Why is it that people always want more? Not content with the enigmatic mystery of the Nazca Lines, the historic artistry of Machu Picchu, and all the other delights which Peru has to offer, thousands of people every year extend their Peru holidays into Bolivia in search of even bumpier roads and even ropier vehicles.
Transportation aside, Bolivia has a huge amount going for it if you’re a tourist. Bolivia has some of the most spectacular scenery anywhere in South America. If you want to see giant salt plains the size of many European countries, Bolivia is for you; if you’d like to take the extraordinary drive from La Paz through to Rurrenabaque, with breakfast surrounded by snow-capped Andean peaks, lunch among sub-tropical coffee plantations, and dinner in the rainforest, then Bolivia is for you; if you’d like to eat in a country where the national dish is falso conejo (literally “false rabbit”), then Bolivia… Well, maybe skip that last one…
If you’re planning your travelling to Peru and think you might be interested in a quick jaunt into Bolivia, then your main decision is going to be how to get there. You have four possible options, but only two if you have an ounce of curiosity or adventure about you. Let’s start by roundly dismissing the other two:
Flying from Cusco or Lima
Hands down the least adventurous option for extending your Peru holidays into Bolivia is to catch a flight from either Lima or Cusco. There are a couple of flights a day from Lima, but only flights every other day from Cusco at the moment. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it’s not even that expensive, but flying into Bolivia has to be easily the least interesting way to arrive .
Travelling around Lake Titicaca via Desaguadero
Another option for getting to Bolivia is by road from either Puno or Arequipa via the major crossing-point at Desaguadero. Several coaches a day make this journey and it’s fairly quick – about 8 hours from Arequipa; more like 6 from Puno. You’ll see a bit of the shoreline of Lake Titicaca as you go around, and it’s the cheapest way of doing things too. It’s probably the most popular way of adding Bolivia on to your Peru holidays, and there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just all a bit… practical.
The Outlaw Option
A third route into Bolivia wins you full points for adventurousness, but at the risk of getting embroiled with South American bureaucracy, which is never the greatest idea in the world. If you go north from Puno, you reach the town of Juliaca. Even other Peruvians regard this place with awe as a nest of smugglers, bandits and ne’er-do-wells. In practice it’s just pretty grim: if you like tire shops, discount electrical stores and ironmongers you’ll fit right in.
Its primary reason for existence appears to be for smuggling things into and out of Bolivia. And that could include you if you play your cards right. Small local buses called combis navigate unpaved roads north and east from Juliaca up to the Bolivian border at Puerto Acosta. Sometimes the border post here is staffed, in which case you’ll get some funny looks but a fresh Bolivian entry stamp; sometimes it’s not, in which case you’ll spend your first couple of days in La Paz haring around trying to find someone to give you one. An entry stamp, that is. What you do outside office hours is strictly your own business.
Across the Lake, you say?
Your fourth and – let’s just say it – best option for extending your Peru holidays into Bolivia is to catch a boat across the icy-blue depths of Lake Titicaca itself. Not only does this remove you from the dangers posed by Peruvian and Bolivian drivers, it also gives you a chance to enjoy the kind of peace and quiet you can only find in the middle of the world’s highest navigable lake. The colours are just breathtaking: the lake and sky are complementary vivid blues, framed against the white of the snow-capped peaks on the Bolivian side and the rich greens and reds of the lake shore and islands. What’s even better is that you can stay overnight on the beautiful Isla del Sol, on the Bolivian side of the lake, and get yourself a gorgeous Titicaca sunset and sunrise to boot. OK, this might not be exactly the cheapest way of doing things but without a doubt it’s something you’ll remember for the rest of your life.
The Most Adventurous Man (or Woman, of course) in the World
Best Time to Go
The main thing to avoid is the rainy season in the highlands. This runs from roughly November through to March. To be sure of missing the rains, but also the summer crowds, either May/June or September/October would be perfect.
The Highlander – The altitude can be a real killer, so many people struggle to make it with their bags up the Inca steps on Isla del Sol and pay one of the island kids to carry them up. To be fair, it’s pocket money for the kids but still… where’s your pride?
Flights from Cusco to La Paz start at around $120 plus taxes. A coach via Desaguadero will be around $40. You have a few options from slow ferries to speedboats across Lake Titicaca, but figure on at least $200.
- Make sure you’ve got a spare page in your passport for the Bolivian entry stamp
- Don’t be conned by the immigration officials telling you that you need to pay for entry. You don’t.
- Drink the local coca tea to combat the altitude
- Try and get Bolivian currency in Peru before you cross over.
- Flights from Lima to La Paz are operated by TACA and LAN. From Cusco you’ll have to fly with BOA, which is the national Bolivian airline.
- More on the floating reed islands of the Uros – they are literally constructed of reeds, and are home to hundreds of people.
- Islanders on Lake Titicaca still live by the ancient Inca rules: do not steal, do not lie, and don’t be lazy. You can consider them more as guidelines.
Dan Clarke has swum in Lake Titicaca and lived to tell the tale, although his circulation has never been quite the same since. Real Peru Holidays provide tailor-made holidays in Peru and Bolivia, including trips across (and around!) Lake Titicaca.
Title image source.