Last in a lengthy series about Bolivia…and first in a series about Peru!
After our boat from Isla del Sol got back to Copacabana around 5:00pm, we purchased tickets from the Titicaca company for our onward journey to Puno, Peru for the following morning. (Although many bus companies serve that route, most departures are in the afternoon, once buses arrive from La Paz. Our hotel told us that Titicaca was the only company offering morning departures.) I want to say the tickets were 30 Bolivianos/person (about $4.40) for the Copacabana to Puno route. The Titicaca staff told us to be there at 8:30am the following morning for a 9:00am departure.
Naturally, we were the only chumps who showed up that early. I stayed with our backpacks while Rachel went to find breakfast. After she returned we boarded a coach style bus that was in good condition, though evidently it hadn’t been cleaned in a while. The bus got underway at 9:08am (Bolivian time, UTC-4). It only took about 20 minutes to reach the Bolivia-Peru border at Kasani. The crossing went smoothly. We disembarked from the bus and headed into the Bolivian control office. We surrendered the green slip of paper that we’d received upon our arrival at El Alto and had our passports stamped.
The border crossing was bustling with locals crossing in each direction. We crossed the border on foot and then looked for the Peruvian passport office, which was a bit harder to find because there were a lot more buildings on the Peruvian side. Finally I spotted the building labeled “CONTROL MIGRATORIO”. After a short wait, we had our passports stamped and received a new slip of paper that we’d surrender departing the country. We were back on the bus and on our way in less than 15 minutes. A European woman in our group said we were lucky, since it had taken her two hours to make the crossing going the opposite direction!
Considering the close historical and geographical ties between Bolivia and Peru, there didn’t seem to be too many differences noticeable immediately after crossing the border. Actually, the only thing that jumped out at us right away was the proliferation of three wheeled mini-taxis in Peru. Here are some other rather minor differences we noticed:
- Hillsides near towns in Peru seem to always have words or symbols spelled out, probably with small stones; we only saw this once in Bolivia
- Peruvian cabbies wear their seatbelts and their cabs actually have functional ones for their passengers
- Peru has plenty of female police officers, but we didn’t see any in Bolivia
- Sorry Bolivia, but the food was generally better in Peru, lack of delicious salteñas notwithstanding
- Peru Time (UTC-5) is an hour behind Bolivan Time (UTC-4)
After clearing the border congestion, the bus passed through Yunguyo, Peru. As you may recall, this is the town where the Inca reportedly exiled the residents of Isla del Sol after their conquest. The bus continued west along Lake Titicaca, providing plenty of spectacular views. I was surprised to see flamingos in the marshes lining the lake. Peru has three species, but these were probably the most common, Chilean flamingos.
Rolling hills surround the lake and its marshy environs. Quite a few of these hills were sculpted by ancient, long abandoned agricultural terraces. In some places there were stone walls that I suppose also belong to ancient ruins. Still to come (and probably the scenic highlight of the journey) was an area filled with red rocky crags.
Around 9:45am (Peruvian Time, UTC-5) we passed the next major town on our route. Juli was an important town in Inca as well as colonial times. In his book Lake Titicaca: Legend, Myth and Science, Charles Stanish describes Juli:
“Farther along the lake to the south is a beautiful little town called Juli. Juli is sometimes called Little Rome of the Alitplano, due to the magnificent churches that can still be seen in the town. In face, Juli was the political center of early colonial life in the Titicaca region. […] Archaeological evidence indicates that it was a major Inca period settlement, reaching about 20 hectares in size […] It was most likely a major pottery-making center and possibly a brewing factory as well.”
After Juli the road headed somewhat inland, temporarily leaving the lake as it continued northwest towards Puno. Not long after leaving Juli, we entered an area characterized by beautiful reddish rock crags.
While processing my photos recently, I noticed a notation on Google Maps along our route of travel labeled Aramu-Muru. Surprisingly, I actually did have a photo of the site, an Incan carving into a rock wall. I don’t believe I noticed the carving at the time, since it’s at the edge of the frame, Most likely, I was photographing the red rock walls and happened to catch it by mistake. Of course, the ancients may have been taken with the natural beauty of the area when choosing where to carve, so it may not be coincidence that I pointed my camera that direction.
According to Charles Stanish, Aramu Muru is a New Age name for what is “known in the scientific literature as Altarani”. With clear disdain, Stanish discusses the outlandish New Age claims about the site being an “inter-dimensional gateway” and “vortex”. Stanish continues:
“Scholars have a more prosaic but equally fascinating interpretation of Altarani. This huge carving in a rock outcrop is made in classic Titicaca regional style, reminiscent of iconography on the Island of the Moon and at the Inca Uyu in Chucuito. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the Altarani carving is that it is not finished. […] Given its association with Inca carved stones in the region, plus other evidence, scholars see the carving of Altarani as an example of a common ritual practice among the Inca. The fact that the style of carving is a fusion of Inca and local Titicaca regional canons, and that it was in the semi-allied territory of the Lupaqas [an Aymara kingdom], strongly suggests that this was a locally inspired ritual area conducted with the Inca Empire’s knowledge and consent, if not outright direction.”
The land of red rocks gave way to dry hills and fields with relatively sparse human habitation.
Not far from our destination, we returned to the shore of Lake Titicaca. Just after 11:00am we caught our first glimpse of Puno, a sizeable city sitting on the edge of the lake with dominant green hills looming above. We arrived at Puno’s bus terminal around 11:15am and caught a taxi to our hotel. Our Bolivian adventure was over, but we’d only had a brief taste of the wonders that Peru would offer.
Date: Sunday, August 16, 2015
Distance: About 143 km (88.6 mi) by road
Cost per mile: $0.05/mile
Duration: About 3 hours, 7 minutes including border crossing
Series on Bolivia
Planning a Trip to Bolivia and Peru (introduction)
Scenic Tour of Lake Titicaca: Copacabana, Bolivia to Puno, Peru by Bus