A visit to Peru is not a trip without seeing Lake Titicaca, the worlds highest navigable lake that sits at 3,800 metres. There are a couple of ways of seeing Lake Titicaca: First is via the floating islands constructed from reeds and staying overnight with an indigenous family and observing the local traditions and practices. The second way is by visiting Isla del Sol on the Bolivian side of the lake. When I was in Puno, Peru I chatted to a guy who had been to the floating islands and said that it was extremely touristy to the extent where the locals sing “Row Row Row Your Boat” on the boats even though they don’t speak english. WTF!? Anyway, I didn’t have plans on going to that side, but hearing that story made me feel a bit more at ease with my decision not to go.
After a Peru-Bolivia border crossing that involved visits to multiple administration offices and an official who went missing with my passport for an concerning fifteen minutes for unknown reasons, I finally made it across into border and into Copacabana. Capacabana is quite a sleepy town that caters mainly to tourism if you’re entering Bolivia from the Northern side and to visit Isla del Sol on Lake Titicaca. This is quite evident in the number of hostels, hotels and travel agents in the area. There really isn’t much to do in the town itself and the climate contrasts significantly to that of Arequipa which was a shock to the system. For me, the only highlight was devouring the delicious trout which comes straight out of the lake which cost $4 each.
Getting to Isla del Sol isn’t difficult. A return ticket on the many boats that get there can be purchased from one of the many tourist shops in town for $25 Bolivianos (US$3.50). Be sure to negotiate if you’re buying more than one as I saw them lowering their rates. It’s only a few km’s to the Southern End of the island, however it takes about an hour to get there in what seems to be a converted barge that is powered by a couple of outboard motors. My plan was to start at the northern end of the island, then hike southwards towards the main town of Yumani and stay the night.
I met an Irish couple who were on their honeymoon and ended up hiking the trail with them which included plenty of laughs and jokingly taking stabs at each other. There are two ways of getting from one end of the island to the other. The first is to hug the coastline, however this takes much more time as there are many coves and a few towns along the way. The most popular and scenic way it to hike it to the high part of the island and trek along the ridge line which offers views of both the east and western sides most of the time, which is what we chose to follow.
The island terrain is quite rocky which somewhat resembled Bartolome on the Galapagos. The paths are relatively well marked out and at most locations, you can view clearly the fields that resemble jigsaw puzzles. We explored a few of them although there wasn’t any plants sprouting at the time. Overall, the hills aren’t steep but at that altitude, I felt like I was exhausted an catching my breath every ten metres. The weather on the day was pretty glooming. Isla del Sol is known as the birth place of the sun to the Incas, however in the distance, all you can see were clouds giving birth to storms. We were quite lucky though for the storms to miss us but the views of how low they hung to the water was impressive. From the first couple of hours of hiking, I wasn’t expecting to see any trees, however towards the end of the circuit there was a forest of eucalyptus trees which reminded me of home in Australia. The thinner atmosphere combined with the scent of the fauna filled the air with the smell of eucalyptus.
Earlier on I said I was going to stay on the island. However by the time we reached Yumani, most of the places there were just hotels/hostels for tourists and I felt that there wasn’t anything left to explore or experience. I could have gone off the path a bit more an explored what ruins remained, however after coming from Cusco and Machu PIcchu I had felt “ruined” out like I had after travelling through Mexico. I’m sure if we had the same sunset as the previous day then it would have been a spectacular view however, you have to roll with the punches and staying an extra night when it was overcast and threatening wouldn’t have made the stay any better. With this in mind, I decided to jump on the next ferry back to town which turned out to be a good decision. By then the winds had picked up by the middle of the evening it had started to snow!
Other helpful info:
Stayed: Hostal Colonial in Copacabana. Basic and no frills but had my own room/shared bathrooms for about US$4.50 a night. Make sure you negotiate as there are a lot of rooms and not many people during the low season. Free breakfast is simple with bread and jam and coffee. Free WiFi throughout the building, however seems to be down most of the time but does work well in the cafe area. If you take a day trip to Isla del Sol then you can store your bags there in the store room.
Eat: At the many local restaurants on Ave 6 de Agosto that served up trout. In fact most of my meals were delicious trout.
Getting there: Busses leave frequently for Copacabana from Puno in Peru or from La Paz in Bolivia. Catch the 8:30am boat from the dock to Isla del Sol. You can get tickets at one of the many travel agents in the town. If opting to get at the Southern end of the island, be aware that it’s a steep hike up the hill to Yumani so it may be advisable to rent a donkey if you have a huge backpack on. The best way to do it is stay at a hostel at Copacabana on evening number one and store it overnight there while you check out the island.
Other attractions: Not much. The main part of town is small in size with only four or five blocks worth visiting. There are markets where you can pick up some bits and bobs but not much else. There is a hill called Cerro Calvario nearby where you hike to the top to get a good view of the town and the lake.