Cusco to La Paz: Crossing the Border between Peru and Bolivia via Lake Titicaca
I was sad to be leaving Cusco. We spent around a week in and around this awesome city, visiting Inca ruins, grand Spanish churches, rugged mountain scenery and, of course, Machu Picchu. We then hopped on a bus headed for Bolivia – here’s everything you need to know about the journey from Cusco to La Paz.
Crossing the Border between Peru and Bolivia with Bolivia Hop
I’d heard rumours of the border between Peru and Bolivia being a bit dodgy. I’d been working with Peru Hop throughout southern Peru so continuing on to La Paz with Bolivia Hop was an easy decision, a decision that most of the Peru Hop passengers who were continuing on to Bolivia also made. We left Cusco at around 10 pm on a slightly cramped bus for the overnight journey between Cusco and Puno. We arrived in Puno for a bread and jam breakfast (is there any other kind of breakfast in South America?) and then hopped on a boat for a 2 hour tour of the Uros Islands, a group of reed islands floating on Lake Titicaca.
Further reading: Spanish Style and Inca Ruins in Cusco, Peru
The Uros Islands Tour
This tour was a bit of a let-down. Maybe the full-day tours are better, but the 2 hour version was a bit of a tourist trap and easily my least favourite part of Peru. First we landed on a small island where a local woman explained how they created their floating islands. It was pretty interesting and the islands, and communities that live on them, are really unique. After the brief lecture we had a look around the island, which consisted of a few houses, and from there it was on to another, slightly bigger island, to do some shopping. There wasn’t really much to see on these islands and it reminded me a bit of the tour I did to Inle Lake, Myanmar, except there were no temples, houses on stilts or cats jumping through hoops (read more about that tour here).
After the Uros Islands tour we jumped back on the bus and headed for the border between Peru and Bolivia. The process was made really easy by the Bolivia Hop staff and it was one of the most stress free border crossings we experienced in Latin America. If you’re American, Canadian or Australian you might have to pay a fee to enter Bolivia – I didn’t really take much notice of that though as I’m from New Zealand and most of the world seems to like us! You’ll be given a form by the immigration officer on the Bolivia side of the border crossing – make sure you keep it or they’ll fine you when you leave the country.
After changing buses at the border, we continued on to Copacabana, a small town on the shores of Lake Titicaca. It’s a nice enough place but I’m guessing if you’re in this area you’ll want to quickly head to Isla del Sol, a really beautiful island that quickly became a highlight of my trip.
Isla del Sol
We spent a few days exploring this small island. The most popular activity is walking the length of the island from north to south. We took most of the day to complete the walk and it was stunning – we saw white beaches and crystal clear water as well as ancient ruins and peaceful rural life. Even if you’re not planning on exploring Bolivia, if you’re in the area (Cusco) you should seriously consider making a detour to visit Isla del Sol. Another thing…it is possible to visit the island for a couple of hours and then head straight to La Paz. If you have the time, spend at least one night on Isla del Sol. The short tour doesn’t take you to the best parts of the island and you’ll be missing out on some special scenery.
Further reading: Hiking Isla del Sol: Ruins, Beaches and Sparkling Blue Water
Bolivia Hop is a hop on/hop off service, so after spending a couple of nights on Isla del Sol we continued our Cusco to La Paz journey, eventually ending up in Bolivia’s giant, high altitude city. It’s definitely not my favourite place in South America but it’s worth a day or two, particularly if you’re looking to buy some cheap/warm clothes for Patagonia like we were. I bought a Columbia jacket (possibly fake) for around $10 and it kept me warm in the freezing depths of Patagonia.
Bolivia Hop is a great way to cross the border from Peru to Bolivia (or Bolivia to Peru), but there are a couple of issues I should mention. The biggest problem was the bus – I’ve been on some really nice, comfortable night buses in South America but this wasn’t one of them. If you put your seat back too far the person behind you would get annoyed (I saw it happen a couple of times), which made it really difficult to sleep. Also, don’t order the lunch in Copacabana – it was more expensive than they told us and it was terrible value, you can get a proper set meal on the same street for much cheaper. Aside from these teething issues (Bolivia Hop is quite a new company) I think it’s a great service and makes what could be a stressful border crossing very easy. It’s also a great way to meet other travellers as it is kind of halfway between a tour and independent travel. All sorts of people use Bolivia Hop (and Peru Hop), from hardened backpackers to people on their first trip abroad. There are also some (how do I say this politely) really old people that use it, it’s definitely not a party bus for 18 year olds! Bolivia Hop is also perfect for people in a hurry – you can travel from Cusco to La Paz quickly and still see some great stuff on the way.
Have you crossed the border between Peru and Bolivia? Did you have any issues? Let me know!
Disclaimer: I teamed up with Boliva Hop on my trip from Cusco to La Paz. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
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