Monday, March 26, 2012

Copacabana and Isla del Sol – the marvels of Lake Titicaca

Titicaca Lake ended up on my travel list basically because it was conveniently located between Bolivia and Peru and it sounded interesting as it’s the highest commercially navigable lake in the world, at 3800m in altitude. And because it sounded funny! I was a bit weak after being one day sick in La Paz so when I arrived to Copacabana that afternoon I just checked into my luxury hostel (Hostal las Olas – highly recommended!) and made a camp in my bed. And it was a superb hostel indeed, with a view of the lake even from the bed :) I had a big room (for five people actually) just for myself, a stylish kitchen with tabletops made of huge slabs of rock and two wooden sinks in the kitchenette, a stone lined shower in the bathroom, a fireplace in the room…. In the terrace I had a stone table and hammocks where you could chill and look at the Titicaca lake. Nice place just to hang out.

The view from my window & terrace - perhaps the best in Copacabana!

Next day I was feeling a bit better and went to see the Copacabana village. It’s quite rustic with a beautiful church and square, lots of little artisan shops and restaurants on the streets that descend to the lake & the harbor. The touristy parts are closest to the harbour and are clearly more polished - once you climb up to the church you'll see mostly only locals and there a nice Mercado close to the church as well, worth to walk around a bit.

I got two Swedish chaps as my neighbours and we went to see the views from the hill by the time sun started to set. You could see all of Copacabana and even all the way to Isla del Sol from the top – it was a gorgeous view. The boys had a bottle of local rum with them so it was a good time to enjoy a little drink. It was already dark when we got down. The very polite guys invited me to join them for dinner and I was so happy I was feeling better.

The following morning we enjoyed a late start for the day, checked out and went in town to wait for the afternoon boat to Isla del Sol. We’d decided to take the boat to the north part of the island, spend the afternoon and night there, walk next morning to south – it seemed to make more sense since the last return boats left a couple hours later from the south, leaving us more time if we left there.

The two Swedish guys and I arrived to the north part – to Challapampa - in the afternoon with a group of locals and a big food delivery. We were met by a couple of kids who were selling accommodation and followed them to a slightly shabby but clean & cheap “hostel”. It looked like the building was still very much in construction – but there was everything we needed for only 20 B$(2 €) per person. We left our stuff there and headed to see the ruins at the end of the island. There was a Sacred Rock were they made sacrifices and a labyrinth "Chicana". This was one of the know Inca areas and it was believed that the sun god was born there.

On the boat to Isla del Sol
North of Isla del Sol - Challapampa

The sun was setting when we got back to the village and went to get some local wine from one the tiny stores (more like kiosks made in the windows of some of the homes) and enjoyed the sunset. There were only a couple places to eat so it wasn’t difficult to decide where. We had a cheap dinner with some soup and trout – typical Bolivian food. To entertain ourselves we watched some sitcoms on my laptop before we went to sleep.

In the morning the plan was to get up, have breakfast and get going by 10am so we would have enough time to cross the island and see some of the sighs in the south part. It was quite strenuous to walk on the island as you’re all the time at close to 4000m in altitude – and there are lots of hills to climb on the island. The weather was really nice and sunny, and hot, making it even harder to breathe but the views made the walk all worth it. It was also really peaceful there and we ran into hardly any other people – mostly you’d see empty looking houses with mules, pigs, cows and sheep roaming in the yards. Leaving from the Challapampa we first climbed up a hill and went off the path to descend to the little beach of Challa for a little break. There was just a couple houses there and among them even one hostel.

From there we headed back up towards the south and the village of Yumani. We had a little break for snacks on the top of the hill and we got a runaway sheep to join us – the little Dorito thief! There wasn’t really any road signs but it wasn’t hard to find to Yumani. When we walked onwards to the southern tip of the island it was on the other hand impossible to find the ruins in the south part of the island… no maps, no signs, no one really to ask. We gave up and returned to Yumani to have lunch before we’d take the boat from the southern harbor back to mainland, to Copacabana. We didn’t really find everything we looked for but it was a nice sunny day to enjoy the island the views of the lake all around.

On the way to Yumani
Close to the southern tip of Isla del Sol
It was about 6pm when we got back to Copacabana and checked into one of the hostels close to beach. I was so happy to get a warm shower after two days hiking, some shopping and a dinner – it would be my last night in Bolivia! I had a little trouble fitting everything in my bag and I had to say goodbye to my Titicaca travel company but besides that I was excited to move along. In the morning I would get on the 9am bus to Cusco with Christine who I’d met already in January in the Iguazu falls!

What where when how much?

A nice tourist bus to Copacabana runs twice a day from La Paz (around 7.30am and 1pm), 35-40 B$, the trip takes around five hours and you have to cross the Titicaca lake at one point with boats (the bus is taken over by a small ferry). Bring enough cash to get yourself around the town (food, accommodation and shopping), the islands you may want to visit and to get a ticket onwards - there is no (functioning) ATM! Plenty of exchange agents are ready to change US dollars or most South American currencies to Bolivianos. There are lots of restaurants and tour agencies and it’s also a good place to shop souvenirs: everything is extremely cheap. A gorgeous knitted (most likely handmade) alpaca sweater was 80 B$ (under 10 €), bags 10-50 B$ (1-6€)… Great place to get rid of those last “bolivianos” before leaving to Perú!

To get to Isla del Sol take one of the two boats (or more if there are more people - 15-20 B$ for one way) on the Copacabana harbor (when you see a big while anchor you’re in the right place). The first set of boats leave at 8.30am and the second at 1.30pm, to both south and north parts of the island (separate boats to each side). There a couple different return times to Copacabana, the last return boats are 1.30pm from the north and 4pm from the south. At Isla del Sol you have to pay at couple points about 5-10 B$: to enter the ruins in north end of the island and at two points between the north and south. The north side was cheaper and there were less tourists – also it seemed less touristy, with just some rumbling buildings and few places that serve simple local food. You can also camp on the beach there but the weather changes quite fast so be prepared for everything.

I really liked the lake Titicaca and I’d say it’s not to be missed if you travel between Bolivia and Perú! 

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