Lake Titicaca: Birthplace of the sun and REAL jewel of the Andes

At 9.30am we were on the move. To get to Copacabana from the Cementario stop in La Paz we had two options, take the big bus or pay a bit extra and jump in a 7 seater mini van. We chose to take the minivan option, the bus would only save us 5 bob each ($2aud) and with the amount of uphill that giant heavy lump would have to struggle through to get out of La Paz we felt splashing out at 25bob each for a 4 hour journey ($10aud) was worth it! The van filled up pretty quickly with Bolivian locals (according to the register we had to fill in) and thanks to our aggressive driver, who was happy to take a dirt road and cut into the front of the queue at the toll gate,the trip went quickly. Something to note if you are taking the same journey, traffic stops in Tiquina to cross part of the lake and avoid a boarder crossing into Peru. So this is where everyone has to get out, then the bus or van is loaded onto a barge and passengers buy a ticket to cross separately on a small and fumey boat for 1.50bob.

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Our van coming off the barge on the other side

We arrived at 1pm and found a beautiful spot to call home on Lake Titicaca.
After finding a cheap, but pretty average trucha (trout) menu for lunch we decided to walk up to the main Mirador to catch the afternoon sun.

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The view of Copacabana from the lookout

What a spot! The tranquil view out over the lake was soul rejuvenating. Especially after the chaos of La Paz! If you do head to Bolivia via Peru, don’t fall for the spiel of the airlines who may try to tell you that you need an exit ticket! You can either a) book the flight at the counter then cancel within 24 hours. OR use fake flights.net. Going to La Paz to go back to Lake Titicaca is unnecessary!

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The view of the mirador from Copacabana

There are a few things you can do from Lake Titicaca, visit Isla del Sol (25bob to take a boat to the north or 20bob to the south, with a beautiful 7km walk between them), or you can take a boat to see Bolivia’s version of the floating reed islands and have dinner, or you can take a 3 hour bus to Puno and see the Peruvian side of the lake along with their more famous floating islands of Uros for 25-30 bob each way for the bus. Or you can just chill! Copacabana has a really quiet relaxed vibe with loads of bars and restaurants and coked up long term wandering gypsy types selling their jewellery. It’s great for people watching.

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It’s free to wander around the unique Spanish colonial cathedral in Copacabana. It’s quite pretty and houses a shrine to Our Lady Copacabana who is the patron saint of Bolivia.

ILLNESS INTERLUDE: this is where I got sick and ended up in bed for 4 days with flulike symptoms as well as vomiting and diarrhea. If you’re ever in Copacabana be careful which restaurant you choose and although it’s super tempting to eat the trout be forewarned that a lot of people get sick after eating it. On a positive note, La casa Del Sol was the best place we could’ve been! We had our own little removed room in the garden with a clean bathroom and the owners are wonderful! The lady made me tea and soup, and on the 3rd day when I was feeling worse (even after 2 days of generic antibiotics) she called me a doctor. Doctor Maria examined me and promptly diagnosed me with Salmonella. A shot in the bum, more antibiotics, probiotics, as well as some electrolytes and other wee tummy protecting gear, and a couple of good nights rest, I was on my way back to as normal as I was before.

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Steve patiently waiting for me to get better on the steps at Casa del Sol

I was a bit nervous catching the boat to the northern part of Isla del Sol because I still wasn’t quite right, but it turned out to be very slow and placid complete with beautiful scenery. The south is more popular with tourists, and boats to Isla del Luna only go from here, but the north has its own set of ruins and a little sandy beach.

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My advice for the boat is to get on early to get a spot up top. Underneath is rather fumey and hot, you’ll need a jacket up top but the 360 view of the lake is magnificent 

As we got off the boat at the north we were stopped before the end of the jetty by a woman who made us pay 10 bob each for a ticket. Nobody told us about that! Straight after that we were approached by a few local primary school kids who wanted to take us to their accommodation.. We decided to take a chance and go it alone, then wandered into the 1st lodging at the end of the boat ramp. The room was very basic but clean with a private bathroom, hot shower, and a lovely view of the lake and the mountains with a balcony.

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Sunrise over the lake from our balcony

Bags ditched, we went to check out the beach we had heard about. I wasn’t holding high expectations, but it’s actually a beautiful little white sand bay and is poetry inspiring (although I didn’t write one). Lake Titicaca is blue and clear, it’s so big you can only see the land on the other side as a part of the distant landscape which incorporates the snow capped mountain range.

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The view of the mountains from the boat: Lake Titicaca is the highest commercially navigable lake in the world so it really feels as though you’re in a mountain town

On the beach there were a few tents pitched with young travellers sunbathing and strumming guitars. You can see the farm animals in the paddocks nearby, with the pigs all rooting around in the mud with their ridiculously cute piglets.

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The view of the beach from the track to the northern ruins

 

The northern part of Lake Titicaca holds extreme significance to the Inca people as they believed Inti, the sun, was born here, apparently, from behind a giant rock shaped like a Puma called Titi Kharka (Rock of the Puma). The ruins at the north consist of Titicala (or the sacred rock) and Chincana, which (according to some sources) were worshiped as the birthplace of the 1st Incas Manco Kapac and Mama Okllo. Legend has it they were the Incan Adam and Eve, made of stone and bought to life by Viracocha, who commanded them to go out and populate the world. Chincana was interesting to explore with labyrinth like passage ways and beautiful views out towards Peru.

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The sacrificial table being set up for a modern day ritual

To get to the ruins you walk along the beach and up the path towards the little settlement of houses on the hill, follow the path around for about 40 minutes taking in stunning views of the lake and passing various locals selling their crafts to the Sacred Rock and the sacrificial table. These are both thought to be pre Inca but you can see by the architecture of the Chincana settlement 700m down the hill, that this was absolutely an Incan site.

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The views out towards Peru from the ruins. The little beach below was practically deserted and would be the place I would have chosen to camp if we had a tent

With regards to eating and drinking in the north the options are limited. There are a few convenience stores for chocolate, crisps and beverages, there are also a couple of sandwich and juice places but really only one half decent restaurant. You’ll know the one because it’s small with a little courtyard and the line’s out the door.

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The last of the sun on the northern beach

The walk to the south is 7kms and there are 2 routes. One goes through the centre of the island up and down a couple of hills and is said to have lovely views of the lake, while the other follows the coastline. Because I was still getting my energy back and my digestive system was questionable, we chose what seemed to be the easier way. We set off along the coastal route at 9.30 expecting to arrive by about 1.30.

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The view of the northern settlement from the beginning of the path to the south

The walk was stunning, passing through little towns, past a big school and through many small herds of sheep which were being herded by farmers of all ages (literally from 10 to 70!). We were stopped halfway to pay another 15 bob each for a new ticket, apparently enabling us to wander the entire island.

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A little girl looking after her pigs in the centre of the island

As we arrived at the south the properties got bigger and more grandiose and the landscape much steeper, affording beautifully dramatic views over the entire lake. At the bottom of the hill we could see fancy looking boats anchored and the 1st hostel we asked in quoted us 40USD per night.. We were not in rural Bolivia anymore. We found a middle of the road place, clean room, pimped out bathroom and a view out over the lake and the fancy boats for 100 bob ($20aud) without breakfast (Here is my review and details for Inti Kala).

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There are many more options for lunch and dinner, with at least 6 restaurants looking like viable options. There are 4 situated along the top ridge with a postcard view out over the lake towards the sunset.

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Restaurants in the south as the sun sets over the lake

There is also an interesting sacred site here in the southern part of the Island which is similar to a stone barrack. There was another old Bolivian lady here demanding more money for another ticket, make sure you hold onto every ticket you buy as they will hassle you around every corner to buy a new one!

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Ruins in the south

NOTE: After Salmonella the worst thing you can do is scoff a giant pizza because you think you’re better. So follows another illness interlude. I stayed in bed for one more day after another night of vomiting but Steve went to visit Isla del Luna. Isla del Luna is not really as popular as you might think, there were only 2 other people interested in going so the 3 of them chartered a private boat for 200bob return. The driver also walked them over the hill to explore the ruins across the island. 

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The ruins on Isla del Luna are said to be pre Inca but you can see the Incan influence in the doors and cutouts which may have been placed later

Getting back to Copacabana is pretty easy, the boats leave at 10am and tickets are 30bob, just buy a ticket and line up early to get a seat on the top! I didn’t manage to do this so had to escape out the back of the boat and sit with the driver at the back because I was feeling very dodgy trapped inside the cabin after the pizza fail!

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The south is definitely geared more towards tourists and is much quieter in the mornings, with only the distant sounds of the donkeys going crazy, but I feel like the north is more authentic and more relaxed. If you have a tent there are lots of great spots. My choice would’ve been the north of the north near the ruins, there is a second white sandy beach with a pier and hardly any people. All in all, Isla del Sol is a breathtakingly tranquil spot to unwind (or recover) for a week. We ended up staying 2 nights in the north and 2 in the south and it is by far our favourite spot so far.

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