More often than not, travel hubs are of special interest and joy for travelers, nowhere you can feel more a traveler than there. Moreover, they often are meeting places where cultures mix happily; maybe you’ll eat chuño – an Altiplano dehydrated potato – with chopsticks. Being a travel hub is the soul and essence of Puno, and as such, travel in the area is worth of a dedicated entry.
Alas, South America is not Asia. Simple things here get expensive, complicated and of low quality. Thus, arriving at the area with a clear idea how to travel is essential for surviving and enjoying a trip within the Lost (Stolen?) Inca Empire.
Nothing looks simpler than a train. Among the modern travel technologies this is the oldest one. A sturdy railway and a choo-choo iron rooster make the trick. Yet, in South America the few surviving railways are as expensive as the already overpriced local flights; the recently mentioned railway to Machu Picchu is a good example of that. In the case of Puno, the railway connecting it with Cusco runs on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday and costs a spectacular 220 American dollars. The mountainous sights cannot compete with that price.
Probably the best way of traveling around in the area is by bus. Puno is well connected in this aspect, providing transport to Cusco, Arequipa, Lima, Desaguadero and La Paz. If attempting to reach the last by bus, the best is to travel first to Desaguadero, crossing the immigration by foot, and then taking a fast minivan to La Paz. Otherwise, expect delays and luggage theft during the bus inspection. In any case, while at the border change money; at the destination cities the exchange rate is often worse. If not in a rush, once in Bolivia the best is stopping at Tiwanaku; the site is indirectly related to the Inca Empire and thus enriches the visit to the ruins of that kingdom. The other main option for crossing to the Bolivian side is through the Titicaca Lake is ferries connecting Puno with Copacabana; unless free of financial worries, this option is best avoided. If doing so, Copacabana is well worth of a visit and well connected with La Paz; it can be used also as a departure point to Sorata.
I often preach for local transport; yet, considering the special qualities of the area the best option for a bus to Cusco is a tourists’ bus. There are several companies offering those, the trips cost $25 and can be paid also in soles. As always, paying in local currency is advised. Most buses leave at 8 AM and arrive at 5 PM, allowing seeing all the attractions along the way during daylight. An additional advantage of the tourist buses is that they include a healthy buffet lunch. The main attractions along the way are from the colonial period, like the Andahuaylillas Church, from the Inca period, like the Wari ruins and pre-Inca remains, like Pukara. However, nothing compares to the awesome natural views along the way. They resemble very much the Bolivian high valleys – like Cochabamba and Sorata - deep narrow valleys with dramatic hills surrounding them. Here, however, they run all the way down to the Pacific Ocean, the barren, brownish high plateau turning into greenish high valleys which eventually end up in a different desert. However, much before the coastal desert Cusco appears. Next to it is the Lost City of Machu Picchu.