Border Crossing: Bolivia’s Copacabana to Peru’s Puno

August, 2011

Overland borders in South America can be stressful, although hoping for a smooth crossing from Bolivia’s Copacabana to Peru’s Puno today…

The last overland border crossing from Argentina to Chile did not go well.

After waiting in Salta for ten days and sitting on the 6-hour bus journey, our bus was turned back just before the border – 13 hours later and we were back in Salta from where we started. Giving up the dream of seeing the Atacama Desert, decided to take an overnight bus that same evening and cross in to Bolivia instead.

So long Bolivia, until we meet again – it’s been an incredible ten weeks…

Bolivia, South America
10 weeks in Bolivia


Copacabana, Bolivia, Puno, Peru, South America, border crossingAs the travel between the Copacabana (Copa) and Puno border crossing closes at any whim, or you can experience long delays during road detours, there are several options to cross.

The preferred option is a three to four-hour public bus, especially if you’re short on time. The other is by boat across Lake Titicaca, which can take around ten hours – although have read that sometimes, it’s not safe on the Puno side. You can also squeeze on a Collectivo (minivan) from Copa’s Plaza Sucre – drivers shout out for business to Kasani.

Crossing borders

The Kasani/Yunguyo border is open today, so decided on the public bus. A tourist bus isn’t required and is more expensive.

Copacabana, Bolivia, lake Titicaca, Puno, Peru, South America
Transport hub Copacabana

Exiting Bolivia

A few kilometres from Copa and you arrive at the Migracion Kasani Bolivia. Hand over your green immigration card you received on entering Bolivia and receive your exit stamp at no charge. Absorb the stunning lake vistas whilst waiting at this picturesque border crossing.

Entering Peru

The stone arch displaying a Peru sign separates Bolivia and Peru, with immigration thirty metres down the road, on your right. Depending on your nationality, it’s free entry to Peru for ninety days. (Make sure you have 6 months left on your passport, but this is a requirement in most countries.)

A Peruvian bus takes you on the rest of the lovely journey, which follows Lake Titicaca around and on to Puno.

At times, the road shaves the sides of steep hilltops. Depending on your driver’s expertise or attitude, this can be a scary ride – especially whilst locals scream at the driver to slow down around bends, for fear of driving over a cliff and into the lake. Welcome to Peru!

Puno, Peru, South America


At over 3,800 metres high and situated between mountains and the shores of Lake Titicaca, the city of Puno is more of a transit hub between Peru and Bolivia. And so, sees indigenous Andeans constantly migrating through Puno en-route to larger Peruvian cities. The black market is thriving with cheap goods smuggled in from Bolivia.

Puno, Peru, South America
Urban expanse

Stories of scammers and being taken advantage of in Puno are plentiful.

Puno, Peru, South America
Street intrigue

Understandably, as the city is a border hub then there are always opportunists waiting to fleece an unsuspecting gringo. Apart from several seedy streets, we managed to escape scamming in Puno.

Puno, Peru, South America

Llamas and Alpacas are also an important export for the city.


Although the city doesn’t hold major tourist sites and seems a little run-down, the Plaza de Armas is worth visiting, especially during a parade…and parades there are many in South America.

Plaza de Armas, Cathedral, Puno, Peru, South America
Baroque Cathedral built in 1757 – paid tours available

Everyone loves to participate in a parade…

Cholitas, Puno, Peru, South America
Bolivian Cholitas

Sounds are not always in tune, but a hundred points for trying.

Plaza de Armas, Puno, Peru, South America
Making music

And some spectators, just get too tired…

Puno, Peru, South America
Parade fatigue

If you feel like taking a walk through Puno’s streets, then just remember that the poorer areas are up very steep unpaved roads, which are not accessed by vehicles.

Puno, Peru, South America
Market time

This seems to be common in South America – poorer locals live a hike up hills, whilst richer locals live at the base of a hill/mountain in the city or town itself.

people, Puno, Peru, South America
Hats are much taller than the Bolivian Bowler

Lake Titicaca

The mystical shores of Lake Titicaca are wonderful for strolling along and at almost 4,000 metres high, it’s hard to get your head around the lake being the ‘highest navigable stretch of water in the world’.

Lake Titicaca, Puno, Peru, South America
Lake vistas

I never tire of the stunning vistas, with the towering Andes as a backdrop – a very special region.

Puno, Peru, South America
Lake shepherd

Meandering along the magnificent lake shores, you never know what you are going to find whilst exploring…

SS Yavari

Literally bumped into the ship Yavari hanging off a dilapidated timber wharf, during a wander along the waterfront one day.

A little background on the ship as it really does carry a ton of fascinating history and is also the ‘oldest propeller-driven working ship in the world’.

Designed as a gunboat for the Peruvian Navy, the Yavari also carried passengers and cargo across the lake.

SS Yavari, Lake Titicaca, Puno, Peru, South America
SS Yavari

Two of these ships were eventually built in the late 1800s in a ‘knock down’ form. This kit form sees ships built in the original shipyard, in this instance back in the Thames Ironworks – London, dismantled into thousands of small parts for transporting around Cape Horn, shipped to a final destination, transported by Llama and mules across the Andes to the lake, then reassembled by English engineers, and launched. Transporting all of the boat’s sections to the lake took six years.

In the 1930s, you could catch a train from Argentina’s Buenos Aires to La Paz in Bolivia. Steam trains continued the journey to Lake Titicaca, where steam ships such as the Yavari picked up passengers to cross the lake and into Peru. What an incredible journey that no longer exists.

Train, Lake Titicaca, Puno, Peru, South America
Bygone relic

Undergoing restoration since 1987, the polished brass and highly varnished timbers are a pleasure, as so often, ships, planes, trains, and vehicles are left to rust in South America’s harsh conditions.

Originating from Somerset, Southwest England, the engine is still functioning, which delighted my partner – also from the same county.

SS Yavari, Lake Titicaca, Puno, Peru, South America
Yavari’s Engine room

This 150-year-old British gunboat is now a floating Bed & Breakfast. What a shame our accommodation is pre-paid, otherwise, I definitely would stay in the tranquillity of this beautifully maintained ship on Lake Titicaca. How romantic staying in a piece of history on this lake, situated over four kilometres above sea level.

Further along from the SS Yavari and another 19th-century steam ship the SS Coya, waits patiently on shore, almost marooned.

SS Coya, Lake Titicaca, Puno, Peru, South America

Now used as a floating restaurant, Coya is not quite as well-maintained as the Yavari, which was purchased by an English woman for restoration.

SS Coya, Lake Titicaca, Puno, Peru, South America
Not sure when SS Coya floats

Day trips from Puno

If you’re staying in Puno for a few days, then indulge in a couple of inexpensive day trips, as this city is a good starting point and base.

Although touristy, Taquille and Uros Islands are worth visiting. Uros Islands are floating islands made of reeds and visiting both islands make an interesting day trip, whilst taking in more superb views of Lake Titicaca.

Another great half-day trip is to the Qulla people’s Sillustani Burial Towers, which date back to the 15th century.

Both tours are excellent and fascinating.


Inka’s Rest provides a comfortable private double room (hostel rooms available), private bathroom, and a good breakfast is included in the room’s price. Alfredo the manager, is very helpful and accommodating, and can organise most day tours.

The cafe at the Inka’s Rest is also a great chill spot, serving good food in a relaxed ambience.

Leaving Puno

Deciding to throw ourselves into the difficult three-day/two-night trek in one of the world’s deepest canyons: Colca Canyon, finally leaving magical Lake Titicaca behind and taking a bus to beautiful Arequipa.

Visit Nilla’s Photography for more images. More posts on Bolivia and Peru at Image Earth Travel.

Plaza de Armas, Puno, Peru, South America
Love this cheeky face!
Puno, Peru, South America
Catching up

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44 responses to “Border Crossing: Bolivia’s Copacabana to Peru’s Puno”

  1. da-AL Avatar

    Nilla, I always appreciate how much research you put into your travels & posts – many thanks 🙂

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Da-al, thank you and hope that you make this crossing one day, it’s more than ‘interesting’! 😉

  2. LuLu B - Calabrisella Mia Avatar

    The bus ride sounds similar to the Amalfi Coast. The locals telling the bus driver to slow down would bring my fear factor up a notch or three! haha

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Ha, ha it does indeed and yes, it did!

  3. equinoxio21 Avatar

    Thanks for the trip. I understand hats in the Andes are different from one village to the other? Or am I making this up?

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      No problem and thanks for coming along.
      I’m pretty sure you’re correct but then different hats are worn for different occasions so, I could never work out which hat was worn when! 😉

      1. equinoxio21 Avatar

        Ok. So the hats are a means of communication. 🙂 The language of hats…

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Yes, I believe hats are and instantly recognisable to locals.

      3. equinoxio21 Avatar

        I will eventually go to Peru and Bolivia. We’re not that far. 🙂

      4. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Exactly, you are close and have no excuse. 😉

      5. equinoxio21 Avatar

        I know, I know… But holidays are limited in time, and the next trip is to visit my in-laws in Colombia… 😉

      6. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        That sounds fantastic, lucky you. I need to return to South America and explore Colombia. 🙂

      7. equinoxio21 Avatar

        Colombia is very beautiful. Worth quite some time to visit.

      8. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Yes, I have a few Colombian friends.
        Think I mentioned before, I’ve only been to Leticia, the tri-border with Brazil and Peru, deep in the Amazon.

      9. equinoxio21 Avatar

        Yes, I remember that. You and I have walked the same steps… 😉

      10. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Indeed we have… 😉

  4. Emma & Nathan’s Travels Avatar

    Another awesome read where I felt I was right there 😊

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you for the feedback guys and glad you enjoyed the post. 🙂

  5. gillmorris Avatar

    Fabulous! Your pics are great, I like the one with the tuk-tuks in the town and the ships too 🙂 x

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thanks Gill.
      The photos don’t look that clear as WP compresses them even further when uploading to the library. Clicking the actual image displays it larger and much clearer. Have a great weekend. 🙂 x

  6. Uncover Travel Avatar

    Oh I remember doing this! Really must publish my Lake Titicaca posts. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      It takes a while to get around to it… 😉

  7. adventuresdelagringa Avatar

    Beautiful pictures! I’ve never had any issues crossing borders in South America, although I did get into trouble crossing into Chile with some forgotten cherries still in my bag. They took them, and then they decided that my smoked and salted almonds and raisins (trail mix for my hike) were seeds and needed to be thrown away too! I think they were just annoyed that they had to go through my bag multiple times.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you.
      I now what you mean. I had a bunch of bananas confiscated at the Argentina/Chile border. The Chilean Customs lady gingerly put them aside next to her (probably taking them home), not in the bin, and wouldn’t let us eat any…

      1. adventuresdelagringa Avatar

        They can be so mean about it! Looking through the comments I see you had some kind of robbery happen in Peru…? Sorry to hear that but glad you’re ok!

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Indeed, put anyone in a uniform…

        Yes, I will write about this soon as Peru is my next country to catch up on. We had a few incidents in Sth America and after nine months of travelling there, had not met one traveller that had not been robbed or scammed in some way.

  8. thewonderer86 Avatar

    Bought back lots of memories for me. I loved the parades and the hats and the clothes. Great post.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you and I’m happy that my post brought back many memories. The clothes and hats are fabulous, and worn with such style. If I wore a Bowler hat, I’d probably look ridiculous!

      How long did you travel in South America for and what countries did you visit?
      I have loads more posts to come on Peru, then on to Ecuador briefly.

  9. Jamie Clifford Avatar

    I really enjoyed reading your post, lots of great information and beautiful pictures.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hey Jamie…many thanks for your cool feedback and hope you can use this information on a future trip.
      I’ll have to re-visit beautiful NZ one day as I haven’t been since 1985!

      1. Jamie Clifford Avatar

        Oh I’m sure it’s changed ‘heeps’ as they say here since then! It’s such a magical place, but the worlds a big place too!

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Ha, ha haven’t heard that expression for some years now. Doing ‘time’ in Italy at the moment but sure I’ll return one day. 😉

  10. the eternal traveller Avatar

    You really did have a marvellous adventure. I’m not sure it is a place we would travel independently in, but you seemed to manage unscathed.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Fantastic time, but not unscathed…many posts to come yet on Peru. 😉
      Only did guided tours when on treks as mostly, it’s necessary or obligatory.

  11. lagiraffaminor Avatar

    Such a lot of great information. Thanks for writing all of it down so entertainingly 🙂

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you for your cool feedback and glad you enjoyed my post. 🙂

  12. fakeflamenco Avatar

    The Cholitas photo is fabulous! Thanks for the armchair travel. -Rebecca

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you Rebecca and glad you enjoyed the trip.

  13. Suzanne [globalhousesitterX2] Avatar

    Oh, I love the idea of staying on a Gunboat, looks very interesting!!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Yeah me too, would of been fantastic…next time.

      1. Suzanne [globalhousesitterX2] Avatar

        Always the possibility of a next time!

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Of course and especially as we were robbed big time in Peru and my partner lost all his Machu Picchu (and USA) photos…good excuse for a re-visit. 😉
        I was lucky…only lost my Word doco with my updated Sth America blogs – scratching my head to remember it all now.

      3. Suzanne [globalhousesitterX2] Avatar

        Yes, I remember you telling me. Very gut wrenching!!

      4. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Ah well, the joys of travelling.

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