How to Get to Lake Titicaca!
Welcome to the famous floating islands of Lake Titicaca! Set in south-eastern Peru, the lake is actually on the border of Peru and Bolivia ~ so technically it sits right between both countries! Since it’s a little off-the-beaten path, this post is going to explain how to get to Lake Titicaca from two of Peru’s most popular cities: Cusco, the gateway to Machu Picchu, & the beautiful colonial city, Arequipa.
At 12,507 feet, Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world ~ which means that the sun is incredibly strong! Sunscreen and a hat are absolute MUSTS at this altitude. And if you try hiking at this elevation (which you’ll likely be doing if you visit the islands on Lake Titicaca), you may be sucking some serious wind: the altitude here is no joke.
***Make sure to scroll to the end of this article & watch my video on Lake Titicaca ~ which has over 30,000 views on YouTube!
Lake Titicaca Info
- Where: Lake Titicaca, Southern Peru/border of Bolivia
- Altitude: 12,500 feet
- Cost: $45-150+ (varies by tour company & transport used)
- When I Visited: January 2016
- Indigenous Culture: Uros
- Languages Spoken: Peruvian & Quechua (some English)
- Nearest City: Puno, Peru
- Frequent Tours From: Cusco & Arequipa, Peru
- Best Way to Get There: By bus ~ 8 hours from Cusco, 6 hours from Arequipa
- Fun Fact: Highest navigable lake in the world!
- #1 Tip = Wear Sunscreen & Hat!!! High Elevation = Crazy sunburn
Map of Peru!
On the map below, I’ve highlighted the places you’ll most likely visit as a tourist, before your journey to Lake Titicaca. The International Airport in Lima is marked, Cusco, Arequipa, & finally Puno, which is on the shores of Lake Titicaca. Understanding this map & the distances between destinations will help you better determine how to get to Lake Titicaca with the most ease.
How to Get to Lake Titicaca
It’s easiest to visit Lake Titicaca by bus either from Arequipa or Cusco. Your destination will be Puno, Peru ~ the closest city to Lake Titicaca. I don’t recommend flying into Puno or taking a train, as there are very few options for either. Taking a bus is your best bet. You have a wide range of options when it comes to buses: from high-end tourist buses to cheaper, more local options. I took a high-end, overnight tourist bus from Cusco to Puno, and a cheaper, local bus on the return trip to Cusco. Both were similar as far as comfort, with reclining seats & large picture windows with great views. The main difference is time: the tourist bus was direct (8 hours), while the cheaper option made several stops, putting the journey around 10 hours.
Bus Options to Puno, Peru (aka Lake Titicaca) ~ If you want to purchase your bus tickets online, here are some options: Inka Express Bus, Cruz del Sur (I took this bus), Turismo Mer, and Wonder Peru Tourist Bus. If you want a cheaper, more local option ~ I’d suggest buying directly at the bus station. Cusco to Puno & Arequipa to Puno are popular routes, and you’ll have plenty of options.
GWTW Tip: DON’T take a bus straight from Lima to Puno! It will take a minimum of 19 hours, & unless you’re a masochist, this isn’t a good start to your Peru trip. Head to Nasca, Machu Picchu (via Cusco), or Arequipa first ~ then make your way to Lake Titicaca from there.
Bus Route from Cusco to Puno
How to Get to Lake Titicaca from Cusco
I took an overnight bus from Cusco to Puno, which lasted about 8 hours. It left at 10PM and arrived just after 6AM, at the Puno Bus Station. You store large pieces of luggage in the undercarriage of the bus, & keep your backpacks & purses (or any valuables) with you on the bus. The journey felt quite routine and safe. I made this particular trip solo with no issues, along with plenty of other tourists. The seats recline & I was able to sleep most of the journey, as did most passengers. Overall, the ride was quiet & uneventful.
You can buy bus tickets on your own ($15-30+), or as part of a package deal, which includes accommodation & meals on the floating islands. The nice thing about purchasing a package is that someone will be waiting for you at the Puno Bus Station with a sign, & they’ll escort you to your boat. At 6AM when you’re groggy, this is definitely a plus. A package deal on the floating islands costs approximately $150 for three days (the nicer the bus ~ the more expensive).
Bus Route from Arequipa to Puno
Where to Buy Lake Titicaca Tours
I purchased my Lake Titicaca package from a tour operator in Cusco’s main square ~ Plaza de Armas. Several tour companies are situated right around the main square, near restaurants like Mama Africa & Papacho’s. Most companies sell similar packages at similar prices ~ so shop around if you want, but the prices probably won’t vary much. They’ll provide you bus tickets & arrange for someone to pick you up at the Puno Bus Station. All of the same applies in Arequipa.
You can also book your tour online through companies such as Titicaca Tour, All Ways Travel, and Titicaca For You. When deciding how to get to Lake Titicaca, you have no shortage of options. The main thing you’ll need to decide is whether to book a short tour (half-day), or whether you’d like to actually spend the night (or nights) on one of the floating islands, typically Taquile or Amantani.
GWTW Tip: If you have the time & money, I highly recommend that you spend the night on one of the islands, with an indigenous family. You’ll be staying in their home, typically in your own room, & eating meals with them. The bathrooms and homes aren’t what you’re used to ~ but the experience & people you meet are so kind & welcoming. There is nowhere in the world quite like this place.
What To Bring?
Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen!!! I can’t emphasize this enough. Without it, you’ll get absolutely scorched at this altitude. Coming off an impromptu horseback ride in Cusco the day before my Titicaca trip, my face and shoulders were already badly burned. So I purchased a big, floppy hat at the docks of Lake Titicaca & slathered on large amounts of sunscreen (the sun reflects off the lake water, increasing your chances of burning). In doing this, I managed to mitigate some damage.
One more thing you’ll need: CASH. If you want to purchase beautiful, hand-crafted items from the Uros peoples of the islands, you’ll need to bring cash ~ there are no credit card machines on the floating islands! Many host families sell small goods & warm items such as mittens & knit hats for the cool nights. Though the days are warm, I’d bring a nice warm sweatshirt or jacket for the cooler evenings. Peruvians are known for their beautiful & colorful knits, which will keep you warm at elevation ~ so leave some room in your bag!
Until Next Time…..
If you’re new to travel in Peru, I hope this post has helped you best determine how to get to Lake Titicaca. If you’ve already traveled to Peru, have you been to Lake Titicaca? How did you get to the floating islands, & did you stay overnight with a family? Tell me about it in the comments below ~ I love hearing other travel stories! And if you haven’t been, take a look at the video below to see what the floating islands of Lake Titicaca are all about!
Read Next: Top 10 Tips for Traveling Peru!
Over 30K Views!
Why I Use World Nomads
Whenever I travel ~ especially if I’m traveling solo, I always get travel insurance. It gives me the peace of mind to go out and have all kinds of adventures, because I know someone’s got my back. Who do I use? World Nomads. They cover you whether you’re sky-diving, spelunking, or cave-diving. And they even cover travel to Cuba: they’re not your average insurance company. Read more about travel insurance here.