Finding a bus company that delivers a good service from La Paz to Cusco turned out to be harder than we first thought. One of the reasons for this might be that the route is mainly a touristic one, as the main reason for traveling to Cusco is to se Machu Picchu, and as we know, people love to take advantage of tourists!
Our main concern while booking the tickets going from La Paz to Cusco was that the bus was comfortable and that it did not run in the middle of the night. This was becase we read that buses during the days have a lesser frequency of drunk drivers.
In the La Paz bus terminal there can be found four different companies offering buses to Cusco. We happened to choose the one called Vicuña Tours. Partly because the girl working there, Steph, spoke good English and informed us that the bus starts in La Paz at 07:00 and reaches Cusco at 21:00, with a quick stop to change into a nicer Semi-Cama bus in Copacabana.
Our thoughts at this moment was somewhere along the lines of “Perfect, we arrive in the evening in time for dinner, and the bus will be comfortable the second part of the trip”.
Oh, how wrong we were.
The trip started with the bus departing 20 minutes later than announced, and after a few hours it stopped at the shore of Lake Titicaca because apparently we were supposed to change to a boat while the bus took another boat to cross to the other side of the lake. Our bus driver mumbled something in Spanish and everyone got off the bus. Unsure about what we were supposed to do we got of last and followed the rest to a dock where boats costing €0.30 took us to the other side of the shore. At the other side we found us some Salteñas that we ate while waiting for the bus to arrive and get offloaded on this side.
Nothing wrong with the experience with the boat, and watching these minimalist ferries transport the bus, but the information could have been better, especially since it was supposed to be a touristic service.
We got on the bus and continued towards Copacabana, and the road here was the type that goes around mountains, close to the edge and at high speed. We made it almost all the way to Copacabana before we were stopped by a taxi. This taxi contained a few of the girls that were on the bus before we crossed the water, and apparently the bus driver left them because they were not quick enough to find where the bus landed and got on. Finally in Copacabana the girls that were left had a long argument with the bus driver and the manager in the office of Vicuña in Copacabana.
Okay, we didnt have to take a taxi, so maybe this wont be so bad we thought. After having lunch and getting back to the office we were pointed to the bus to take for the rest of the trip. This bus was not at all the modern red one with Semi-Cama seats that Steph had shown us the day before when we bought our tickets. This was a bus from the company Panamericana that was very much a regular bus, and therfore not especially comfortable.
We crossed the border without any mishaps and were now in Peru, heading to Cusco and Machu Picchu. Even though the bus was not that comfortable our driver was friendly and didnt make too many unannounced stops. At 15:00 we arrived in the city of Puno that is some 390km of questionable road from Cusco. Here our bus driver informed us that the bus will not continue any further. He got the names of those heading to Cusco and seemingly went into the station and bought us tickets for a local bus there.
Here the trip really started to deteriorate compared to the service level we paid for and expected. The bus that finally departed somewhere around 16:30 from Puno was a urine-smelling local bus with seats that hardly accommodated anyone taller than 150 cm, had no toilet, and took detours and stopped at every possible little village in order to see if it was possible to not only fill the seats but also the aisle with people. The part with the missing toilet would not have been to bad, considering it should be possible to drive from Puno to Cusco in 5 hours. But all the detours the bus took made us arrive at 01:30 with a bladder close to exploding, hungry but without any prospects of finding any open restaurants and finally with limbs that were finally free from their folded up position inside the bus.
To sum up the trip we paid to arrive at 21:00, with only one stop on the way and the main part of the trip in Semi-Cama. We arrived 01:30, stopped everywhere and the buses were of lesser and lesser standard for each time we had to change.
On our way back we bought tickets from a travel agent in Cusco who promised semi-cama, no bus changes and more importantly, the border crossing in Desaguadero and not Copacabana. After studying a map anyone realizes that this is the better route, the road is more or less straight and does not partly turn into a boat. The only thing about this way of the trip is that it was during the night. But we figured that we had better chances on a proper bus with a company that does what it promised.
On the day of our return we found out that our bus with Trans Salvador was not the newest bus on the block, but it had really cosy big chairs with suspension in the seat and back rest. They also reclined to 160 degrees making it possible to sleep rather well.
This bus did not make any strange stops for no reason, and went more or less directly to Desaguadero for the border crossing. This crossing was also without major complications, the only confusing part being that you had to get off the bus on the Peruvian side to get the exit stamp, then find you way to the Bolivian office on the other side of the bridge and get the entry stamp. We solved this by getting a bicycle taxi after getting the exit stamp. He dropped us off 2 meters from the man handing out immigration papers, and from there it was no more difficult than filling the paper, standing in the line and looking like you have no bad intentions to the officers giving you the stamp.
After immigration we found our bus again, got back into our great seats and finally arrived in La Paz 14 hours after we left Cusco. A lot better than the almost 19 hours we spent with Vicuña.
After seeing how the trip could be made we wanted to let Steph at Vicuña Tours and Travel know our opinion of their service, and also see if we could get some of our money back.
This began by us informing two guys who just bought their tickets of the horrible service and made them return them and go with Trans Salvador instead. Steph responded to this by locking the office and getting a police officer that worked in the station. The police officer however found it interesting why the two tourists were so angry with the service that she spent some time to listen to our part of the story. After a while there were four people engaged in finding a solution, the police officer, a girl who worked with customer relations on behalf of the bus station, Steph, and a man who apparently also worked for Vicuña.
After some discussion back and forth the police officer suggested that they should pay us back half the money we paid. This seemed to be in motion when the boss of Vicuña stopped it after Steph made her a phone call. We told the police officer this and she suggested that we should return a few hours later to sort everything out.
At 18:00 sharp we were back at the terminal. In the small police office were now the police officer from before, a man in mustache who seemed to also work for the police, the man from Vicuña, a lady who later turned out to be the boss of Vicuña, a guy who worked for the reclaims office in the terminal, and us.
The discussion continued for a while, both in English and in Spanish. I understood that the police along with the reclaims guy told the Vicuña people that it is not reasonable to have tourists complaining all the time, and that they have offered a great solution by paying back half the money. The boss from Vicuña delivered one lie after another, “there is no direct bus from Copacabana to Cusco” “Semi-cama in Peru is very much like the local bus here” she even tried to convince me that 1 Peruvian Sol is 2.5 Bolivian Bolivianos when I said that Trans Salvador gave a much better service for the same price.
Finally they agreed to pay us back a small part of the money. At this moment we were mainly happy about them admitting their wrongs and that we would actually get something for all the work everyone put into solving our problem. The boss from Vicuña finally said that she was sorry and we were a lot happier.
The amazing thing is that so many from the terminal and the police engaged in the matter, and took our side of it. We really felt like they appreciated that someone took the time to complain when they were apparently sold something they did not receive.
To sum up the different bus companies as we did see all of them and ask them which routes they took it is as follows:
Vicuña – Takes the Copacabana route and offers a sub-par service with old uncomfortable buses.
Trans Salvador – Takes the Desaguadero route and has nice seats. The buses are old and we have read reports of them breaking down.
Titicaca – Takes the Copacabana route but has nice buses (we saw them during our trip), runs during the night.
Trans Litoral – Takes the Desaguadero route and according to online sources has nice buses.