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…
As 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.
The Kasani/Yunguyo border is open today, so decided on the public bus. A tourist bus isn’t required and is more expensive.
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.
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!
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.
Stories of scammers and being taken advantage of in Puno are plentiful.
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.
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.
Everyone loves to participate in a parade…
Sounds are not always in tune, but a hundred points for trying.
And some spectators, just get too tired…
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.
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.
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’.
I never tire of the stunning vistas, with the towering Andes as a backdrop – a very special region.
Meandering along the magnificent lake shores, you never know what you are going to find whilst exploring…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.