Crossing From Peru to Bolivia: Crossing Titicaca or By Road?

Every year, 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’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. The easiest and most common way to get into Bolivia is by bus. But some people would love to be able to do it by boat.

Can you Cross Lake Titicaca By Ferry Boat?

Never trust a cloud travelling on its own!

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Unfortunately for most of us, crossing between Peru and Bolivia by boat on Lake Titicaca is not possible. There is some old information on Lonely Planet’s Forum about a company called Transturin that does expensive boat cruises between the two countries, but it is rumored even they have to use the land crossing to move between countries. This is to avoid issues with smuggling.

So, if you want to head out on Lake Titicaca, you can actually do it on either side of the border and have some fun day trips. You can go to Isla del Sol on the Bolivian side, from Copacabana, and head on a trip to see the Uros Island people on the Peruvian side, from Puno.

Boat from Copacaban to Isla del Sol
Boat from Copacaban to Isla del Sol
The boat harbor at Copacabana
The boat harbor at Copacabana

And it’s certainly a great idea to do one of both of these. Catching a boat across the icy-blue depths of Lake Titicaca itself is quite an experience. For starters, it’s huge andit 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.

Sunset on Lake Titicaca
Sunset on Lake Titicaca

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.

Peru and Bolivia border crossing at Desaguadero
Peru and Bolivia border crossing at Desaguadero

Crossing The Border Between Peru & Bolivia By Bus

The simplest way to get between Peru and Bolivia is to catch a bus that takes around 4 hours from Puno to Copacabana. Depending on how you do it (private tourist bus or public) it can cost as little as 5 bucks, or a bit more if you go private. Either way it’s pretty simple and cheap. You’ll see a bit of the shoreline of Lake Titicaca as you go around, and it’s the cheapest and easiest way of doing things too.

The major crossing-point at Desaguadero has to be done on foot and you have to get a visa to enter Bolvia. Everyone lines up at the office and you can change money as well, so it’s all pretty simple and painless. It just takes a little time, and you meet the bus on the other side where you continue on your journey.

It’s a great idea to stop off in Copacabana as I mentioned, so you can make a day trip the next day to Isla del Sol. The town itself is nothing special, just a few small roads, old hotels and a small beach with boats (where you head to Isla del Sol from).

A Trip From Puno To Uros

Don’t be scared. That’s our welcome fish!

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Another trip you can take on Titcaca is to see the man-made islands of the Uros people.
The Uros are a local ethnic group who, for centuries, have relied on Lake Titicaca’s Totora plants to fashion themselves forty-two floating islands made out of reeds. If you’re charming enough and can win the favor of one of the local groups, perhaps they will teach you to build one of their traditional reed boats that you can use to navigate Lake Titicaca’s 8,372 square kilometres of surface area. This is definitely not a common way to adventure around Lake Titicaca, but we know you have it in you, you adventurer, you.

An Alternative: The Outlaw Overland Option

You know your town is badass when your local liquor store is named Tupac

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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.

More Information

  • 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.

5 thoughts on “Crossing From Peru to Bolivia: Crossing Titicaca or By Road?”

  1. I’ve heard there is a blockade across certain parts of the border at the moment and crossing can be a nightmare, including an 8km walk with all luggage along a dirt road. Can you give any advice or specifics to make our crossing easier?

    1. Leora-

      I believe that the blockades were more of an issue in 2011 when the Santa Ana mine was moving towards commercialization. The government revoked the license in June 2011, so I’m not sure that protests continued after that event.

      I would simply suggest watching the news section on http://www.google.com.pe/ to see if any new events are unfolding that would reopen any reasons for protest.

      You can type in the keywords “peru bolivia protestas fronterizas” to get the latest stories. If you don’t speak Spanish, you can translate search results by using Google Translate (if you have Chrome, you’ll be able to do it right no the page.)

      Hope that helps.

  2. I think it is worth noting the 30 days visa that is given upon entrance to Bolivia. Many are surprised that they received only 30 days and not 90 days. You need to extend your visa at an immigration office for this or pay 20 bolivianos per day you were late (I did!)

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