Crossing Lake Titicaca from Puno to La Paz
The majestic Titicaca Lake has always been one of the most popular options to add a detour to Bolivia after a stay in Peru. The long awaited reopening of the Peruvian/Bolivian border was announced in March 2022. Thanks to the gradual return of travelers, the providers of the options below have been able to resume their operations. There are different options for crossing Lake Titicaca from Puno to La Paz to choose from. From hydrofoils, to catamarans, from boats to busses, the possibilities are extensive. Which one is the best? Well, it depends on your preferences and budget. Based on our inspection trips we have summarized the upsides and downsides of each option below.
What do the catamaran, hydrofoil and boat excursions have in common?
- All are full-day tours and include a stop in Copacabana to visit the colonial church and its famous dark virgin
- From Puno to the border (Kasani) the transfer is with a Peruvian vehicle and driver.
- From Kasani you will change vehicle and continue by bus to Copacabana (for approximately 10 km /6.2 miles)
- Regardless of which option you choose, a visit to Sun Island is included
- After the visits on Lake Titicaca the trip continues by road to La Paz.
The main difference between the three options above is how they reach the Sun Island from Copacabana, either by hydrofoil, catamaran or boat.
To give you an idea of the pricing, these are the current approximate prices for each excursion:
- By Catamaran – approx. 385 USD per peson (on the basis of 2 pax)
- By Hydrofoil – approx. 382 USD per person (on the basis of 2 pax)
- By local boat – approx. 431 USD per person with a private guide (on the basis of 2 pax)
What To See on Sun Island?
According to the Bolivian legend, it was on Sun Island where the Inca couple Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo emerged from the lake to establish the Empire of the Sun. Regardless of which of the three options above you pick, you’ll see the Inca steps and the sacred fountain on the island. Keep in mind though, that these might not really be overwhelming after visiting the major archaeological sites in Peru.
What is really impressive here is the feeling the endless blue of the lake and the sky along with the imposing snow-capped Royal Mountain Range evoke. There are no vehicles on Sun Island. What you rather experience here is authentic rural life, a connection to nature, and mindful moments.
Travelers booking a catamaran day trip get access to the Inti Wata Cultural Complex. Rather than a building, the complex is an outdoor area where you can find the different crops and medicinal herbs grown on the island.
The underground Ekako Museum, although tiny, boasts some archaeological artifacts unearthed on the island and a colorful collection of elaborate costumes you would normally only see at the Oruro Carnival (one of the largest in the world).
You will have the option to attend an outdoor ‘Kallawaya’ session and to understand the relevance and evolution of ancestral medical techniques dating back to pre-Inca times. Kallawayas are healers treating patients using traditional medicinal knowledge and local herbs. This knowledge, transmitted only within practitioner families and between males, has been recognized by UNESCO as part of Bolivia’s intangible cultural heritage.
If you are a big fan of Andean camelids such as llamas or alpacas keep your camera ready when visiting the Inti Wata Center (we took the hero picture featuring a llama, there ;-)).
The absolute highlight for us was the unique sailing experience aboard a huge traditional reed vessel for panoramic views of the Pilcocaina archaeological site.
- The catamaran offers a nice deck area to enjoy the sun and lake views. You can walk around and see the lake from different perspectives while you travel to Sun Island.
- The exclusive visit to the Inti Wata cultural complex
- The panoramic visit to Pilcoaina Sun Temple aboard a huge reed vessel
- There are daily departures from two persons (in English or Spanish)
- Lunch is served on board the catamaran. Due to the the lacking infrastructure on the catamaran, the meal is rather basic.
- There is no stop at Moon Island included.
- This excursion is only available as a shared excursion (English/Spanish)
This is the only option that includes a visit to the tiny Moon Island (in addition to the visit to Sun Island). Moon Island boasts the ‘Inak Uyu’ virgin’s temple – considered one of the lake’s most important archaeological sites.
A delicious lunch is served at the small and cozy Uma Kollu restaurant on Sun Island. The dining room indoors features an authentic Inca terrace, but most travelers prefer dining al fresco to enjoy the splendid lake views.
After the visit to both islands, a stop is made at Huatajata to explore the ‘Andean Roots’ cultural village. The biggest highlight of this visit is to meet the Limachi brothers, the builders of the ‘Ra II’ and the ‘Tigris’ reed boats for Thor Heyerdahl’s famous expeditions.
- The hydrofoil is the fastest way to cross the lake.
- A freshly prepared lunch with local ingredients at Uma Kollu is a real highlight featuring amazing lake views.
- This excursion is the only one that includes a stop at Moon Island and Huatajata.
- The hydrofoils used for this excursion are rather old and have no decks so you can’t enjoy the sun and the lake views.
- This excursion is only available as a shared excursion (English/Spanish).
- The tour departs daily, but requires two travelers to run.
By Local Boat
With this option, you board a regular motor boat to Sun Island upon arriving in Copacabana. There are two possibilities for lunch, depending on the availability of the restaurant in Copacabana and/or your preference. Either you enjoy lunch at the seaside Rosario hotel in Copacabana or you will have lunch on Sun Island.
Lunch on Sun Island is served in ‘apthapi’ style, a traditional Andean lunch, where different families of the island bring different types of meals, and everyone can taste different flavours. On Sun Island you will visit the Pilcocaina Temple, the best-preserved Inca archaeological site on the island.
Local Boat Upsides
- Land transfers are arranged with a private vehicle allowing more flexibility.
- The exploration on Sun Island with your own guide and in your preferred language allows a personalized/more intimate experience.
- This is a relevant aspect considering the altitude at Sun Island (3,800m/12,500 ft).
- There are daily departures from one person.
Local Boat Downsides
- There is no stop at Moon Island included.
The final and most affordable way you can get from Puno to La Paz is by bus. Tickets cost around 20-25 USD. It takes around 7-8 hours, and will therefore not save you much more time than taking a full day tour. Most importantly though, you won’t have an opportunity to stretch your legs and you wont have the chance to enjoy the can’t-miss lake views.
Entry Formalities at the Border
Whether you take one of the excursions crossing Lake Titicaca above or the bus, you will need to change vehicles at the border between Peru and Bolivia. During the border crossing at Kasani, you need to present your passport before boarding the next bus.
Make sure your passport is valid for at least 6 more months upon entry in Bolivia. You will also need to fill out a TAM immigration card which you receive at the border. Depending on your home country, you might need a visa, so make sure to check with your local embassy before arrival.
Due to the ongoing pandemic, travelers also need to present either proof of complete vaccination OR a negative result to an antigen test OR a negative result to a PCR test.
All Things Altitude
- Puno: 3, 827 m (12,555 ft)
- Copacabana : 3, 841 m (12,601 ft)
- Sun Island: 3,800 m (12,467 ft)
- La Paz: 3, 625 m (11,893 ft)
We recommend spending one or two days at high altitude before crossing Lake Titicaca and visiting Sun Island. There are only footpaths on Sun Island, therefore visitors should possess a reasonable degree of fitness is for exploring the island. The excursions mentioned above are not recommendable for the less mobile, as there are no motorized vehicles permitted on the island, and a decent amount of walking is required. The sun rays are extra strong at high altitude, so don’t forget to pack sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat!
Are you considering to spend some time in Puno before crossing Lake Titicaca to La Paz? Check out our article Are Lake Titicaca & Puno Worth Visiting? for everything you need to know!