We were not incredibly excited about visiting Copacabana but we had to pass through this highly touristy place to get to the amazing Isla del Sol by Lake Titicaca. We have to admit, we underestimated this little town a lot, although we were lucky to be in the right place at the right time. We arrived in the afternoon and it was already too late for a boat to the island. We could not even be bothered with looking for accommodation and we took a room in a very reasonably priced Hotel Colonial just because it was next to the bus stop. We took a stroll around the main road filled with restaurants, bars and souvenir stalls and decided it was not our cup of tea and we could definitely not make it our exploration base when in the area.
We were lucky though, as the day we arrived there was a local event in town. It was not so much a festival but a celebration of the Saint who is the holly patron/protector of Bolivian Police. Every year on this occasion Police force from all over Bolivia gather their best musicians and dancers and make huge parade around Copacabana. Wow, it was quite something. Initially we did not know what their agenda was and thought we missed the main thing in the morning but they were just getting started.
Loads of colourfully dressed men and women filled up the streets dancing around and showing off their beautiful costumes. Some of them were really traditional, representing particular region i.e Sucre and Tarabuco and some were more carnival made with scary masks or feathered hats. Some Police teams were really lacking women or did not have female dancing groups around because guys had to dress up in skirts and dresses and put the makeup on – they felt so uncomfortable but hey, somebody had to do it?
We loved it and so did local people who gathered on the streets with snacks and drinks to watch the parade. We followed them around town until they all got together in groups to prepare for the main event – show in front of the Chef of Police. As it turned out the parade was just a preparation – then they really started to dance. We sat on the street with pop-corn and enjoyed our time. All together it took them around 2h to dance and show their fine costumes. Who would have thought we would see something like that, ha? Funnily enough majority of tourists/visitors were dining or drinking by the lake and had no idea what we were witnessing. Friends we made later on were shocked to find out that they had been so close to such celebration and had missed it.
The next day we got up early to take the 8am boat to Challapampa village in the northern tip of the island (according to the hotel manager the price is 15B, but they charge all gringos 25B and we paid 20B cause we argued – who knows which one is correct). There were only a few of us with full luggage. Majority of people go there in the morning, trek for the whole day and take an afternoon boat back to their cosy hotel in Copacabana. It is sad because this does not support tribal communities of Isla del Sol and they really need help. We decided to stay in the small Challapampa to get more feel of their lives. There are only a few ‘posadas’ and really, you stay in somebody’s house. There was one place that charged around 80B per room and swore to be the only place with hot water in the village. It was not true of course but it surprised us that one would behave like that in such a small community.
We managed to find a very simple but cute room with an outside bathroom with hot water for a bargain of 20B/3$ per person. It was the cheapest we have ever paid for a room in Bolivia and the family was so nice and open that we paid them 50B not 40B for each night in the end. On the boat we met a nice Belgian couple and we decided to do a ‘Northern’ trek with them. It was a great afternoon and we had loads of fun and interesting conversations with them. We walked around pretty much all the northern tip; saw some Inca Maze, Sacred Rock and the views were just spectacular. No wonder Incas chose this place as holly. Our new friends were staying in the south so they had to rush to their village while we just went home to have some delicious trucha (Lake Titicaca is famous for trout) and watched sun setting behind gigantic mountains near La Paz. We had to rest before the next day as we planned to walk all the way to the Yumani village in the south and back, which would be around 15km all together.
We found a stand with hot sandwiches and coffee for breakfast (near the pier) bought some cola, chocolate and fruit and we were ready for our fabulous hike. We even managed to pick up a dog friend which started to follow us after we shared breakfast with it. There are two trails leading S-N and wise versa and we took the lower one through other villages first. It was stunning – hard to describe the scenery, really. It reminded us a lot of Baikal in Siberia – the clear blue water contrasting with rough, rocky land with many eucalyptus trees – so amazing. Geographically, the terrain is harsh. There are no motor vehicles or paved roads on the island. The main economic activity for the approximately 800 families on the island is farming, with fishing and tourism augmenting the subsistence economy. You can observe them go by their daily routines when you pass their houses or fields. It was not an easy hike but so pleasurable because of the amazing views.
We broke our walk many times for snacks and pictures but finally got to Yumani around lunch time. Food was great too and again, with views like that it would be hard not to enjoy it. Yumani is the biggest of Island’s villages and reminded us of Copacabana. Not a place we would want to stay to be honest, however they get to enjoy great sunsets over there. We rested for an hour or so and started to walk back using the higher trail this time. It was much more difficult but perhaps we were already tired after so many hours of trekking. We were very glad we got to see the other trail as it was so much better. Yes, it did not lead us through the mountain tops but at least we managed to see more daily village life and met more locals on the way.
It was the only place in Bolivia we visited, where we could do some serious trekking. Loved it and loved the scenery. Isla del Sol offers different kind of experience in comparison to the rest of teh country. We were close to history, close to nature and tribal communities. We contributed by staying in the village, by buying products and food on the Island (did not even bring water from Copacabana) and by paying the entry fees to all the villages. Together with the fabulous Police celebrations and parade it was just the most perfect visit we could ask for. Love Bolivia overall but Isla Del Sol is definitely one of the most memorable places we visited during our Round The World trip.
Essential Travel Tips:
- Isla del Sol is at 3,800m at the base and 4,100m at the peak so you will also have altitude to deal with. This makes trekking quite difficult even if you are very fit.
- You have to pay 15B to enter the island community. Make sure you get a ticket/receipt as proof of payment as you will need it on the cross-island walk (which we loved). If you do the walk, take your ticket as well as an extra 15B which you will have to pay at the toll point for the second community on the island.
- Boat from Copacabana to Isla del Sol leave at 8.30am and 1.30pm and cost 30B there and 20B return but as I mentioned we paid 20B only on the way there
- Reasons to stay for longer? The story and images did not convince you? Then stay to relax, stay to watch the sunset and see the island without daily visitors!