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?
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.
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.
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.
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
An Alternative: The Outlaw Overland 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.
- 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.