Everybody that ever went backpacking or just on a holiday to multiple countries for that matter, knows that crossing country-borders is a stress-full, tiresome but also exciting experience. Sometimes it goes super smooth! Sometimes it takes hours, a lot of bribes and probably ten years of your life because of pure stress. All you can really do is prepare, brace for a long day and hope you get there before nightfall. How best to prepare for the border-crossing between Peru and Bolivia? By reading this article of course!
– Practical information –
Both border-crossings open around 08:00 AM and close around 19:30 PM. Occasionally they close down in the afternoon between 12 and 2, but for a little bribe, they will stamp you through nevertheless as the border-patrol will just be hanging around the office relaxing, smoking and eating. Or sleeping in shade nearby.
Essential to bring
- passport (valid for 6 months)
- 2 copies of passport in A4 format
- 2 passport-sized portrait photos
- *lodging information (listed as a requirement but not really necessary)
- *IF YOU ARE A U.S. CITIZEN: $160,–
The copies of your passport are really necessary. I traveled with a friend that did not carry one (of the right size) and they refused to let him pass. There are copy-services (and photo-services as well) available on the Peruvian side of the border (but not on the Bolivian side). Even if you already crossed the border, you can just walk back without too much fuzz. Take two just to make sure they don’t reject your only copy because it is (slightly) damaged – I saw that happening as well.
Good news: most nationalities can travel into Bolivia free of charge! It is always a good idea to carry a few dollars/soles/bolivianos around if you need to make photocopies on the spot or if your bus-driver proposes to do all the stamping for you (I generally do not like to give someone my passport while abroad so I prefer to do it myself but most drivers will offer this service to speed up the process of crossing). You might be unlucky enough to encounter a border-official that requires an additional fee (read: bribe) so have some cash available.
Bad news for U.S. citizens: a visa will costs you $160.00. An unwelcome surprise if you’re not prepared for it.
Departure & Arrival Point
If you are crossing over from Peru into Bolivia by land you will always come through Puno, the Peruvian gateway to Lake Titicaca (read my article on Puno to see what to do there). From here there are 2 places where you can cross the border. Desaguadero, used for the direct buses to La Paz and Yunguyo, used when traveling to Copacabana (and then optionally, onwards to La Paz).
Where Yunguyo is relatively clean and safe, Desaguadero is a dodgy and dirty wild-west smuggler-crossing. Don’t let this discourage you from using this border though, as long as you don’t plan on spending the night in this town you’ll be fine. The Desaguadero crossing is a lot faster if you are not interested in going to Copacabana. Always check which crossing is used as most busses to La Paz will stop by Copacabana on the way (so they can take travelers on both lapses and thus make more money) which results in a few hours of unnecessary delay.
Also always ask around for any blockades on one of the routes. Blockades are very common in these parts of Peru and Bolivia and companies will most probably not tell you about it if you don’t ask. They will just simply drive there and wait until they can go through – which can take anytime from an hour to two or three days.. Your ‘quick’ direct route is suddenly not so quick anymore.
– Bus companies & options compared –
You got a couple of bus companies that service the route from Peru into Bolivia. The most prominently available are Ormeño, Tour Peru, and Trans Titicaca. The bus-terminal charges a service-fee of 2.5 soles.
taking the Collectivo for a visa run
If you are just there for a visa-run, your best of to take a collectivo from Puno to Desaguadero. They leave from the corner of Bolivar and 1 de Mayo, next to the bus terminal in Puno and are the cheapest option around (only a few soles). If you are adamant on cheap travel. You can also take a collectivo from Desaguardero onwards to La Paz. Make sure you have crossed the border before 5 PM though as the last collectivo’s to La Paz leave around that time – and you do not wanna be spending the night in Desaguadero.
Ormeño is one of the big luxury long-haul companies. It provides services crossing multiple borders and taking multiple days from the south of Chile to the north of Colombia. It is a fine company to travel with but too expensive for the relatively short route from Puno to La Paz. The ticket prices vary a lot as Ormeño busses do not depart from Puno (they just pass by it on the way to La Paz). So it basically comes down to availability and willingness of the driver.
Trans Titicaca seems to almost have a monopoly on the routes. Its orange buses are very recognizable but note that Peru Tur is the same company as well. Note that this company has a very bad reputation and I heard many horror stories about it(crashing buses and drivers that after the crash try to paint over the company-name instead of helping injured passengers). I initially booked my ticket with them but when I spoke to two travelers that just got of a Trans Titicaca bus that had had a very drunk driver, I took my losses (Puno – La Paz: 55 soles). Obviously, my attempts to get my ticket refunded were futile.
This is the best option in my opinion. Reliable company, decent busses, good price. They even have WiFi on board. Some blogs and travel guides claim you can only book tickets online but that is plain bullshit. I bought mine at the Puno bus-station. Price was 40 soles.
– The Route –
Yunguyo – Kasani crossing
The drive from Puno to Yunguyo is about 3-4 hours. You’ll get the necessary forms in the bus – make sure they are filled in correctly and completely before you arrive at the border.
You get off at the border and will immediately see the Peruvian immigration desk. Get your exit-stamp and walk underneath the small arch that separates both countries.
After entering Bolivia you’ll find the Bolivian customs on your left. This is where you present all filled out forms. your bus will be waiting somewhere around the customs-office. From here the drive to Copacabana is only about 45 minutes.
From Puno the drive to Desaguadero is about 4- 5 hours. You’ll get the neccesary forms in the bus and should make sure you fill them out before you arrive at the border. The bus (or collectivo) will stop at the Peruvian customs where you should get your exit-stamp. If you need any photocopies, you can get them at this side of the border. The area is quite dodgy but during the day you will be fine – just keep a good eye on your passport and personal belongings.
From there simply cross the bridge and walk into Bolivia. The Bolivian customs are on the other side of the bridge (the office is in the middle of the road and you can get your entry-stamp/visa on both sides of the office). This is where you hand over the necessary forms.
Your bus will be waiting somewhere near the Bolivian customs (a little further ahead probably). From here the drive to La Paz is about 4 hours – where you will be arriving at the general bus-terminal.