There is a lot of talk about the Bolivian border crossing, but when we went to find information online about the Puno to Copacabana border crossing, the most popular border into Bolivia, everything was several years old. To get some updated information out on the web, I have decided to detail our experience with this border crossing.
Choosing our Bus Company
The Puno to Copacabana route is an extremely popular route for backpackers. Knowing this, we were extremely surprised at how few bus operators serviced this route. I walked around the bus terminal and for all companies that offered the route, I got pricing and looked at the seating. Since everything came in at the same price, 15 sols or $4.50, I selected the company that looked like it had the nicest seats, Huayruro Tours.
It is important to note that all Puno to Copacabana routes leave at either 7:30am or 2pm. This is because the Bolivian immigration office is closed in the afternoon for lunch. Our selected bus, Huayruro Tours only services the 7:30am time slot.
When we arrived at the bus station, I was excited to see that the bus looked much nicer than other bus companies that we considered taking. Once we boarded the bus, I was happy to see that the seats looked exactly like they did in the pictures.
Even though the 2nd floor was the more basic seats offered by Huayruro Tours, they were extremely nice. There was a leg rest which we have both come to love as it makes sitting in a seat much more comfortable. The most notable thing for us though was the amount of legroom. This was by far the most legroom that we have had on a bus to date. We were really able to stretch out which felt great.
Our bus was not overly full, but that was nice for us since the ride was nice and quiet. The passengers were primarily younger gringos like ourselves, but there were some people who looked local, as well as a few older couples.
The ride itself was really nice, with views of Lake Titicaca along the way. The road was nicely paved and was not too long at 3.75 hours including the border crossing.
Peruvian Exit Tax
We typically spend all of our local currency before we leave the country. This way we don’t have to deal with getting ripped off doing a currency exchange when we enter the next country. After our taxi ride to to the bus station, we were proud that we didn’t have 1 sol left to our name.
This was short lived as we learned that we had to pay a 1.5 sol or 45 cent per person exit tax. Andy tried to pay the woman with a US dollar but they only accepted sols. All of the currency exchanges in the market offered terrible rates – 2 sols to the dollar when the actual rate was 3.35 sols to the dollar. Fortunately Andy was able to ask some tourists if they would change him 3 sols for $1 and they did.
I wish that bus companies would tell you about the exit taxes so you knew that you needed to pay them and accounted to have the money needed.
Bolivian Visa Information
There is so much conflicting information about what you need to cross from Peru to Bolivia. Some forums say different amounts, others say that you need everything while others say they got in with just the money. I’m going to write about what you need as a US citizen which is extremely different than what people from other countries need.
After reading horror stories online about getting visas at the border, we decided to take some time during our stay in Cusco to get this taken care of. There were certainly more exciting things to do, but knowing that we would be able to cross the border was most important to us.
What we needed:
- Original and copy of our passports
- Original and copy of our yellow fever vaccination
- Copy of a credit card (I have also read that bank statements are sometimes used instead of this)
- Printout of hotel accommodations in Bolivia
- Proof of exit (our flight from Brazil to South Africa sufficed)
- $160 per visa transferred to the Bolivian Embassy’s bank account
There was no way that the consulate was going to give us a visa without all of these requirements, in fact there is a sign on the door that says if you don’t have everything, don’t even bother ringing the bell.
When the bus company was completing their passenger manifesto, they saw that we were American. Their faces went into shock and they asked hopefully if we had our visas. When we said that we did, there was an audible sigh of relief. This to me proves just how much more difficult it is for Americans to cross the border and how many issues they have likely had in the past with Americans getting stamped into Bolivia.
Before we could get stamped into Bolivia, we had to get stamped out of Peru. When the Peruvian agent who was controlling the line saw my US passport, he asked me if I had a visa for Bolivia. When I said that I did, he said something to the effect of “oh good”.
Exiting Peru took no time at all, I gave my passport along with my exit card to the customs agent. There were no questions asked, I was stamped and handed back my passport.
After we received our Peruvian exit stamp, we walked the 50 yards or so to the Bolivian customs office. The no man’s land between countries at border crossings always fascinate me because I wonder what country I am technically in at different parts of the walk.
Even though we had our visa, I was still a little anxious about the border crossing because I had read about it so much. The man who was checking paperwork when we were in line saw I was American and asked me if I had a visa. When I said that I did he said the same “oh good” line that I had heard in Peru.
When we boarded our bus, we had received our Bolivian paperwork. I filled this out so everything was completed when we arrived in Bolivia. There were others on our bus that for some unknown reason decided not to fill out the paperwork until they arrived which slowed down the bus from being able to depart earlier.
Once it was my turn to go to customs, I handed over my passport and entry paperwork. I was only asked 1 question, what my profession was, before I was stamped in. It was so much easier than I thought it would be which was a huge relief.
Bolivian Entry Tax
Before we reached the Bolivian border, the driver stopped at a currency exchange before the border. They encouraged everyone to get change because there was no chance once we hit the border. I had read online that these are a huge scam since the exchange rates are terrible and the driver gets a cut of the profits. Since we planned to go to an ATM to get Bolivianos once we arrived in Copacabana, we did not exchange any money.
Once we arrived in Copacabana, 2 men entered the bus and asked everyone for their 2 Boliviano entry tax. All we had at this point was US currency but they only accepted Bolivianos or Sols. It was basically a stand still with us offering $1 for a 30 cent tax. Fortunately, a couple next to us had an extra 2 sols and paid our tax. It was much appreciated as I am not sure what would have happened if they had not stepped in.
Ironically enough, people who changed out money at the currency exchange were unable to pay the small tax with their large Boliviano notes. It was quite comical since they actually did the due diligence of getting Bolivianos before the border crossing.
Something else we found interesting was that a few days later during our salt flat tour in Bolivia we had a conversation with a couple women that did that same route. They told us that during their trip, no one entered the bus to collect an entry fee. After our conversation we wondered if the entry fee was just another scam.
I can’t imagine how much of a pain it would have been to get my Bolivian visa, as a US citizen, at the border. There were places at the border where you could make photocopies, but some of the information needed, you can not just photocopy. For example your onward travel information or hotel accommodations are likely digital files but the border requires paper files. Had there been an issue at the border, I’m not sure if our bus would have waited, or if they would have just unloaded our bags and told us we were on our own for the 9 kilometer ride to Copacabana.
We liked our ride with Huayruro Tours so much that we used them to book our bus tickets to La Paz. This was a classic bait and switch. The bus does not continue on to La Paz so we were placed on a Diana Tours bus instead. The bus that we were on was quite old and nowhere near as luxurious as the Huayruro Tours bus. We briefly considered switching buses to a different company, but decided that we would stick it out since it was only a 4 hour ride.