As you’re doing your research on Peru, you’re probably realizing the country is a lot bigger than you thought. I know that happened to me. And internal flights weren’t as cheap as I hoped/thought, either. So when I had to figure out a way to get from Cusco to Puno, I knew the bus was the way to go. What I was thrilled to learn, however, was that it wasn’t just a regular bus toting tourists to and from Cusco and Puno but rather a sightseeing bus.
Really? A sightseeing bus?
Yes! Hear me out – it isn’t as bad as it sounds. Essentially, this bus gets you from Cusco to Puno but stops at various points of interest along the way. So you’re still getting from point A to B but in a more interesting fashion. The periodic stops also make the trip feel pretty quick as it breaks up the day and gives you chances to stretch your legs. In addition, it gives you an opportunity to see parts of the country you normally would not have seen. Yes, the downside is that you’re stuck with a giant tour group. But for the most part, I was able to escape them and do my own wandering.
Okay – so what can I expect?
The company I travelled with was Inka Express. The ride from Cusco to Puno is through the Andean countryside which is filled with amazing scenery, small towns, and lots of history. So much so, you’ll barely notice that the trip end to end is ten and a half hours long. And I don’t know about you, but I tend to do at least that when I’m out sightseeing!
Here are the five main stops made on the route between Cusco and Puno (aka the “Route of the Sun”) made by companies such as Inka Express:
Andahuaylillas Church: The so-called Sistine Chapel of America is a pretty 15th century church. The alternative name for Andahuaylillas should give you an idea why the bus stops here – the paintings that cover much of the structure are amazing. A short guided tour is offered to explain the main points within the church. Unfortunately, no photos allowed inside, sigh. But they do give you a CD of photos in consolation… After you’ve see the church, go for a quick stroll in the historic plaza amongst the old gnarled trees. Behind the church, there is also a little museum that is not really interesting…except for the poster that seems to suggest the Incas may have been aliens!
Checacupe Inca Rope Bridge: A reproduction of a rope bridge built by the Incans over the Urubamba River. I thought it was a pretty neat stop because there are actually three bridges here – the ‘Incan’ one, a stone one from Spanish colonial times, and a metal modern one! I suggest going over the rope bridge ahead of the bus crowd so to have an extra few minutes to wander around while everyone else is doing the rope bridge photo thing. There is a little church nearby, slightly hidden, that I thought was cute. See if you can find it!
La Raya Pass: Approaching this pass (and leaving it), I was in awe of the incredible landscape. I loved the deep blue sky contrasting against the golden grasses of the surrounding hills and valley. It was positively pastoral as we zoomed past the llamas grazing in the fields. La Raya is the highest point on the Route of the Sun and thankfully, we had an opportunity to get off the bus here. At the Pass, you can go shopping as there are a number of people selling touristy things. However, I spent the time taking photographs and being grateful I had the opportunity to see this amazing view.
Pukara Museum: Pukara is a small town and is the last stop before arriving in Puno. What makes this place worth a look is the archaeological site (which you don’t get to see on this journey) and the Pukara Museum (which you do get to visit). Pukara has been inhabited since about 1800 BC and was the first large urban centre in the region. The other reason Pukara is visited is for its pottery-making traditions. As much as 80% of the population are apparently potters!
Note – they hype up a viewpoint in Pukara but be warned – this “viewpoint” is just the roof of a store (through which you have to walk) and the view is not anything special. Just more roofs. I more recommend using the time to wander the town.
Anything else I should know?
- Buy your bus tickets online in advance, especially if you’re determined to travel on a particular day.
- The cost of your bus ticket does not include some entrance tickets (Andahuaylillas Church, the Archaeological complex of Raqchi, and Museum of Pukara). This gives you the freedom to decide what you want to see or not. You have to make up your mind early on in the day, however.
- The bus ride is from about 6:50am to 5:20pm.
- There is a lunch stop, a buffet. The food is not anything special but it is okay. It’s included in the cost of your ticket (except drinks).
- Cusco is at 3400 meters altitude and Puno is at 3800 meters altitude. However, the highest point on the trip is at La Raya Pass, where it is 4335 meters altitude. Breathtaking in more ways than one!