THE AMAZING BLUE OF LAKE TITICACA, BOLIVIA
Welcome to Lake Titicaca
Copacabana… an endless beach, hot air and beautiful people showing off their sizzling, perfectly shaped, bodies…. STOP! You are dreaming of another place! We are not in Rio de Janeiro, we are in Bolivia. I am pretty sure it’s not only my mind that conjures up pictures of Rio when reading Copacabana :). But in Bolivia I learned that there is at least one other place in the world with the same name as Brazil’s world-famous beach: Welcome to Copacabana at Bolivia’s Lake Titicaca.
As you might imagine, we were curious about this city of 6,000 souls that is located just 20 minutes from the border with Peru. Coming by bus from the country of Machu Picchu, Copacabana welcomed us with a shiny blue sky. Our bus stopped close to the central square and after a few orientation difficulties we finally found the way to our accommodation.
Copacabana offers different types of accommodation – hostels for budget travelers and luxury hotels at the lake’s waterfront for all who want to spoil themselves. We stayed at Hostal Puerto Alegre which offers basic private rooms for two to four people with private and shared bathrooms. We paid US$15 per night for our double room with private bathroom and free internet. From the highest floor you have a great view of Lake Titicaca.
After trying to get our breath again (It was incredible how 24 kg on our backs were cutting off our breath in this crazy altitude!), we wanted to finally see the reason why also Bolivia’s Copacabana has become a tourist magnet.
And there it was: the largest lake in South America and the highest navigable lake in the world – Lake Titicaca!
The lakes I have seen so far were already big but Lake Titicaca reached the limits of my imagination. We tried to spot the other end but with a length of 190 kilometers it was impossible. And it was not only the size, it was the amazing color – the deep blue – of the water. Lars, BoB and I stood at the waterfront and could hear each other whispering “wow”.
We were already fascinated but we knew that we are going to see more of Lake Titicaca the next day. So, we explored our Non-Brazilian-Copacabana.
Copacabana – The gate to Lake Titicaca
The waterfront of Copacabana
Copacabana appears very touristy at first glance, especially at the water front where tourists boats and pedal boats anchor, restaurants and bars wait for guests. But as soon as you leave this area and walk into the direction of Copacabana’s basilica, it gets authentic.
Almost all women wear their lovely and colorful traditional clothing, the thick pollera (pleated-skirt), the bowler hat, and a form of blanket around their neck to cover the shoulders and the back. I am really wondering how warm those thick skirts are. I mean, the sun was shining but in an altitude of almost 4,000 meters the air is fresh and the nights are very cold. Unfortunately I was too shy to ask a woman, if I could put on one. I guess, I will have to come back some day. Girls, do you know how it feels with those super thick skirts?
Don’t the Bolivian’s women look great in their colorful clothing?
Copacabana itself is loved by many travelers and some could stay there for weeks. I can say that it’s a nice place but my excitement to see more of Lake Titicaca was much bigger. And there is no better way to really take in the beauty of the lake than on Isla del Sol.
Isla del Sol – the island of the sun
Happy on Isla del Sol
Isla del Sol is a 10 kilometers long island of Lake Titicaca and a must-visit destination. It’s not only the barren landscape, it’s the incredible viewpoints the island has. And the fact that it’s said to be the birthplace of the Incas.
Isla del Sol is good for a day trip but much better with an overnight stay. Take your time and plan one night on the island. Accommodation prices are about the same like on the mainland. Only take a light backpack with warm clothing and sunscreen. In the altitude you are happy about every kilogram that you don’t have to carry around.
The Bolivian way of navigating the tourist boat
Every day at 8:30 am and 12:30 pm boats leave from Copacabana to Isla del Sol. The ticket counter is located at the waterfront and you can buy the ticket on the same day. We bought it 30 minutes before departure to be on the safe side. The ride takes 1,5 hours to 2 hours and with 25 Bolivianos (US$4) per person it’s super cheap. (Welcome to inexpensive Bolivia!)
In most boats you can chose between seats inside or outside on the roof. Take the “fresh-air-seat” if you are sensitive to motion sickness. A hat and gloves will keep you warm and never forget to put sunscreen when you don’t want to shine like a crab.
On our way to Isla del Sol we spot fishermen on Lake Titicaca
You can either disembark in Yumani (1,5 hours boat ride) in the south or in Challapampa (2 hours boat ride) in the north of the island. It doesn’t really matter where you start your island exploration.
Two trails connect the North with the South and invite to a beautiful trek. We got off the boat in Challapampa and were welcomed by local musicians in their traditional, colorful clothing. The women sold yummy sandwiches for only 10 Bolivianos (US$1.50). You should take one, if you didn’t bring any food to the island! It’s incredible how much energy you need in an altitude of 4,000 meters! (Oh, maybe I should have told you before, but buy cookies and chocolate bars in Copacabana to get your energy back).
By the way, Challapampa also offers a public toilet for 1 Boliviano. You might need one after 90 minutes in the boat. It’s the only toilet you’ll get to see until you arrive in the South.
Arriving at Challapampa
Two trails connect the island’s North with the South. One leads along the coast, you can see it from Challapampas landing stage, the other one goes right through the middle of the island. Take this one! It will bring you to the highest point of the island and gives you unforgettable views.
Close to Challapampa’s landing stage is the ticket office of a Challapampa’s small gold museum and the ruins of Roca Sagrada in the north of the island. We are not that much into museums and decided to skip it. If you don’t plan to stay overnight, you can either take the boat back from Challapampa (departs at 1:00pm) or from Yumani in the South (departs at 4:00pm). To not lose time you should skip the museum.
The ticket office also sells tickets for the ruins in the North. As the ticket not only brings you to the ruins, but also to one of the best places on the island, you should get one. It only costs 10 Bolivianos (US$1.50) per person. Don’t worry, if you missed the ticket counter, you can also get a ticket later on at the ruins.
Lars gets a very special welcome at Challapampa’s beach
One of the many great things of traveling are the surprises it brings. In Challapampa our surprise had four short legs, was bristly and grunted… a pig. It suddenly crossed our path when we walked along the village’s beach to get to the trail. What a great pig life!
Blue – Bluer – Lake Titicaca
The beginning of the trail, leading to the north
It was so funny to see the pigs at the beach but now we wanted to explore the island. The trail guided us along a few houses before the barren landscape started. Within some steps you gain altitude and the first beautiful views come in sight. From this point on you don’t need to switch off your camera. It will be busy from now on.
Slowly the first ruins will come in sight and you can either take the way to the right, to the ruins, or to the left, to the center of the island. Turn right because otherwise you would miss the best views of Lake Titicaca! After visiting the ruins of “Mesa Ritual”, “Chincana” and “Roca Sagrada”, we continued walking and hiked up the big hill at the northern end of the island. (If you didn’t buy a ticket to the ruins in Challapampa, you can get it from a local person that sits in front of the ruins.)
Isn’t it an incredible view?
Lars, BoB and I were not only breathless because of the altitude and the super strong wind, it was the incredible view. I felt like being surrounded by water that was colored with ink or photo shopped. From this point you have fantastic views of Lake Titicaca as far as the eye can see and Isla del Sol. Take your time and sit down on the rocks. Enjoy the sun and the blue sky above you, take a deep breath and absorb the beauty of the deep blue water.
If you feel like screaming, shouting out to the world, DO IT ! This is your moment!
We were so happy that we weren’t in a rush and could wait until everybody left. And we had so much time to take a lot of pictures. That’s the great thing about spending a night on the island – no boat is waiting for you.
Little golf ball BoB proud with his Bolivian flag
BoB was so happy that he had his warm hat with him and he was super proud when we took a picture of him with his Bolivian flag and Lake Titicaca. When we left the hill I was wondering about all the other toursits. Where did they go? We must have spent some time up there without noticing. All other tourists were on their way to the South already. We felt like being the only tourist on the island and totally enjoyed this moment.
Do it as well! It’s a very special feeling.
The highest point of the trail at 4,006 meters
You can’t miss the trail on Isla del Sol as there are hardly any :). That makes it easy for everyone. Especially the main trail to the south is very easy to follow. The trail’s location right on top of Isla del Sol is perfect because you have great views to all directions.
At 4,006 meters a sign tells you that you reached the highest point of the trail, which is also the beginning of the next territory. Local women will ask for 15 Bolivianos per person.
The highest point of the island is Mt. Chequesani with 4,069 meters. You can see it on the peninsula on the right hand side when walking to the South.
More beautiful scenery on Isla del Sol
Coming closer to the island’s southern end, vegetation gets bigger and eucalyptus trees line the path. At the entrance of Yumani the third check point is located. The ticket here costs 5 Bolivianos (US$0.80) per person. Slowly civilisation starts again.
The Andes Mountains on the horizon… wow!
The weather was so great that we could also see the now-capped Andes Mountains at the horizon. It’s unbelievable that those mountains are 2,000 kilometers higher than the 4,000 meters Isla del Sol.
Yumani – the village of the steep Inca staircase
We reached the village of Yumani after 5 hours. If you need to get the boat in the afternoon, you can make it in three hours to get the boat to Coapacabana at 4:00pm.
The village is full of accommodation and restaurants and it’s obvious that everyone tries to make money with the tourists. In mid September most restaurants and also many accommodations were closed but there is always something to sleep available. First we were irritated about the closed doors and dark windows but the closer we got to Yumani’s landing stage, the more hostels were open. The locals know when the tourists arrive. They somehow recognize you and offer a price. Try to negotiate! Always check the room before making any decision. We found a spacious but simple private room with three beds and shared bathroom for 80 Bolivianos (US$12) after negotiating (insead of 100 Bolivianos).
The nights are very cold all year round, so always take warm clothes for the night!
Meanwhile the sun set and a wonderful day ended.
In the morning a beautiful view from our window put a smile into our faces. The room was very basic but the view was millions worth.
While waiting for our boat back to Copacabana, another boat arrived in Yumani and brought supply for the locals. We couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw those extrem heavily packed women carrying so much stuff up the steep staircase to their houses.
My body would collapse under the weight.
The 1.5 days on Isla del Sol passed very quickly and we spent a great time there. If you’ll ever have the chance to visit Bolivia and Lake Titicaca, don’t just visit Copacabana. You will miss such amazing views when not going to Isla del Sol.
If you need any further information, just leave a message below or email us. We would love to help you with your Lake Titicaca travel plans.
Enjoy this beautiful blue lake and safe travels!
Thanks for reading,