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There are several modes of traveling between Cusco and Puno: plane, train or bus.
Flying isn’t cheap; the one-hour direct flight on LAN from Cusco to Juliaca, 45km from Puno, cost 150 USD.
And this is not even the most expensive way; PeruRail charged a cool 268 USD for the 10-hour train ride between the two cities. Rumours has it that the carriages are lined with gold but I can’t verify first hand.
And then there are buses. Of which there are two kinds: direct and tourist. The direct buses takes around 6.5 hours and cost around 20 USD. One of the operators is Cruz del Sur, a premium bus service operator in Peru. However many of these buses operate overnight and arrive at Puno at an unearthly hour of 4.30-5am.
The tourist buses, on the other hand, depart Cusco at a more earthly hour of 8am and arrive in Puno at around 6pm. There were three operators: Inka Express, Turismo Mer and Wonder Peru. Inka Express was the most expensive at 55 USD and Turismo Mer gave us the quote of 50 USD per person. We wanted to go with Turismo Mer initially but there was only one seat left on our travel date.
Running out of options, we decided to visit the travel agencies along Avenida del Sol to check out our options.
Turned out that the travel agency is an agent for Wonder Peru and the price was only 36 USD. It didn’t take us long to make the decision to purchase the tickets.
The bus would depart at 8am and we were instructed to reach Wonder Peru’s office at 7.30am. We took a cab from our accommodation for 3 soles and reached there with plenty of time to spare.
Due to the freezing temperature outside, all the passengers cramped inside the small office before departure. The operator set up a table with snacks and hot drinks for the passengers, which I thought was a nice touch.
The bus was quite a nice one; our seats were just after the rear door.
It took us some time to get out of Cusco’s bad morning traffic and the buildings gave way to Peruvian countryside.
The town of Andahuaylillas is around 45 minutes’ drive away from Cusco and was our first stop of the day.
Its claim to fame was the town church which was nicknamed “Sistine Chapel of America”. There was an entrance fee and neither of us were interested in a tour inside the church.
Once we got on the bus, the stewardess went around distributing banklets and drinks. She would do the drinks run after each stop.
The next stop was Raqchi, an Incan archaeological site an hour away from Andahuaylillas. We paid the admission free of 10 PEN each and our guide Raul gave us a tour of the compound.
While our guide Raul was pretty competent with his explanation, the absence of cloud cover made the excursion uncomfortably hot and forgettable. I couldn’t recall most of the details beside that it was an important religious place for the Incans.
Lunch was next on our agenda and we had ours in the rather dusty town of Sicuani, around 20 minutes. drive from Raqchi.
The spread was surprising quite good and I went for two rounds of food. While we needed to pay for the cold drinks, hot drinks were free-of-charge.
There were also musicians who entertained us during the lunch. Towards the end of the performance, one of them would go around hawking their CDs and not surprisingly there weren’t any buyers. The tourists (us included) were more generous with the tips though and their method reminded me of door-in-the-face technique.
After lunch, we traveled on to Abra La Raya, the highest point of the bus journey. It was also where the border between Cusco region and Puno region is.
Despite the strong winds, there were still many locals who set up their stalls there.
The view was really impressive.
After the short stay on the pass, we moved on to our next stop: Pukara.
Raul led us through the pre-Incan archaeological site. Like in Raqchi, the details escaped me once again.
After our tour of the archaeological site, we were driven to town where the museum was located. Raul would bring those interested in viewing the museum while the rest of us found ways to occupy ourselves.
We seeked refuge in the souvenir shop where we got some ice-cream.
Pukara was our final stop and from there we would travel all the way to Puno. We passed through Juliaca en-route and Raul shared some interesting information about the city.
Apparently the buildings were purposely unfinished because the tax rates on unfinished properties were much lower than finished ones. Despite the incomplete exteriors, many of the buildings were nicely furnished inside.
Juliaca’s economy is fuelled by the trans-border trade with Bolivia and there are many factories in the city, producing knockoffs of famous brands. Furthermore, Lake Titicaca isn’t actively policed by the customs on both sides and many smuggling apparently take place on the waters.
After getting out of Juliaca, we were still around 45 minutes out of Puno. With the sun setting, the landscape was pretty enchanting.
We finally arrived at Puno bus station around 10 hours after departing Cusco. It had been a long day with the stops so we were glad to find that someone from Hotel Titiutapuno was already waiting for us at the bus station.
I thought that Wonder Peru provided a decent service at a reasonable price. While I wouldn’t go out of my way to stop at the sights, I wouldn’t mind stopping by them for a while en-route. I suspect that there isn’t a lot of difference between the operators so I would recommend Wonder Peru for those interested in taking the tourist bus between Cusco and Puno.
Route of our journey:-