Lake Titicaca, which sits at 3,800 metres as the highest navigable lake in the world, sprawls across the borders of Bolivia and Peru. It is home to a handful of Andean people who fiercely guard their rich pre-Incan and Incan heritage with frequent celebrations, traditional clothing and their tranquil lifestyle. The lake is home to a number of Incan-ruin-dotted islands – notably the Isla de la Luna and the Isla del Sol on the Bolivian side, the latter of which we planned to visit.
The first, and most popular, town reached by most people via one rather nerve-wracking ferry crossing is Copacabana. A short three and a half hour journey from the bustling city of La Paz, it provides a number of tourist-oriented restuarants and some beautiful places to stay, among them Hostal Las Olas where we were unfortunately not able to secure a reservation.
We spent one evening in Copacabana, which proved to be enough to sample the local trout and experience some of the tourist nightlife, before organising our crossing to the Isla del Sol the following day. The island is home to over 80 ruins dating back to the Incan period, 15th Century AD. Scientists have even discovered evidence to suggest that people may have even lived on this island as far back as the third millenium BCE. Tourists often choose to take a boat to one end of the small island, and then trek to the other end the following day, taking in the spectacular history and views.
The one and a half hour crossing from Copacabana to the south side of the island didn’t disappoint, providing postcard-perfect views as the sun shone down and illuminated the massive lake a dark, sparkling blue. We were enthusiastically greeted at the dock by a 12-year-old guide, keen to show us the way to the best hostels that the small island had to offer. Young guides aren’t a rare occurence in South America, and they don’t always deliver on their promises. Somewhat sceptical, we followed the boy up the seemingly endless steps to the town itself.
In addition, lugging our heavy packs up the stone steps required a few breathers, I recommend you take a day pack to the island and leave anything you don’t need on the mainland! Much to our delight our young guide didn’t disappoint and we arrived at the foot of the Casa de la Luna, the best view on the island for $15AUD!
Dumping our bags in the room, we stood on the balcony looking down into a nearby courtyard at the foot of the hill, packed with Bolivians in traditional costume, complete with instruments and dancing wildy. We decided to make our way down the hill and check it out. No sooner had we left our hostel’s front door, were we swept up in a crowd of dancers moving up the hill. Laughing, we decided to follow them and see where the day took us.
No less than fifteen minutes later we were being handed open beers and being herded into the back yard of a nondescript house. With the loud music and dancing still going on all around us we had no choice but to try out some moves ourselves, much to the delight of the Bolivians (and for Emily’s sake, some of the Bolivian men!) Once we had exhausted ourselves we were invited to eat with them, and plate after plate of carbohydrate-loaded food suddenly appeared from the kitchen window. Reflecting on this afternoon, it was probably one of the most unanticipated, random acts of fun and kindness I have experienced on this trip so far. Both of us gringos were thrilled to be a part of it, and yes, I think we had a bit of this feeling about us…
After we said our thanks and goodbyes, the party showed no sign of stopping, instead it seemed to intensify as the night drew on. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that almost every Bolivian on the island was absolutely plastered. This was certainly great fun for them but, being an island, there was nobody left to feed the gringos! The only places open and offering food wre (luckily) our hostel and a pizzeria at the bottom of the hill. Abandoning the party, well aware of our 7km walk to the north of the island the following day, we grabbed an early night.
The pain of rising at 7am the next morning was countered by the promise of fresh coffee and a hot breakfast before we set off to walk to the island’s north. But it wasn’t to be. As if I hadn’t learned anything from being in Bolivia yet, I was mildly surprised to find nothing in the hostel kitchen but several empty beer bottles, there was no sign of our host. Following a cold shower (which also electrocuted me) we cut our losses and set off on our walk, armed with our day packs and leaving our heavy packs behind to collect later.
Despite the slow start to the day, we did manage to find some hot coffee and apples half and hour later. Refreshed, we set off eagerly through the island’s rolling hills, high above the coastline and heavy with the homely aroma of eucalyptus trees. Each brief uphill walk was rewarded with panoramic island views, with the lake stretching as far as the eye could see in every direction. Occasionally we stumbled upon interesting ruins, but unfortunately lacked a guide to explain their significance to us.
Walking from the south to the north of the island rewarded us with a steady mountain climb providing the highest, 360 degree views of the afternoon. It also gave us a birds-eye view of what appeared to be the island’s single largest collection of ruins.
Enjoy the remaining photos from this beautiful island, and don’t forget to add any comments or questions in the space below.