LAKE TITICACA: WORTH MORE THAN A DAY TRIP
Three days in Copacabana is exactly what you may need
Straddling the Bolivian and Peruvian border sits Lake Titicaca, the word's highest navigable lake at 3,800 metres above sea level. 120 miles long and 50 miles wide, every inch of the lake is pure beauty and tranquility. We spent 3 days in the Bolivian town of Copacabana during which we explored Incan ruins, sailed to the surrounding islands and witnessed the most beautiful sunset of our entire lives.
Pretty much every bus company in La Paz runs a service to Copacabana. We went with Vicuña Travel for the 4 hour journey which cost 50 BOB (£5.50) per person plus 2 BOB for the boat crossing. It turns out we actually overpaid a little so if you push or shop around you may be able to find the transfer for cheaper.
Spoilt for choice is an understatement when it comes to accommodation here. We found a cute little family run hostel right on the lake front - Hostal Leyanda. 140 BOB (£15.50) per night and we had a large private room with a balcony overlooking the lake. With so many options you can spend as little or as much as you like but you'd do well to beat Leyanda for value.
To kick off day number one we set about exploring the town. As you'd expect with any popular tourist destination, there are an abundance of bars, restaurants, hostels, tour agencies and souvenir shops lining the central streets and the lake front. Yet, somehow, the annoyance factor usually associated with such a setting is not there. There is a very pleasant and calming energy around Copacabana.
One spot you wont want to miss is the central plaza. The stunning Catedral de la Virgen de la Candelaria fills the plaza. We were lucky enough to witness a religious ceremony (many are held here throughout the year) where hundreds of locals donning traditional colourful garments lined the plaza armed with drums before marching off through the streets.
On day two we decided to hike to one of the sites dotted around the outskirts of town. There are many to choose from and all hold historical significance to the Incan civilisation -
- HORCA DEL INCA - This structure was used by Incan astronomers and priests to observe the sun during the winter solstice and Aymara new year. 30 minute walk from the town centre.
- INTINKALA - The "Stone of the sun" is a group of carved stones. 10 minute walk.
- KUSIJATA - Inca agricultural terraces and irrigation canals, one of which feeds a pool known as Bano del Inca and was used as a ritual bath. There is also a little archeological museum with artefacts from the Chiripa, Mollo, Tiawanaku and Inca cultures. 1 hour walk.
- SAMPAYA - Small preserved town where the houses are made out stone. Stunning views of the lake and valleys during the 3 hour walk.
- YAMPUPATA - A peninsula located 4 hours outside of town. Well worth renting a bike and cycling here.
Something worth noting is that the altitude here makes breathing fairly difficult. Not looking for anything overly strenuous we opted for the 1 hour walk to Kusijata to check out the ancient baths. Highly recommended and well worth the 15 BOB admission. The walk there takes you along a near secluded section of the lake where we managed to get up close to a group of flamingos.
No trip to Copacabana would be complete without a day trip to Isla del Sol (Island of the sun) and Isla de la Luna (Island of the moon). There are a number of tour operators on the island offering excursions to either or both of the islands and a trip to both will set you back around 25 BOB (£2.80) per person.
The first stop on the on our third and final day was Isla de la Luna, a 2 hour boat ride away from Copacabana. What you're not told until you arrive on the island is that there is an admission fee of 15 BOB to get on to the island. (All of these little admission fees and extra charges for tourists are quite common in Bolivia). What you'll find on the island are the archeological ruins of an Inca convent. You only get an hour and a half here (which is more than enough) before the 45 minute boat ride over to Isla del Sol.
Our arrival on Isla del Sol had another surprise in store, in addition to a 15 BOB admission. Turns out the locals had grown tired of the behaviour of some visitors and, in protest, had blocked off the northern half of the island. Nonetheless, the island still has plenty to offer with over 80 ancient ruins and numerous hiking trails. You'll find no roads or vehicles and the terrain is rough, rocky and very steep making the island fairly tricky to navigate. The village of Yumani on the south side is the most developed village and where most will base themselves if spending a night or two. Cha'llapampa on the northern half is where the majority of the ruins and the gold museum can be found, depending on protests that is.
Back on Copacabana we had one item left on our Lake Titicaca itinerary - sunset at Cerro Calvario. Beginning near the church on Destacamento, the trail climbs past the 14 stations of the cross. The steepness of the hill and the altitude make this a pretty tough climb but the reward is one of the best moments of our trip so far. A stunning panoramic view of Copacabana and Lake Titicaca. The sunset from here is unlike anything I have ever seen and was the perfect ending to our stay.
Next stop, Uyuni salt flats.