After our awe inspiring visit to Machu Picchu and enjoyable day in the fabulous Cusco it was time to continue our journey south through Peru. So we looked at options for getting to Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world and home to indigenous people who live on floating islands.
Our four options were:
1. Scenic train
2. Standard bus
3. Scenic tourist bus
Option 4 wasn’t really practical as the nearest airport is at Juliaca which is about an hour from Puno thus meaning a plane + bus journey.
The scenic train was going to be a whopping $220 each. Having just spent a large chunk of our budget on trekking to Machu Picchu we decided to look at bus options.
Throughout the year and with the exception of the Intrepid tour we did through Central America every bus journey so far has been just a method of getting from A to B.
After a bit of googling we came across the ‘Inka Express‘ bus company. We were pleased to find a company which combined a tour which stopped at five places of interest along the way together with the practical side of getting from Cusco to Puno.
This is a short account of our Inka Express bus experience:
The Inka Express tour had a tour guide, on-board coffee, tea, coca tea and mineral water which were supplied to us on a regular basis. The tour included six stops at places of interest and a buffet lunch with traditional Peruvian music.
The guide gave an interesting commentary along the way where we learned a great deal of fascinating information about Peruvian culture and the places we were passing through.
Before reaching our first destination she walked down the bus with a large round steering wheel sized loaf of traditional Andean bread called ‘chuta‘. She invited us all to break a piece off to try and it tasted sweet, fresh and delicious.
Stop 1: Andahuaylillas
The first stop was to a church built by Jesuits in the 16th century and often thought of as the ‘Sistine Chapel of America’ with its elaborate interior decoration. As you enter the church there are several large paintings which illustrate life back in the early days of the church. We were not allowed to take any photos of the inside of the church but Go2Peru has a few.
Next to the church was a small museum with displays of local culture. Above is a photo of an exhibition of some of the many different varieties of corn grown in the region.
Stop 2: Checacupe suspension bridge
This is a XVI century colonial bridge surrounded by Inca walls. Our fellow bus travellers took turns to pose on the bridge for photos. We walked across the stone Inca bridge next to the rope bridge and into the square of the small town to wait for the others.
Stop 3: Raqchi Inca archeological site
We spent about 40 minutes at the Raqchi site which means ‘Temple of God Wiracocha’ and is located 121 km from Cusco. The guide took our group on a tour of the site where we observed the huge stone structures and Inca houses. Until more recent times, some of the original Inca stones were removed by local villagers and used to build their own houses!
Stop 4: Peruvian buffet lunch at Sicuani
We had lunch in a large purpose-built restaurant which was shared with other bus parties. The buffet was good and the live music entertaining with traditional Peruvian pipes.
Stop 5: photo stop at La Raya
At 4335 meters La Raya is the highest point on the route from Cusco to Puno. The bus stopped for 10 minutes to allow us to take photos. This was also a small tourist trap with a few stalls containing alpaca woollen items and traditionally dressed children parading llamas around in order to charge tourists for a photo!
Stop 6: Pukara museum
We saw many llamas and alpacas as we drove through the Andes however after a lovely sunny morning the sky turned increasingly dark as we approached Puno and by the time we got to our last destination, the Pukara museum it was raining.
The museum is small but has some interesting exhibitions and sculptures which date back to pre-Inca times. Again, no photos of the museum as this was not allowed!
The journey by bus from Cusco to Puno takes around 7 hours by standard ‘non-tourist’ bus however we enjoyed combining a sightseeing tour as a way of moving on to Puno. The scenery as we travelled through the Andes was spectacular and each of the stops were interesting. The longest time between each stop was less than 2 hours and the Peruvian buffet lunch was quite tasty all of which helped to make a long journey into an enjoyable one.