This South American border crossing is the primary link between Peru and Bolivia, but it’s not the only one. The border crossing at Copacabana, Bolivia, for example, is small and relaxed. In contrast, the Desaguadero border is a dirty, busy place that’s open 24 hours on both sides. However, if you cross at Desaguadero you get a more direct route to La Paz, passing right by Bolivia’s most famous archaeological site, Tiwanaku, and you don’t need to take the ferry that connects Copacabana to La Paz. Here’s how the border between Peru and Bolivia at Desaguadero goes.
From: Desaguadero, Peru
To: Desaguadero, Bolivia
Date: January 4, 2018
Lay of the land: On the north end of town, on the edge of Lake Titikaka, is the old bridge which is used by individuals and passenger cars so there is very little vehicular traffic. On the south end of town is a newer crossing for the many, many cargo trucks bringing commercial goods into landlocked Bolivia. Immigration and customs facilities are adjacent to each other on both sides of the border, which is separated by a small bridge that crosses the small Desaguadero River as it enters Lake Titikaka. The facilities are old (the computer system went down while our truck paperwork was being processed on the Bolivia side) and cramped, but they eventually get the job done.
Elapsed time: 11:45 am to 2:10 pm (2 hours and 35 minutes)
Number of days given: Though you and your vehicle can stay in Bolivia for up to 90 days in any calendar year, they dole out those days in 30 day blocks which means every 30 days you have to visit an immigration office to renew your entry permit and an aduana (customs) office to renew the temporary importation permit for your vehicle. Though sometimes you get lucky. When we crossed the border at Copacabana the customs official there asked us how long we’d like and gave us 90 days on the spot.
Fees: There were no border fees, though there was a 5 soles (US$1.50) fee to drive over the short bridge that connects the Peru side to the Bolivia side. Note that citizens of some countries (including the US) must get a complicated and costly visa.
Vehicle insurance needed: Bolivia requires that all drivers have SOAT insurance, though it’s often not sold at borders (including this one) which requires a visit to a SOAT office after entry.
Where to fill up: Fuel in Bolivia is cheap for locals but expensive for foreign drivers unless you can find a station worker willing to sell you fuel “sin factura” at a price somewhere between the two. If you don’t want to pay the high foreigner price for fuel or play the haggling game with station attendants, then fill up in Peru. On the Peru side, fuel prices are higher than the Peruvian average until you get east of Puno, about 100 miles (160 km) away, or until you get down near the coast at least 240 miles (385 km) south of the border.
Need to know: This border crossing is at 12,556 feet (3,827 meters) so be prepared for the high altitude. If you’re coming from Cuzco or Puno you will probably already be acclimatized. However, if you are coming from Lima or the coast, beware. In a mere 100 miles (160 km) the highway takes you from sea level to well over 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) and then slightly down to this border. The towns of Desaguadero on both sides of the border are dirty and unappealing so don’t plan to stay there unless you absolutely have to. If you must stay a night on the Peru side of this border, we can recommend Hostal el Sol which is a few minutes out of the fray at the border. For US$16 we got a private matrimonial room with private bathroom with hot water, Wi-Fi, a flat TV, and a shockingly high degree of cleanliness.
Cargo trucks cross at their own facilities, so this border is only for buses and individuals which makes it a bit less hectic. When leaving Peru you must show the receipt you got when you entered, so don’t lose that. There are plenty of money changers on both sides of this border. Also, during certain times of the year you lose an hour going from Peru to Bolivia (or gain an hour in the other direction), so check the time. Another interesting note: no one ever cross-checked the VIN # on our truck to make sure it matched our documents nor did anyone ever inspect the truck. That’s a first.
Overall border rating: Dirty, but efficient
Here’s more about travel in Peru
Here’s more about travel in Bolivia