European citizens do not need a visa to enter Bolivia from Peru and are usually granted a 90-day tourist stay without hassle, however Americans must purchase a visa in advance through a Bolivian Embassy or Consulate or at the border for $140 (must have cash, passport photos, and a yellow fever certificate). Canadians, Australians, and New Zealanders are usually issued 30-days. If you simply need to get your passport re-stamped, you can cross the border and come back the next day for a new 90-day stamp. This is much easier than going to an immigration office in Peru. Reports of thefts and light scams by border officials are not uncommon, so keep an eye on your belongings and a good head about you and you should be fine. The border is open from 8am – 6pm. Note that Bolivian time is one hour ahead of Peruvian time.
There are two routes to take to get to Bolivia overland from Peru:
Via Yungayo – On this south shore route you can catch one of the many small, crowded colectivos that depart frequently from Terminal Zonal, on Av. Simon Bolivar near Carabaya. Look for the buses that say Yungayo (2.5 hours). From the border there is frequent transportation to the Bolivian resort town of Copacabana (10 km, $1). There aren’t Brazilian girls in thong bikinis there, however, the town has a many quaint hotels and hip restaurants and bars. Half-day tours go to the Isla del Sol (the site of the birthplace of Manco Capac, the first Inca, and of the sun itself). Alternatively, you can book a Pullman bus from one of the many companies in Puno that continue on to Copacabana and La Paz (most leave at 8am). The border is generally smooth and well run, although when all the tour buses come through at once, it can be fairly crowded. There are money-changing facilities at the border. For much of the past few years, sporadic strikes have closed the border, so be sure to check ahead.
Via the North Shore – This is route is rarely done by tourists and is best done from Juliaca. You must get a Peruvian exit stamp in Puno, predated by three days. You will have to take many small, crowded, uncomfortable buses and changing in several small towns for this to work. Likely staying overnight in very rustic accommodations. Hitchhiking may be necessary. As bad as it may sound, if you have the time and tolerance, you will see some of the most unspoiled towns of the Peruvian altiplano and spectacular scenery that rarely a gringo has set his eyes upon. Once in Bolivia, however, the journey continues like this to get to any major town such as Copacabana. Good luck.
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.