Crossing into Bolivia from Puno to La Paz

From Puno, there are a few ways to make the border crossing to Bolivia. The 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.

reed boats in lake titicaca
Lake Titicaca in Puno. Photo © traveler1116/iStock.

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 Inca as the place from where Manco Cápac emerged to found the Inca empire. Nearby is the smaller but interesting Isla de la Luna (Island of the Moon), birthplace of Mama Ocllo.

Panamericano (Tacna 245, tel. 051/35-4001) buses leave Puno for this seven-hour trip at 7am and 7:30am daily. Or explore the towns along the way by hopping on and off a local bus from Puno to Yunguyo (2.5 hours, US$4). These colectivo buses leave from the local bus station, two blocks from the main Terminal Terrestre (1 de Mayo 703, at Bolívar). From Yunguyo, take a colectivo from the border to Copacabana (30 minutes, US$1). There are several buses daily from Copacabana to La Paz (5 hours).

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.

Combis run from Puno to Desaguadero (2.5 hours, US$4) frequently, leaving from the terminal zonal station, located a few blocks from Terminal Terrestre on Simón Bolívar. After crossing the border, you can catch another combi to La Paz.

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 (protests in Peru and Bolivia are common, meaning that main roads can be blockaded and even borders can be temporarily shut down). Because travel requirements can change quickly, it is best to check with the consulate for updated travel requirements before you go. You can also consult the website for the Bolivian embassy in Peru, which has listings of the visa requirements in Spanish.

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