Peru & Bolivia

Summer 2006

Part 8: Lake Titicaca (Bolivia)


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August 13th (day 19): Copacabana (3820m)

Copacabana is a small town by Lake Titicaca that receives a lot of tourists. For Bolivians, it is a site of pilgrimage because the Virgin of Copacabana is the patron saint of Bolivia. For foreign tourists, it is the base from which to visit the Isla del Sol. You may know the song that goes "Copa... Copacabana" but that is about the famous beach in a borough of Rio de Janeiro that is also called Copacabana. That Copacabana was named after this one though when it got a replica of the Virgin of Copacabana, so there is a connection.

I arrived from La Paz at around 3pm and found the town buzzing with activity. This was some special day on which the locals had their cars blessed by some kind of shamans. Literally every single car, bus and truck in town was adorned with flowers and confetti and they were standing bumper to bumper, blocking several streets as they waited for their turn to be blessed in front of the basilica. All very strange.
Cars and busses lining up to be blessed
A shaman doing his thing in front of the basilica

When I'd checked into a hotel, I visited the 16th century basilica. It's the only monument in town but a rather nice one, and with its Moorish style very different from other colonial churches. This basilica houses the image of the Virgin.
The gate and the belltower of the basilica
A pavilion in the courtyard

After this I climbed the Cerro Calvario (Calvary hill) which is topped by crosses and chapels that symbolise the seven sorrows of Mary, or something. I went to get a view on Copacabana and see the sunset, and I wasn't alone, it was crawling with tourists, including a lot of noisy Dutchmen, bweh. This place is far more touristy than any other in Bolivia because a lot of package tourists who are touring Peru come over here for a day to visit Isla del Sol.
Copacabana seen from the hill. On the left the basilica is just falling off the picture, on the right is the shore of lake Titicaca. From here boats bring the tourists to Isla del Sol.
View to the other side
Local women selling toys on top of the hill. Behind them you see more shoreline; I`d walk all along it next day and much further still on my trek to Yampupata.

On the third picture you see local women selling toy cars and toy money. As I just found out, this has to do with the ceremony. The idea is that you buy a toy version of that which you desire (a new car or money) and then hopefully you will get it - cute superstition. After a while I realised there were too many clouds to get a good sunset so I just went down.
Silhouette of a local woman and two tourists on top of the hill
View from the beach.



August 14th-15th (days 20-21): Isla del Sol (3820m)

Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) lies near the Bolivian shore of Lake Titicaca. The lake got its name from this island, which in Quechua is called Titi'kaka or "Rock of the Puma". It was a sacred place to the Incas who believed the sun was born there, as well as their first ruler Manco Capac. It is covered by Inca terraces and has several Inca ruins.

Most tourists make a day trip to Isla del Sol from Copacabana by boat, but the Lonely Planet called Isla del Sol a "magical place" where you would want to spend "at least two nights", and they also recommended doing the half day trek from Copacabana to Yampupata, the point nearest Isla del Sol, and take a boat from there.

When I woke up this morning I still didn't know what to do, because I could hardly walk with the two open blisters I'd taken as souvenirs from Huayna Potosi. Then I remembered that I had special blister bandages from Hansaplast (I had bought them for my Nepal trek but not used them there). I put them on - they turned out to look like oval patches of translucent skin - and immediately noticed I could walk again. So I decided to do the Yampupata trek and took what things I needed to spend one night on Isla del Sol. After a few hours I didn't even feel my blisters anymore, and they would heal perfectly after that just by leaving those two bandages on for a few days, despite all my walking. I've rarely been such a satisfied customer, viva Hansaplast!

Yampupata trek

Yampupata is a village near the cape of the peninsula that stretches towards Isla del Sol. It's a 17km walk from Copacabana, and according to the LP the scenery along the way is fantastic. I enjoyed the first hour because I was walking through authentic Bolivian country side where the locals were going about their daily lives, but I thought the landscape was nothing special. During the second half of the walk I was bored and just wanted to get it over with, but to be fair the sun was gone then which also made the landscape less attractive. The whole walk took me 3h15, here are the best pictures I made along the way.
Looking back to Copacabana. On the right is the Calvario hill.
A rocky hill
I was following the shoreline of Lake Titicaca much of the time
An old Inca road cutting across a peninsula
Looking back on one of peninsulas - the shoreline is very irregular.
Down there is Yampupata - you can see a few boats on the right, the village is behind the trees.

I was the only tourist in Yampupata - few people make this trek apparently. I paid a guy to row me across to Isla del Sol, which took half an hour.
I was being rowed to Isla del Sol by this old man - a bit embarassing. In hindsight I should have offered to row the boat myself.

Arrival on Isla del Sol

I was dropped off on the southern tip of the island and scrambled up the hills until I was above the first and one of the main of the Inca ruins on the islands: the palace of Pilkokaina. It turned out to be just a small shack with walls made up of cobbles piled on top of each other - entirely uncomparable to the Inca masonry and architecture I'd seen before.
This is supposedly an Inca palace.
Looking back after I`d walked past the palace. On the left is the Bolivian shore.

A bit further was the Escalera del Inca, a stairway among luscious green terraces. This place was nice.
The Escalera del Inca
A tree on the Escalera

Above the Escalera del Inca lies the village Yumani, the main tourist hub of the island. I got a hotel room and then climbed on to the highest point of the village on top of the hill to enjoy the view. I was joined by this local girl who was really funny and good practice for my Spanish.
I called her a little piggy when she sat in this.

In the evening I wanted to have dinner but all the restaurants were empty or near empty and none of them had a menu. In the end I ate alone somewhere. I had to use my flashlight to find the way back to my hotel.

Trekking south to north

In the morning I set out at 9:30 to traverse the island from south to north. The island is about 6km long. I took the high route over the tops of the hills and arrived at the northern tip after three hours.

When there was sunlight the island was a very pretty place but I was still somewhat underwhelmed because of the Lonely Planet's exagerated praise for this place. The 'Inca ruins' I passed along the way were just laughable piles of cobbles - if they were standing in my back garden I'd want them removed. I suspect these 'ruins' were just made by the locals to add some features to the island.
Looking back just after I left Yumani, of which you see the highest part. Great picture I think
Looking down to the beach, where you can set up a tent.
Terracing everywhere
On the last two pictures you see the long slender peninsula that sticks out of Isla del Sol. The Lonely Planet says you need half a day to walk to its tip and back, but why on earth would you want to do that?!
Villages along the way
Sometimes I followed this path
Here I`m looking back after arriving at the northern end of the island

The northern end

The northern end of the island turned out to be the most beautiful and interesting part. Here there are nice rock formations, and near the northern tip lie the ruins of Chinkana, the only ones on the islands that amount to anything.
On the right are the ruins of Chinkana
Looking down on the beach from the ruins

I now walked south again towards the village of Challapampa, where I could get a boat back to Copacabana.
Looking back on the northern end as I walked south again
Nice coastal landscape here
There on that thin strip of land is Challapampa
Terraces everywhere. This was taken from the boat.

Along the way I'd heard that the last boat from Challapampa leaves at 1pm already, so I had hurried up to be there by then, and the information proved to be correct. I thought I'd be back in Copacabana early, but the boat was very slow and made a long stop at the Escalera del Inca so people could collect their luggage there. It was 5pm by the time I was back in Copacabana.

As you probably noticed I was somewhat disappointed by Isla del Sol, but only because the LP hyped it so much. There's nothing magical about the island, it's a very touristy place with little authenticity left as most if not all of the locals make their living off tourists. The island is beautiful though, and was worth visiting, but just doing the day trip would have been enough.

Leaving Bolivia

Back in Copacabana I didn't find a bus to Puno (in Peru), but an agency arranged a minibus for me and three French guys who'd been on the boat with me. It cost quite a lot but it seemed convenient. Across the border, which is just 10 minutes from Copacabana, we had to get into another minibus, but that one dropped us in the nearest town and this driver hadn't even been paid for it.

So it turned out we had been scammed by that agency in Copacabana (it's called Grace Tours and is located on Av. 6 de Agosto 200, near the plaza). What a sad goodbye from Bolivia, one of my favourite countries I've been to and one of the very few I intend to return to. I was furious and seriously considered going back to smash up that agency or something, but it would have cost me a day since the border was closing.

We made our way to Puno on a chicken bus, arriving late in the evening. I just spent the night here before continuing to Arequipa.

<< Part 7: Huayna Potosi    -   Back to Index   -    Part 9: Arequipa >>




Cy Mon 12 Feb 2007 @ 15:58
I enjoyed your photos, especially of Arbor de Piedra! How fragile it looks. Thanks for your tips on traveling to Machu Pichu on LonelyPlanet.com.

Daria Thu 07 Dec 2006 @ 00:20
Ammmazing photos and exciting views!!! :)
I can't find the right words!

I bet in real life these views were much more breathtaking :) At some point I envy you - you had a chance to see all this beauty by your own eyes!
But the same time thank you very much for sharing this beauty with us :) This way it is also very nice ;)

Looking forward to seeing new pics and reading new reports ;)

Godsmurf Thu 30 Nov 2006 @ 00:11
It'll be 90% nature pics in the rest of the report. You ain't seen nothing yet :)

Well apart from some really wild desert llamas I saw penguins, condors, flamingos, pelicans, other birds, and sealions!

Fia Wed 29 Nov 2006 @ 15:07
Excellent pictures! Very beautiful sceneries! As usual I prefer mountain pics before buildings. ;-) I especially like the green colours of the mountains and the blue colours of the lakes that you visited.

By the way, you didn't happen to see any wildlife? Apart from that creepy millipede I mean. (And lamas don't count as wild.) :-)


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