After almost two weeks in La Paz, let’s go to the famous Lake Titicaca, highest navigable lake in the world (located 3 800 m above sea level) to discover Copacabana, Isla del Sol and Isla de la Luna. Be careful, this post will be full of sunset pictures!
From La Paz to Copacabana
Wednesday 4th July 2018
We left our hostel early in the morning with Juan and waited for Jazmin and Jorge at the bus stop, as they had decided to come to spend three days with us. They arrived shortly as the bus was leaving. As it was full, we had the chance with Juan to come to the front with the driver… ideal to admire the landscapes!
The road first went along the Cordillera Real, like the day before as we were driving to Tiahuanaco. A scenery that I couldn’t get bored of! We then started driving along the Lake Titicaca, which we crossed at the village of San Pablo de Tiquina. All the passengers had to get out of the bus and cross it by boat, while the bus was charged on another “boat” made out of wooden planks. One can wonder how it could be stable but it surprisingly held on really well!
The last part of the trip was simply amazing. Probably one of the most beautiful road in Bolivia, and we had the chance to be in the front to fully enjoy it! A superb mountain road going up and then down to Copacabana, offering stunning views over the lake. A real pleasure!
Once in Copacabana
We arrived at the beginning of the afternoon in Copacabana. We started with a lunch at the Mercado central before going to look for a hostel. Travellers of our hostel in La Paz had recommended us a really good one out of the city centre, on the lake’s shores. We went there full of hope and very enthusiasts as we discovered the place, but it was unfortunately full. The owner recommended us another one so we went back to look for it.
It was actually a hostel still under construction, which didn’t even have a name so far! Located on the heights of Copacabana, it didn’t have WIFI yet but the rooms were already functional and benefited from a breath taking view over the lake. For one night it would be perfect!
First sunset of a long series
We had a short nap and left towards Cerro Calvario, one hill that overlooks the city and is an ideal place to watch the sunset. The slope was steep but quit short and the view at the top was definitely worth the effort. Copacabana is a very religious site with its famous basilica with the venerated Copacabana Virgin, so a lot of offerings and many candles can be found at the top of the Cerro.
We all went on a different viewpoint to enjoy the scenery. We had to put on more clothes as the sun was going down but the moment was still very pleasant, with the sun reflecting in the lake face to us and the city getting enlightened on our left.
We came back down at nightfall and went to get warmer with an api (delicious drink made out of corn, cinnamon and clove) and buñuelos (sort of fried pancake with honey, terribly delicious) at the Mercado central.
We then went to visit the basilica, which is by far the most beautiful I have ever seen in Bolivia, be it for its external architecture (close to the Moresque style) or for its interior. It has the particularity to have another chapel inside on the heights of the church, the Virgin Lodge, which is housed behind the choir. The statue of the Virgin can thus be turned either on the side of the main church during the weekend, or on the side of this chapel during the week – this was a special demand of its creator so that she remains orientated towards the lake. Taking pictures inside is forbidden so I can unfortunately noy illustrate this characteristic!
We then booked out boat to leave to the islands on the following day and went to sleep early.
Isla de la Luna by my watch
Thursday 5th July 2018
As we had a boat planned at 8.30, we left early, had our breakfast at the Mercado central (the api and buñuelos diet went on), quickly bought some food for our picnic and then went to take our boat. We went on the top of it so to enjoy the landscapes. It’s better to bring warm clothes because it was obviously quite fresh and the trip was long! Distances are not that big but the boats go very slowly (12 km/h in average), which gives enough time to get cold.
We arrived in Isla de la Luna about 2h30 later, a small island on which we had a first stop of one hour. We quickly went to the top of the island to see the view and walked down to the ruins of an Inca convent, which we unfortunately had to visit very quickly as the boat was already about to leave. I definitely don’t like when I have time pressure during my visits!
The famous Isla del Sol
Another boat-hour later, we arrived at Isla del Sol. This island, which is the biggest on the lake, is famous for its numerous Inca ruins, it rural way of life (no motored cars no tar road, mostly agriculture and fishing as source of income) but had a strong development of tourism over the last years. It’s better to go there with some food reserves because everything is over-expensive!
We waited for the crowd going down from the different boats to spread and stayed on the borders of the lake to have our picnic. The place was perfect with the slap of water, Isla de la Luna face to us and the end of the Cordillera Real in the background. I put my feet in the water (which was VERY fresh) while my companions were doing ricochets. A perfect picnic break!
We left with regret, started exploring the ruins of Titi Qala, a curious Inca construction built like a labyrinth. We then went on the heights of the island to join the village of Yumani, where we looked for a hostel. Prices were quite prohibitive but Yazmin managed to find a place at unbeatable prices. Comfort was quite rudimentary but the view from the bedrooms was amazing and it would be perfect for one night.
The series of sunsets goes on
We were well decided to admire another sunset so we quickly went to explore the island, but our walk didn’t bring us that far. We indeed found a mirador on the heights of the village from which the view was simply stunning. No need to go further in such condition. Jazmin stayed at the hostel to get some rest and Jorge went to join her while Juan and me stayed enjoying this last hour of sun on the mirador.
The sunset was incredible. If the one of the day before didn’t have a single cloud, this one was much more contrasted, with the sky taking red / orange colours until nightfall. The mirador was suddenly full of tourist as the sun was going down but I disregarded it, focusing on my music, my pictures and this burning sky.
We came back starry-eyed after such a great moment, ate some sandwiches left from our lunch and had a small walk in the village with Jazmin and Jorge. There was nothing special to do there so we ended up coming back to the hostel, where we spent an excellent evening playing and laughing so much that we even bothered another person staying at the hostel.
Exploring the island
We woke up with a great sun after a good night sleep. Juan left to watch France’s quarterfinal while Jazmin, Jorge and I tried to find some food for our breakfast without ruining ourselves. On the menu for me: bread with… bread. I should have foreseen it and brought more food with me! We ate on the same mirador as the day before, from which the view was still as beautiful, and then split as we didn’t have the same ideas for a walk.
I first went to the North of the island, strolling through the fields. Given the relief and the vegetation, the plantation system on the whole island is made with terraces, with small plots through which it is easy to walk. There’s almost no natural vegetation left on the island because of this agriculture, which completely changed the landscapes, but at least it makes it easy to walk.
I then came back to the village where I took the stuff I had left and went to another mirador further south in the island. The landscapes were once again amazing and I enjoyed a lot the tranquillity of the place. The majority of the tourists indeed come to spend only one day on the island, which lets them just some time to visit the main sites before leaving again. I was almost alone wherever I was going and it was truly valuable.
I then went down towards the port, where the four of us were supposed to join so to take a boat together back to Copacabana. I finished the descent with the Escalera del Inca, stone stairs leading to a spring which legend says that it extends youth. The stairs were magnificent, bordered with flowers and this spring flowing all along, but it was full of tourists… the tranquillity of the last hours was over and I didn’t really appreciate this change.
Isla del Sol now offers a huge contrast between its rural ways of life (agriculture, cholitas raising their lamas, donkeys all around the island to carry the harvest etc.) and this huge development of tourism, which appears as the main income nowadays. Accommodations and restaurants with exorbitant prices and the daily massive arrivals of visitors spoil the island’s atmosphere. It would probably be better to stay for a few days with a tent (at another period though because nights are freezing cold at more than 3 800 m high in winter) and look for other places that would be more remote, so to find real tranquillity.
Back to Copacabana
We couldn’t take the same boat as Jorge and Jazmin, who left one hour before us… we then hoped we would find them once in Copacabana! We made friends with other French travellers as we were waiting and then travelling, with who we all shared a lot of tips. They were coming from Colombia and Peru and were heading to Argentina, hence the contrary of our itinerary.
We arrived in Copacabana as the sun was setting down. We got our bags back at the hostel and went to look for another accommodation with a good price but also with WIFI. As soon as we found it, we were able to communicate with Jazmin and Jorge. We were afraid that they would already have left to La Paz but they had finally decided to stay one night more! We went to have dinner with them at the Mercado central, where we tried a succulent trout, one specialty of the lake. This was a step aside my vegetarian diet but it was local, fresh and so delicious that I would have been wrong to deprive myself!
We had a short digestive walk during which I discovered the Jugo de Linaza (hot drink made out of grinded linseeds and lemon, a delight!) and went to rest at the hostel after this long and busy day.
Horca del Inca
Saturday 7th July 2018
We had the pleasure to eat again our calorific api – buñuelos breakfast and walked towards Horca del Inca, also named Pachat’aqa, an archaeological site located on a hill overlooking the city. Dating from the pre-inca culture Chiripa, this site now only has three stones left, forming a portal that probably had astrology uses. It looks like the Spanish destroyed many other monuments there.
The only problem to go there is that – once again – one has to pay to access to it. It looked everything but legal (no company identification system on the ticket, it was simply the owner of the house at the feet of the hill that was enjoying the situation). As Jorge and Jazmin know well the Bolivian legislation – which stipulates that all the territory is accessible for free – negotiated with vehemence with the owner, who would do everything to make us pay. After many threats of contacting the police – which he would not do as he was illegal – they finally managed to make him go away, which allowed us to climb for free. 10 bolivianos saved, that’s the price of one meal at the Mercado central!
Once on the top, we stayed there for a while to enjoy the panorama and the sun, before going down on the other side of the hill, so to avoid meeting again this aggressive “guard”. If we had known before, we could even have gone this way from the beginning and avoid this scene!
Hasta luego amigos
We had one last lunch together at the Mercado central and then accompanied Jazmin and Jorge to take their bus back to La Paz. It was time to say goodbye after so many good moments spent together, but this is also part of the trip! A thousand thanks to them for all the nice conversations we had, the numerous giggles and all the things we kept on learning about Bolivia 😉
I went to look for another accommodation with good WIFI and a nice environment so to stay at least one week in Copacabana catching up on the blog, while Juan stayed at the same hostel. His visa would expire in two days so he would have to leave the country in any case and the hostel meanwhile didn’t really matter.
Horca del Inca at sunset
We met again at the end of the afternoon and walked again up to Horca del Inca, through the same path that we had used to go down avoiding the owner. The view was perfect and the sunset once again sublime. As always, it is at nightfall that colours get even more crazy; and it was really great to take pictures there.
We came down by night using the “normal” access, where we luckily didn’t see anyone. One api to get warmer and we then went each in our own hostel, like a gentle separation after more than two months travelling together 😉
Separation, blog and sunsets
We split on Monday 9th July with Juan, who was precisely going to Peru. I couldn’t list all the great moments that we shared during these last two months exploring Bolivia together, but it was by far my best travel companion.
Hasta pronto parce !
I won’t describe my daily life during the week that followed, as I spent my days writing, editing pictures and publishing articles, having my breakfast, the sunsets and/or runs along the lakes as main activities. Copacabana is a small city that is mainly touristic but still with a nice and sunny living environment, which makes it a good place to stay for a while before crossing the border to Peru.
I still had the occasion to see a parade on the 16th of July, which is a public holiday in La Paz’s department
A last and typical Bolivian celebration, with bands, cholitas, schoolchildren and students parading… a nice occasion to take several pictures and videos!
I also did one nice hike on the last day in the surroundings of Copacabana, a nice way to end up my stay in Bolivia. The lake on one side, the fields with plants, sheep, cows, lamas and pigs, the cholitas working in the fields, the mountains in the background, and the tranquillity…
I came back with a storm following me for a while. I wouldn’t have liked to be under the hail that fell once I was back to the hostel! It was strong that it caused a general power cut in the whole city. I thus spent my last evening in Bolivia with candlelight, memorable!
To be continued…
Bus La Paz – Copacabana : 20 BOB – 2,40€ – about 3h30 bus-trip. Prepare 2 BOB more to cross the Lake Titicaca.
Bateau Copacabana – Isla de la Luna – Isla del Sol : 20 BOB – 2,40€ – About 2h30 from Copacabana to isla de la Luna, 1h to visit the island and 1h to join Isla del Sol. Distances are short but the boats go very quickly (12 km/h)
Bateau Isla del Sol – Copacabana (on the following day) : 20 BOB – 2,40€
Hostel Inka Tierra à Isla del Sol : 20 BOB – 2,40€ per night in a 2-bed room. Very basic hostel, without shower. Very nice view from the bedrooms and perfect for one cheap night.
Hostal Manco Kapac à Copacabana : 20 BOB – 2,40€ per night in a 2-bed room. Quite nice hostel for a good price but the bathrooms are definitely not clean enough and wifi is very slow.
Hostal Garden Inn à Copacabana : 35 BOB – 4,30€ in a 2-bed room (only for me) with private bathroom. Price negotiated at 30 BOB per night for the whole week. The hostal is very clean and pleasant, with a nice and sunny garden, a functional kitchen and friendly owners. (Very close to the mercado central but in a quiet street. Wi-Fi has its up and down but this appears to be the case in the whole city.
Isla de la Luna : 10 BOB – 1,24€ entrance fee on the island, 1h max to visit it
Isla del Sol : 10 à 15 BOB – 1,24 à 1,86€ entrance fee on the island, depending on the period