Updated: September 9, 2019
Always eager to avoid the well-worn path, I was curious to know all the alternative border crossings between Peru and Bolivia. I was pleased to discover three land border crossings, and one by water! All of these crossings use Puno, Peru, as the principal transit point.
The two major terrestrial passages are on the southwest shore of Lake Titicaca: Desaguadero, which is the most direct route to La Paz; and Yunguyo, closest to Copacabana. The third crossing is along the northwest shore, from Tilali, Peru, to Puerto Acosta, Bolivia.
The water crossing is cool, but required pockets deeper than mine, as it involves crossing Lake Titicaca by hydrofoil boat.
Since I hold a United States of America passport, I first had to visit the Bolivian Consulate (Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Jirón Arequipa 136, Piso 2. Tel: 351-251) in Puno to get a visa. The 90-day tourist visa cost $170, though some travelers report paying less ($100-135 USD, new bills only). Officially, they need the following:
Citizens of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and most European countries do not need a visa for Bolivia; they need only their passport and receive a free tourist card at the border. People of Mercosur and Andino Pact countries also have no difficulties entering, whether with passport or identity card (cédula). Normally 30 days are given at the border, though it may be possible to ask for up to 90 days.
Officially, all entering Bolivia must also show proof of yellow fever vaccination, and an onward ticket (or trip itinerary). These, however, are rarely asked for. Be aware that travelers report that border officials (especially on the Bolivian side) have charged unofficial (unauthorized) immigration and customs fees.
I was also reminded that Bolivia is one hour ahead of Peru (i.e., if it’s noon in Peru, it’s 1 p.m. in Bolivia).
Hoisting my knapsack upon my back, I walked down to Puno’s Terminal Zonal (Avenida Costanera 451). I caught the next minibus to Desaguadero, not the prettiest border crossing, but it is the most direct route between Puno and La Paz, which now can be reserved online in advance by clicking here.
After about 3 hours, we arrived at Desaguadero, as the town is known on both sides of the border. I walked the block from the terminal to the Peruvian border post. After getting my exit stamp, I crossed the bridge to the Bolivian side where I went through that country’s immigration and customs procedures.
The Desaguadero border posts are open from 7:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Peruvian time (8:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Bolivian time). Often the Bolivian side closes for lunch. You can change cash on either side of the frontier, but there are no ATMs.
With my immigration formalities finished, I hopped a motorcycle rickshaw taxi (tríciclo) to the bus terminal on the Bolivian side and caught a minibus (combi) to La Paz. A faster though the more expensive option is the trufi or shared taxi, which shaves off a half an hour to 2.5 to 3 hours.
I then settled in for the journey to La Paz. The high-altitude plains look like a desert, with sparse vegetation. On the way to, we passed by the ancient sacred city of Tiwanaku (Tihuanaco).
Shortly before dusk, we arrived in the capital’s cemetery district (Calle J.M. Asin and Calle Eyzaguirre). It was time to move quickly to find a hostel before night completely fell.
After spending a month in Copacabana, I decided to take the closest route to Peru. This is the crossing at Yunguyo, which not only follows the contour of Lake Titicaca but also involves taking a ferry across the Strait of Tiquina (Estrecho de Tiquini). It is most definitely a more scenic route than the one through Desaguadero.
I chose to take one of the international buses, that haul passengers from Copacabana and deposit them in Puno. From there, I would take transport to Cusco and on to my dream destination, Machu Picchu.
I bought my ticket the night before at one of the offices around Copacabana’s main square, as the buses originate in La Paz. We set out early. The morning sun beamed through broken clouds and glinted across the lake. Within a half-hour, we were at the lakeshore, getting off the bus and boarding the ferry across the Estrecho de Tiquina. I was amazed to see a Bolivian naval ship plying the steely waters of Lago Titicaca. (Bolivia has a navy, even though it has no access to the sea? Well, I guess in a way Titicaca is like an ocean – and it is an international border!)
Once on the other side, we boarded the bus and headed for the border posts. All papers were in order, and so procedures went quickly. Because we had a few moments to spare, I changed money on the Peruvian side, as I had read rates were better.
For the next few hours, we wended the 145 kilometers along the lake’s southwest shore to Puno. Crimson fields of quinoa swayed in a breeze. The far eastern horizon was faintly edged with Bolivia’s snowy mountains of the Cordillera Real. Upon arrival at the Puno bus terminal, I checked out bus schedules before deciding to spend a spell in Puno.
This crossing may also be done with local/national transportation. This works out to be cheaper and gives you the opportunity to stop off at some of the small villages along the way.
To do it that way, from Copacabana, take a combi (minibus) to Kasani, eight kilometers distant ($0.50). These are more frequent on weekends. On weekdays, you may have to wait up to an hour. The border posts are only a few hundred meters apart. Once you go through the border procedures, catch a motorcycle taxi to Yunguyo ($1) or walk the two kilometers downhill. From Yunguyo, then, you can catch a minibus to Puno ($4).
In Copacabana, offices are located around the main plaza or near the market. In Puno, they are at the Terminal Terrestre (Jirón Primero de Mayo 703. Tel.: 364-733).
Now, if you’re looking to get off the well-beaten “gringo” trail, this border crossing along the eastern shore of Lake Titicaca may be the adventure you’re looking for. Over the years I have met few travelers who have taken this backdoor route. You are advised to have all the paperwork in order before setting out. Also, check at the immigration office for current requirements and obtain enough local currency (soles, bolivianos) to cover costs.
The better time to do this is on weekends. Transportation is more frequent because of the markets in those villages.
Once you get your Peruvian exit stamp at the immigration office in Puno (Jirón Ayacucho 270-280, Tel.: 357-103), take a bus from Puno’s Terminal Fátima (Jirón Ricardo Palma, 1 block east of Avenida El Sol) to Juliaca (they leave when full between 5 a.m.-6 p.m.; 45 minutes, $1.50). Once there, walk to Jirón Sucre and Jirón Ballón, from where combis (minibusses) for Huancané depart (every 15 minutes; 1 hour, $0.80). Once in that village, take a truck or bus to Moho (2 hours, $1). You may have to spend the night in Huancané or in Moho, and both have basic hotels.
From Moho, transportation leaves early morning for Tilali. On market days, there is transport for Puerto Acosta. Otherwise, you will have to walk the 20 kilometers (which will take about 4 hours). In Puerto Acosta, obtain your Bolivian entry stamp. When you arrive in La Paz, stop by the immigration office to make sure you’re all legal.
If land border crossings seem a bit boring to you and cost is not a concern, you can cruise across Lake Titicaca in hydrofoil. The two-day trip, with an overnight stay on Isla del Sol, costs $389. For more information, contact Tambo Tours at the link here.
Lorraine Caputo is a travel writer, poet, and translator. She has authored eight guidebooks for South America. Her literary works appear in over 100 journals in Canada, the US, Latin America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and Africa; twelve anthologies and nine chapbooks – including the new collection of travel poetry, Caribbean Nights (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2014). For the past decade, she has been traveling through Latin America, listening to the voices of the pueblos and Earth. Follow her travels at www.facebook.com/lorrainecaputo.wanderer.
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