a little ticket booth just under the stairs.  You can’t board the bus without it.

Bolivian Immigration
Bolivian Immigration Control

The Bolivian border crossing in detail.

The bus takes you through the Bolivian border at Yunguyo – Kasani.  If your going direct from Cusco you may go through the border at Desaguadero, if that’s the case it may be a different process although it should be pretty much the same.  Before you get to the border the bus will stop with the pretence of toilets and snacks.  There are both of these things there but there also a makeshift money exchange.  We checked the rate and it wasn’t too bad so we got rid of whatever Peruvian PEN we had left and got ourselves a few hundred Bolivianos.

The bus then takes you onto the actual border crossing.  First stop is the Peru immigration office to get stamped out of the country and this was quite straight forward as long as you have not forgotten your passport and have not over stayed in Peru.  One lady on our bus had overstayed her ninety days and received a fine.  Unfortunately you have to pay the fine at an office away from the border so we didn’t see her again.   The bus doesn’t wait if your paperwork is not in order.

If you’re at the front of the queue you then walk through the arch into Bolivia and the Bolivian border immigration control where you need to get your passport stamped into the country.  Here, theoretically you should be asked to produce your passport with your new stamp, prove that you have had your covid jabs and show your yellow fever card. The official however only asked for our passport and where we where staying in Bolivia.  We provided the information that he asked for then he stamped us up and that was that.  All over and done with in a few mins. 

He did however give us a little slip with a QR code on it to a website where you need to log everywhere you stay in Bolivia.  We have kept this up to date.  It says you can get a fine if you don’t so best to do it and it only takes a couple of minutes.  Once that’s done your in and it’s just a matter of waiting for everyone to go through the same process, the bus then carries on to Copacabana. 

There is a one hour time difference between the two countries.  Most phones will update automatically so it shouldn’t be an issue but just in case you’re rushing to get somewhere it’s good to know in advance.

Copacabana Bay Bolivia
Copacabana Bay Bolivia

Copacabana a short guide to the town

The bus drops you off at the crossroads of the two main streets next to the Trans Titicaca bus office.  If you are going on to La Paz we believe you have an hour or two stop here as the bus does’t leave for La Paz until 1.30pm.  If, like us, you have still got your Peruvian sim in your phone you’ll have no signal.  The cafe next to the bus office has wifi and cake.  There are also a couple of places in the town where you can change your sim,  we choose Entel as we learned it was the best one with the widest coverage and so far it’s been ok but not brilliant.

There are also a number of ATM’s in the town although all of then charged commission to withdraw, so if you can wait until La Paz to get more cash.  For us the cheapest way to withdraw was with Lynne’s Revolut card so if you have one perhaps use it, cost us two percent.

Where to stay in Copacabana?

Unlike Puno, Copacabana is quite picturesque with a beautiful curved bay backed by some interesting looking hills. Idealy if you can it’s good to get a room with a lake view as the sunsets can be spectacular.  We stayed at Hostal Piedra Andina, although it was slightly out of the centre and up hill it had an amazing view over the bay, big rooms and good outdoor space.  The breakfast wasn’t the best but all in all we enjoyed our three nights here.
 
We considered a couple of places that had good reviews closer to the centre of town Hotel Lago Azul was lake side and Hotel La Cupula which was slightly further up but still closer to town but a little more expensive. All three had rooms with lake views and came with breakfast included.
La Horca del Inca
La Horca del Inca

What to do In Copacabana

Sun and Moon islands

The main reason to visit are the two islands The islands of the sun and moon but there are a number of small walks you can do around the town that should keep you occupied for a couple of days.

One word of warning about visiting the islands, we didn’t get to visit moon island as from what we could make out you can only get there by private boat.  All the tour operators, of which there are many gave us a different reason why we couldn’t go on a tour, either the wrong day or some said it was only open at weekends.  Either way they want your money, so if you can afford a private boat they will take you.

Sun island is much bigger and the usual plan is to get the boat to the north of the island and walk the six kilometres to the port at the south of the island and the boat picks you up from there and takes you back to Copacabana.  Again we found it very difficult to get a straight answer about which boat operators did this route.  

For us it ended up a bit of a disaster as the boat we ended up on told us he’d take us north but ended up dropping everyone off at the south dock.  The moral of this story is check your ticket, don’t buy at the dock in Copacabana buy at one of the tour offices in town and make sure your clear about what you are buying.

A walk up to Cerro Calvario

You can walk up Cerro Calvario, this is the hill on the right side of the bay.  It has great views back down over the town, be warned though it’s not very well maintained and it’s a little dirty on top.  When we walked up, there were locals carrying heavy stones up to the top as some kind of pilgrimage.  This is where the locals religious beliefs get a little confused. The walk up is adorned with crosses symbolising Christ’s struggles with the cross culminating in his cruxifixction, ninety percent of Bolivians are catholic.  However once at the top you can buy offerings to Pachamama (Mother Earth); things like toy cars.  These are then burnt in the hope that Mother Earth will look kindly on you and you’ll get a new car in the near future.  

Horca del Inca 

Up behind the town is the interesting La Horca del Inca which is a view point with a supposedly Incan Astronomical link.  It’s a nice walk up through some amazing rock formations to two natural rock pillars with a stone lintel across the top which we assumed is where the said Incan people would stand to view the stars.  It all seemed a little far fetched to us but we enjoyed the walk up and the views

Copacabana Cathedral

Back in town at the main square is a quite extraordinarily large church for the size of the town. The Basilica of Our Lady of Copacabana was built in the sixteen hundreds and houses a  picture of the Virgin of Copacabana the patron saint of Bolivia.

Copacabana Cathedral
Copacabana Cathedral

About the food

We couldn’t really find a good restaurant in the town.  It’s mainly pizza and burgers and the usual fried chicken places that you find all over South America some are really good, but unfortunately that was not the case here. We mainly survived on bar snacks and street food.  The Salteñas are quite good it’s like an empanada but with a sweetish filling with chicken or beef.

Our View

In our experience the Bolivian border crossing went smoothly.  Just make sure you have all your papers in order just in case they ask. We’d advise you to stay in Puno for as short a time as possible.  If you do want to stay by the shores of the lake then Copacabana is by far the better choice.  If you’re visiting the island of the sun make sure you get the correct tour for your needs. We ended up stuck at the south side for four hours and there’s not a lot to do.

Booking resources for your stay in Copacabana

Flights

You can compare cheap flights on the Expedia platform or here on the Aviasales website.  Both will give you a good idea of how much its going to cost you to get to your chosen destination.

Accommodation

We have always tended to use Booking.com having said that if your on a tight budget another good site to try as a comparison is Hostelworld, If your looking to compare different sites you can do that on Hotellook, we tend to look on here first to make sure we are getting the best deal.

Tours & Tickets

You can book your visits as you go at the entrance to your chosen attraction or site.  Or you could use the following links to book in advance or just to find out what your choices are in the area. GetYourGuide and Tiqets are our go to choices you could try Viator to see how they compare.

For a full list check out our resources page. Don’t forget always shop around to find the best deal for you. What works for us should be good for you but it’s always reassuring to check.

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