If you’re heading to Lake Titicaca after visiting Cusco, the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu, there are several ways to get there. I decided to take the turistic bus Inka Express and I’m really glad that I did. Let me explain why. It was the cheapest option; however, what I really enjoyed was the all day tour that I got out of it seeing some really incredible sites. Oh, and I just happened to be transported from Cusco to Puno in addition.
The only people on these busses are tourists, who like me, are interested in visiting Lake Titicaca – the largest lake in South America, which straddles southeastern Peru and western Bolivia. The bus ride runs from 50 to 70 USD depending on the company you select. There are others besides the one that I took. In addition to getting to Puno, the Peruvian city, which borders the lake, the bus stops at about five incredible sites and includes lunch along the way. The ten-hour trip is very manageable with all the stops you make. You literally feel like you’re on an all-day tour. I chose Inka Express, which I booked through Responsible Travel just a few days prior when I was in Cusco. The cost was 65 USD. The bus departed Cusco at 7 am sharp and pulled into the bus station in Puno at 5 pm – just like they said they would.
In order to make the trip more impactful, the bus company includes a knowledgeable tour guide that leads you through the sites and also provides information about the local area when riding on the bus. The bus was clean and comfortable. They even served refreshments a couple of times during the trip.
Here’s a recap of the sites we visited along the way.
The Church of San Pedro Apostol in Andahuaylillas, about 25 miles south of Cusco, was the first stop of our journey. Built in 1580, it’s known as the Sistine Chapel of the Americas because of the elaborate frescos that adorn its walls. The outside has a humble look; however, inside there are exquisite Baroque paintings. The altar and woodcarvings are beautifully covered in gold leaf. We were prevented from taking photos inside. Darn.
Ten miles further down the road is the Church of San Juan Batista, built by the Jesuits in the 16th century, in the town of Huaro. Starting in the late 1600s, artists were commissioned to paint murals. Over time, compositions were painted one on top of the other. In 1802, Tadio Escalante, an artist of both Incan and European descent, painted scenes from both the Old and New Testament that cover over 900 square meters of the walls and ceilings. I just loved looking at his interpretation of the biblical scenes. Again, no photos inside. Double darn.
About 70 miles from Cuzco, we arrived at the Temple of Wiracocha or Raqchi. It is an Inca archaeological site that was built in the 15th century where much of the center wall still stands. Next to the temple is a residential area where the Inca nobles lived.
This was the location of our lunch stop. I was disappointed it was mostly a “gringo” lunch – one that tries to cater to everyone’s taste buds. The food was mediocre and not very hot. They missed a great opportunity to showcase the incredible food I came to enjoy in the country.
This is the highest point on the road between Cusco and Puno. The bus stops for 10 to 15 minutes for some very scenic photo opportunities. The La Raya Mountains are in the Andes and include peaks that are in the 17K to 18K foot elevation range. There are a number of merchants selling locally made clothing (meant to keep you warm) and artisan crafted products. The scenery here is beautiful. If timing is right, you can catch the Cusco/Puno train in the foreground of your scenic photos.
A museum showing archaeological artifacts from the past 1,500 years that were found in the local area. Very impressive.
There are a couple of other options for getting to Puno from Cusco
The train takes the same amount of time – ten hours – but doesn’t make the sightseeing stops that the bus does. From Cusco to Puno, at the time of writing, the one-way cost was 260 USD – a lot more expensive than the bus. The train, according to Perurail.com, includes a gourmet lunch, entertainment, afternoon tea, a fashion show of typical clothing and unlimited tea and water. The train tracks and the road follow the same route so you pretty much see the same scenery enroute as the bus does. The cost of the train from Puno to Cusco is much less at 156 USD one-way. The rail information person I spoke to in Lima indicated the Cusco to Puno route is more popular and hence costs more than the reverse trip. Note that the train only operates this route three to four times per week. Departure, in both directions is at 8 am with arrival at 6 pm at both ends.
There are flights from Cuzco to Juliaca on LAN Airlines. The current cost of a one-way ticket is $159. It’s cheaper than the train; however, note that the airport is in Juliaca, which is about a 45-minute ride to Puno so you will need to take a taxi or shuttle to complete your journey.
I thoroughly enjoyed the day. I saw some incredible sites (two churches built in the 16th century both of which had beautiful frescos painted on the walls and ceiling, another Incan archaeological site and some very picturesque scenery at the mountain pass). The tour guide provided some great information. I had a nice comfortable ride and met some really nice fellow tourists from other countries along the way. I will probably do the same the next time I make this trip.
The bus also makes the same run and itinerary in reverse – from Puno to Cusco. You can get more information about this trip on Inka Express.