Nestled in the high Andes, Lake Titicaca is a place of superlatives. I promise that this is not just another travel writing cliché. According to Discover Peru, it is the highest navigable lake in the world. At 8300 sq km or 3240 sq miles, it is so large that it receives water from five major river systems, comprising more than twenty-five rivers. Isla del Sol, on the Bolivian side, is considered to have been the birthplace of the Incas. Apart from this island, most tourists will stop at Copacabana. The traditional Bolivian town has acquired a somewhat Hippie vibe.
Firstly, the highlight of the area is the lake itself and not the town of Copacabana. Although the beach at Copacabana may have lent its name to its more famous counterpart in Brazil, the comparison ends there. Its swan pedal boats and meagre amount of dark sand make it worth an afternoon or evening stroll. Nothing more. Period. However, Copacabana isn’t without its charms. In fact, it is a travel hub for those on their way to and from Peru. Also, some of those who have been to neighbouring Puno over in Peru may find it positively enchanting.
This is one of the main attractions of the town. Lined with the fourteen Stations of the Cross, it is a vertical climb on a well-marked path. The effort will be rewarded by views across the lake and the town. From here, Isla del Sol is clearly visible and condors ride warm air currents. Be aware that you are at altitude and the walk is not for the faint- hearted. Bring plenty of water and make frequent stops to catch your breath. On the other hand, those fresh from the Inca Trail in Peru will find it a breeze.
Isla del Sol
The birthplace of the Incas!
Tour agencies along the main street sell half-day and full-day tours to the birthplace of the Incas. Due to the sheer size of the lake, travellers complain of rough crossings that are unpleasant at best. For this reason, you should perhaps pre-book a tour from a reputable agency such as Hanaq Pacha in La Paz. The advantage of these 2-3 day tours is that you have the time to get over the effects of any seasickness. Therefore, you can make the most of your visit.
With pilgrims coming from all over the country, Copacabana is a long-established religious centre in Bolivia. Consequently, it is hardly surprising that it is home to an important cathedral. Those who are here on a Sunday should certainly pay it a visit as the atmosphere alone will make it worthwhile. Interestingly, Bolivians come here to have their cars blessed and this spectacle can be seen in the morning. Sadly, this does not seem to have improved driving conditions in the country.
As a long established tourist centre, there is no shortage of accommodation here. La Cúpola, perched on the hill above the town, provides beautiful vistas across the lake from its alpaca-filled front garden. Single rooms here are quoted at $19 per night. Its sister hotel, Las Olas, charges $39 per night but guests there often rave about the superior facilities and the excellent views. Should your budget be tighter, there are other options such as Hostal Florencia, which quotes rates for as little as $10 per night on booking.com.
The main street is full of options for travellers. Note: solo travellers may not always be welcome when these restaurants and cafes are busy with groups. In some places you may even find yourself sharing a table with other solo travellers, which can lead to some interesting meetings. For those who like a splurge, the restaurant at Las Olas serves excellent food at higher prices. Lonely Planet recommends the fondue and, having tried it, I can back up their recommendation. It is better to book in advance, even for paying guests, and be aware that it closes after breakfast on Tuesday.
Getting there and getting around
Regular local buses leave from the Cemetery Bus Terminal in La Paz. Guidebooks and websites warn that this area is unsafe, particularly in the evenings. You may therefore think about prearranging a tour. Otherwise, Bolivia Hop offers comfortable buses that can be combined with a trip to Isla del Sol, as well as onward travel to Peru. Coming from there, Peru Hop (the sister company of Bolivia Hop) runs services from Cusco and Arequipa via Puno. These trips also include the possibility of visiting the Uros Floating Islands on the Peruvian side.
La Cúpola: http://www.hotelcupula.com/en_index.php
Las Olas: http://www.hostallasolas.com/
Bolivia Hop: www.boliviahop.com
Peru Hop: www.peruhop.com
Hanaq Pacha Travel (La Paz): http://www.hanaqpachatravel.com/