4 Must-know Ways to Travel from Cusco to Puno

Puno is home to Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. That’s a fun first to check off your bucket list. So, whether you’re planning a trip from Cusco to Puno before arriving in Peru or scrambling to squeeze in a visit after hearing a traveler rave about it at Machu Picchu, you’re in good hands. I’ll show you how to get to Puno from Cusco for a range of budgets and itineraries.

The best way to get from Cusco to Puno

Lake Titicaca outside of Puno,Peru

Do you believe a scenic journey is as important as the destination itself? Or perhaps fitting in as many destinations as possible is more your style? Then, let’s explore your options for traveling from Cusco to Puno.

1. The wallet-friendly approach: Taking the bus to Puno

Puno, Peru aerial shot

The most economical way to travel to Puno from Cusco is by taking a bus. Several companies operate the Cusco to Puno bus route.

The bus ride takes about seven hours, and some depart in the evening. That means not only will you spend as little as $14 on a bus, but you can also skip a hotel night, saving you even more money. 

That said, the disadvantage of night travel is that you won’t have the opportunity to see the beautiful scenery between Cusco and Puno. Therefore, if you want to take a direct day bus, a few companies offer morning departures, getting you to Puno by mid-afternoon.

If you’re looking for a budget-friendly way to travel to Puno but would like to take a tour in the process, choosing a Cusco to Puno tour bus is an excellent alternative. Turismo Mer offers a 10-hour transfer and tour combo. During the drive, you’ll stop at the following destinations:

  • Andahuaylillas
  • Raqch’i
  • Paso de la Raya
  • Pukara

Prices start at $48 and include an English-speaking guide on board for the full 10 hours. You’ll also have lunch at a restaurant. Just keep in mind that the entrance fees for the sites aren’t included, so you’ll pay those in person.

2. Traveling in luxury: Taking the train

Train in Peru heading from Cusco to Puno

Peru Rail runs a train between Cusco and Puno that comes with many bells and choo-choos to make your journey through the Andes a luxurious getaway.

A classy 1920s train interior, gourmet meals, an outdoor observation deck, and tea time are some of the many touches that Peru Rail includes for a memorable experience. The train ride lasts nearly 10.5 hours, and you’ll stay on board the entire time. 

This Cusco to Puno train ride is the most expensive of the options here. However, the $250 starting price is a steal compared to the multi-night Belmond train Peru trip between Cusco, Puno, and Arequipa.

If you decide to take the train to Puno, I recommend planning your itinerary around Peru Rail’s departure dates. My advice? Don’t drag your feet about booking a seat—I’ve seen this train sell out several times.

3. For scenery buffs: Taking a private transfer

Vicuna  grazing

If you’re on the fence about whether the route from Cusco to Puno is scenic enough to make a road trip worth it, let me help you with some visuals. Picture wild vicuna grazing beside your vehicle, mountains cradling the road you drive along before tapering off into flatter highlands, and rivers occasionally crisscrossing your path.

So, if you want to enjoy these views but the bus journey sounds constricting, booking a private transfer is a great option. You have the following choices:

  • 2 passenger SUV
  • 4 passenger minivan 
  • 12 passenger minivan

When considering how to get from Cusco to Puno, a private transfer is an excellent choice for larger groups since the price per person averages down. The prices start around $236 for the SUV and increase to $268 and $427 with the size of the minivan. You’ll have control over bathroom breaks, and most drivers are happy to stop occasionally to snap a quick photo in extra-scenic areas.

You can expect your private transfer from Cusco to Puno to take around seven hours. However, departure times are flexible, so you can book your trip out of Cusco at any hour of the day or night.

4. Getting there fast: Taking a flight

Peruvian Andes Mountains

Whether the thought of winding through the Andes Mountains gives you images of motion sickness or you simply don’t have the time for a full travel day, flying is an option.

There isn’t a direct Cusco to Puno flight. However, you can book a flight to Puno via a layover in Lima. Some flight schedules can get you to Lake Titicaca in as little as four hours, and the price is often comparable to taking the day tour bus if you’re traveling with carry-on bags.

Puno’s Juliaca airport sits about 45-60 minutes from the lakeside downtown. So, make sure to factor in this travel time if you’d like to take a tour on the day of your arrival.

A note on altitude

daily life on Lake Titicaca

Since you’ll be traveling to Puno from Cusco, you’re at a considerable advantage compared to travelers visiting Puno from a sea-level destination like Lima. Cusco sits at around 11,000 feet in the Andes Mountains compared to Puno’s 12,500 feet.

So, provided that you’ve spent at least a few days in Cusco, it’s unlikely you’ll have significant altitude sickness, given that your body will have had some time to acclimate. Nevertheless, it doesn’t hurt to read about identifying altitude sickness symptoms and the best practices for managing them.

Regardless of how you travel from Cusco to Puno, it’s a unique destination that will introduce you to the Uros indigenous people who thrive in their mountainous lakeside homes. So, go ahead and secure your transportation today so you can experience Lake Titicaca for yourself.

FAQ

How many times a week does the luxury train run?

Three times per week—Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday. 

When is the best time to visit Lake Titicaca?

April to October is the dry season yielding blue skies and sunny days. However, since it’s at a higher elevation, it does get chilly, so be prepared with layers of clothing.

Is Puno safe?

Yes. However, it’s a city of 120,000 inhabitants. Some areas have more crime than others. Stay in the more touristy areas and always be aware of your surroundings, as you would in any city in the world.

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