Peru-Bolivia’s Desaguadero Border Crossing Made Easy

A guide for getting to Puno to La Paz fast – and without a hitch

Considering flying from Lima to La Paz, but put off by expensive flights? Bit nervy about doing the border crossing on your way across up from Arequipa or down from the Uyuni salt flats, and searching for information?

Look no further.

Crossing the Peru-Bolivia border at Desaguadero is simple and completely legit.

It’s less scenic than the alternative crossing at Copacabana, but if you’re in a hurry you can get from Puno to La Paz in just over five hours.

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 17.38.24

Here’s my account.

Flying into Juliaca

I flew from Lima to Juliaca to save cash. International flights tend to work out about double for La Paz.

LAN or Avianca airlines fly in total about six times daily.

On getting into Juliaca’s Inca Manco Capac airport, I pre-organized a shuttle bus to Puno which waits outside the tiny arrivals hall. It cost S/.15 and I did it through Rossy Tours travel agency (tel.: 051/366-709). Puno is 45 miles (28 kilometres away) and takes 40 mins to arrive. You can take combis for less, though these will go via the centre of Juliaca and will take longer.

Don’t spend the night in Juliaca. It’s a god foresaken place, dirty, potholed, seedy.

Spend the night in Puno, safer, friendlier, and much more of a tourist destination.

Puno – Desaguadero 

The next morning, take a taxi (no more than 5 soles) to the Terminal Zonal. Be careful not to go to the Terminal Terrestre, which does longer domestic journeys to Arequipa, Cusco, Tacna.

Outside of the smaller terminal, which sits just off of Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake (at 3,800 metres altitude), you have two options.

lake t

1. Go by minibus. They carry about 15 people will cost about 10 soles. But they leave less often (waiting until all seats are occupied), are slower and far less comfortable.

2. Take a taxi with three other passengers. This works out at 20 soles, and takes on average two-and-a-half hours.

You won’t get stopped for customs or passport checks on the Peruvian side of the border. On the Bolivian side, it’s more likely.

houses

At Desaguadero

After taking this route round Lake Titicaca, you arrive to the border town of Desaguadero. It’s like all border towns, shabby, full of merchandise, and a bit dodgy.

Still, there are border police on hand and nothing will happen to you.

First, go to Peruvian immigration, a small hall with four officials behind counters. Present your Andean Migration card, which you will have filled when you entered Peruvian territory. If you’re within your allotted time (typically 183 days on a tourist visa; given on entry at the immigration official’s discretion) your passport will be stamped once more, you cede the card, and you leave.

Easy peasy.

desag
Arriving into Desaguadero. Immigration hall to left.

Exchanging soles for bolivianos

Next, change your Peruvian soles to Bolivia’s bolivianos.

The rates are good (exchanging soles for bolivianos

in mid-October 2015, 1 sol = 2.4 bolivianos; on return you get 1 sol for 2.5 bolivianos)

Spot rate was 1 sol = 2.35 bob, 15 October 2014.

It’s legit and do it on the Peruvian side. Don’t haggle; they won’t budge. There are more police and ultimately more cambiastas – women sat on stools with wooden boxes for their change.

cambi

Now walk over the bridge connecting the two sides of Desaguadero, adding an extra hour for time difference.

They’ll be various walking salespeople selling all manner of things, from food to key rings to coca leaves.

DCIM101GOPRO

Bolivia immigration

Walk into Bolivia, take selfie with “Bienvenidos a Bolivia” sign, then walk to the left side of a big building in the middle of the street. That’s the immigration hall.

They’ll usually be a queue and it will be slower on the Bolivian side. At busy times it could take an hour, on faster days 20 mins.

Before getting in line, walk to a first booth inside the building to the left to get your immigration card for Bolivia to fill in. You don’t need to queue to get this part and will just waste time.

With the card join the back of the queue, and fill it in as you’re snailing along. For Brits (I’m a brit) and most nationalities it’s free and you get 3 months max on a tourist visa. Americans will have to pay and Israelis now need a visa, as of July 2014.

After that you’re done.

donk

On to La Paz

Walk 50 yards to where you’ll have the same choice – taxi vs. minibus. Take the taxi – it’ll be even cheaper – 30 bolivianos versus about 8-15 on the minibus.

Again taxers are faster, safer and more nimble if you hit frequent, crippling traffic jams. You’ll know because your driver will curse and mumble about ‘atrancado’ (being stuck).

From Desaguadero the taxi takes less time than the one to Puno. As little as an hour and ten if you’re lucky, up to 2 and a half if you’re not.

Delays will occur once you hit El Alto, the world’s highest city (containing more than people 100,000) at 4,050 metres above sea level.

You’ll realise that’s a good pub quiz fact.

snow
Snow-capped mountains on horizon

Day considerations

If you arrive on Thursday and Sunday it will take longer as these are market days. There are loads of vehicles and blocked of streets and diversions.

It’s not the end of the world, it will just take longer.

In my case, despite promises to be taken to La Paz’s general cementery (cementerio general) my taxi driver gave up and I had to walk away from the jam to take a taxi to downtown La Paz.

In that case walk away from the blockage and ask for the Plaza San Francisco, La Paz’s centre. Many backpackers hostels are 5-10 mins walk away.

la paz
View over La Paz

Reverse trip: La Paz to Puno

Take a taxi to the ‘cementerio general’ and ask for the ‘paradero Desaguadero”. Practically all taxi drivers should know where this is. From the Plaza San Francisco, don’t pay more than 15 bolivianos.

In my case when I arrived there were only the white 15-person minibuses, so I told my driver to take me to the taxis. He wasn’t sure but knew where to go in El Alto.

We climbed up from La Paz, which sits in a bit of an egg cup at 3,600 metres to El Alto at about 4,050 metres. Taxi drivers are master improvisers, knowing a diversion if you hit more inexplicable traffic.

After arriving in the ‘desaguadero paradero’ in El Alto, I don’t know the address, but confide in your driver, he or she [almost never] I had to pay 70 bolivianos, so I got a bit stung. My driver wasn’t out to con me, I just hadn’t realized the trip would rise to 70 bolivianos.

From there I found the taxi cabs, agreed 30 bolivianos, and took a seat waiting for the cab to fill. They will never go until full, and some drivers insist someone sit in the boot (trunk), facing the rear. These cars are station wagons. Don’t sit in the boot.

el alto

Then there’s another 90 minute drive. You may get stopped close to the border. Showing your passport should be enough and registering your name. They rarely search you.

I can’t see how Bolivians officials could find a pretext so that you have to pay a commission (bribe). Obviously judge it as it is, but I’d vehemently refuse unless it was clear for the sake of a few dollars, you don’t want the hassle. I don’t know anyone that this happened to.

Go straight to Bolivian immigration with the immigration slip of paper you had stamped and filled out on the way in.

There is no exit tax (at least not for Brits), cross the bridge, and go to Peru’s immigration hall. Get a card, fill it out, and put yourself in line. Wind your clock an hour back. The whole process took 5 mins at 10am on a Tuesday morning.

DCIM101GOPRO
Peruvian side in background on Desaguadero border bridge.

Desaguadero to Puno

Bear right and you should encounter various taxi drivers chatting. If you’re gringo they’ll seek you out and be shouting Puno. You won’t have to look far. It costs 20 soles again and you have to wait until full. I had a great ceviche from one of the stalls by the way for 6 soles.

Then it’s about two-and-a-half hours to Puno.

vil

Finally to Juliaca

To get to the airport in Juliaca, I organized a minibus through the same Rossy tour company for 15 soles. That’s not a direct endorsement. They were just a number I was given. That journey takes 45 mins to an hour.

Don’t fret if you arrive even an hour before schedule take-off. It’s a domestic airport, and it took me all of 10 mins to get through.

And there you have. Relatively stress free and having made some big savings.

back1

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “Peru-Bolivia’s Desaguadero Border Crossing Made Easy

  1. We are 5 people wanting to get to Cusco overland from LaPaz on December 30, leaving early in morning and hopefully arrive in Cusco that same day, though late in evening I imagine.
    What is best way? To Desagerdero?

  2. I’ve been through Desaguadero twice in 2015 and will be heading back shortly. This is an excellent write-up. The only thing I would add is that you can take an over-the-road through bus that will take you from Puno to La Paz without having to ride in the “boot” or be crowded.” You still have to walk across the bridge, but the bus will be waiting for you when you get done at immigrations. Also, I’m a US citizen and although you can purchase a visa at desaguadero, it’s very simple and more relaxing to do so at the Bolivian consulate in Puno. This will make your border crossing much simpler and easier and stress-free. I obtained mine at the consulate in Puno and it only took an hour or so. As of right now, it costs $160 but it is also good for 90 days a year every year for 10 years without having to pay again.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s