Getting into Bolivia from Peru
I did not anticipate the border crossing from Peru to Bolivia meriting its own post, but alas, it was an ordeal and worth mentioning in case anyone is in this situation traveling.
Our last stop in Peru was Puno, from which you can take a bus into Bolivian cities. It was our intention to take a bus from Puno to Copacabana, another city on Lake Titicaca, but on the Bolivian side.
We read on the US Consulate website that as of May 2015, Americans are required to obtain their visas ahead of time at a Bolivian Consulate in another country in order to get into Bolivia. This was our intention since Puno, Peru has a Bolivian Consulate office right next where we were staying.
The problem was that we arrived to Puno on Thursday, New Year’s Eve night, the office was closed on Friday for New Year’s Day and would not reopen until Monday, according to its office hours, which meant we might not be able to leave Puno until Tuesday.
However, we were told by a tourist office that the Bolivian Consulate would open on Saturday from 8:00am to noon. So, we started our day trying to get into Bolivia at 7:30am standing in front of the office until about an hour later when three different people assured us it was never open on Saturdays, only Monday-Friday, just like the sign said.
Why did we just not stay in Puno until Tuesday you ask? While we could have, we really wanted to have time to spend in Copacabana and the nearby islands on Lake Titicaca before having to arrive in Sucre, Bolivia by January 11th. And it seemed like a long time to wait around to get the visa ahead of time when we had heard so many varying accounts on the requirements of getting in the country.
So, we consulted our guide book. It told us that Americans could get a visa at the border. It then told us a few pages later that Americans have to request a visa a month in advance. Not helpful. We asked around at tourist offices in Puno that told us we absolutely couldn’t get into Bolivia without visiting the Consulate ahead of time. We consulted the Internet which gave us a wide variety of information (and misinformation). Finally, we walked to the bus station and asked the three only companies that traveled to Bolivia. All different info. The last bus company we spoke to showed us a list of documents that we needed and said if we could get all of that in order, we would be able to get the visa at the border.
We chose to take a risk on trusting this info and starting gathering the documents: copy of passport, bank statement for proof of solvency, proof of yellow fever vaccination (since we were coming from Peru), completed Bolivian visa application form, confirmation of hotel reservation in Bolivia, and a visa photo which we got done earlier in Arequipa.
Once we had all of the documents ready, we realized there were no more busses going to Copacabana that day. So, we had to find alternate transportation. We walked to the Terminal Zonal, a few minutes from the bus station, and caught a “micro”, a van slightly bigger than a collectivo, to the border city.
This was a rather uncomfortable 2 1/2 hour ride. For one, we were in a crowded van with no air conditioning where no one at the window seats would crack open a window. And when you have 15 adults, 4 children, 1 dog, and 2 flies all in one hot van, somebody needs to open a window. Also, the stress added to making the ride uncomfortable. We had no idea if we would actually get into Bolivia. We were risking having to find a ride back to Puno, losing money on the rides and the required hotel booking in Bolivia, and just being completely defeated by wasting a day trying to get into the country.
When we arrived at the border, we waited another hour and a half in the line just to exit Peru officially. Finally, we walked over, hearts pumping loudly, to the Bolivian immigration office.
When we presented all of our documents, we were told we didn’t need the visa application and that we were missing the most important document to obtain a visa- a proof of travel out of Bolivia back to the United States. We explained we would be going to Chile next, and once we pulled out our money to pay the hefty $170 per person reciprocity fee just to get into the country, there were really no more questions and we were able to get the visa right there. We noticed after that the documents stated that the fee was $160 per person, so either the documents were not updated or we got cheated out of $20. Maybe it was the unofficial fee for not getting the visa ahead of time.
We did need all of those other documents ahead of time- there would have been no way to scramble to get them together at the border. Once we obtained our visa a mere 8 hours after we started the day standing in front of the Bolivian Consulate office, we caught a collectivo to Copacabana with a large sigh of relief. We’d made it.
Alas, the moral is that as of January 2016, you can in fact get into Bolivia by obtaining a visa at the border if you follow all of the document/photo requirements and have your money ready. If we could have visited the Consulate ahead of time we would have, but if you can’t, at least there is another option.