I first planned to stop at Copacabana and La Isla del Sol mostly because they were right on my way. Little did I know that it would end up being one of my favorite areas that I’ve ever visited, or that I would have my best dining experience in South America. While I was able to so see some more unique and interesting scenery in other places, I have to put the Lake Titicaca area right up there as one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. [Insert cliche quote about finishing a journey or something like that] Anyways, facing the end of my solo travels was bittersweet, but my last two days in the Lake Titicaca area were nothing but awesome.
The trip from La Paz to Copacabana was a short but scenic four hours, for which by some miracle I had wifi access on the bus, a first for me in South America. Interestingly, even though Copacabana connected to the mainland almost all vehicles making that drive are barged across part of Lake Titicaca in order to save time before continuing on their way.
Not quite as famous as the similarly named barrio in Rio de Janeiro, the Bolivian Copacabana is a small town on the shores of Lake Titicaca and near the border of Peru. Though it was pretty small, there was lots of activity when I was in town due to tourists trying to get to La Isla del Sol and Peruvians decorating their cars for their national heritage month (I don’t understand the logic of Peruvians drive across the border for this either, it’s just something they do).
I didn’t want to rush my tour of the island so I decided to wait until the next day to take the boat across and instead spend a night in Copacabana. In order to celebrate my last day in a hostel, I ponied up and dropped 7 USD for a larger, private room with a queen sized bed, bathroom, and TV. It was definitely worth the minor splurge, especially when I saw the view from the hostel balcony:
In fact, it was hard to find a view of Lake Titicaca that wasn’t extremely scenic. I’m not quite sure if it’s officially the “World’s Highest Navigable Lake” like many tour companies claim, but the surface is still at a mind-bending 12,500 feet and it boasts some of the bluest water that I’d ever seen.
The combination of the clear, tranquil water, strong sun at such high altitude, and beautiful surrounding scenery made for a couple of great sunsets (and one awesome sunrise that I’ll get to later). Thankfully, there were a couple perfect lookout hills right next to the town with great views, one had a really interesting cemetery/shrine on top with ceremonies going on, the other was pretty isolated and I could sit in peace.
After enjoying the ‘luxury’ night in the hostel, I hopped on the first boat in the morning at for La Isla del Sol. The boats on Lake Titicaca are sloooooooow, so by the time I got there it was already almost midday. The main village on the island is in the north, so I decided to get dropped off on the north side and walk down. While it was an awesome walk, it wasn’t easy and lasted a good portion of the afternoon. It was definitely a good decision to have left the majority of my stuff in the hostel’s storage in Copacabana.
The picture above sums up most of what I loved about the Island of the Sun. First, the views. The island itself was beautiful, but when combined with the deep blue water and matching sky, as well as the mountain range visible in the distance, it was spectacular. Plus, the weather during the day was perfect: about 60, very slight breeze, and not a cloud in the sky. Plus, because of the lack of paved roads the only way to transport anything was by donkey. This gave the island a decidedly old school feel; it felt like a time machine until the spell was broken by a couple locals chatting on their cell phones.
There were also Inca ruins around, providing reminders that the island had been one of the most holy sites in their religion. My favorite was the Labyrinth[above], which I’m convinced was a maze for Inca children to play in, but there were also a sacred rock and table as well as a centuries old staircase.
Once I finished my walk (for which I had some good companions from Israel, Germany, and New Zealand) I took it easy for the rest of the afternoon reading and relaxing with some great views.
For dinner I had a strong recommendation from my salt flats/volcano hiking buddy to go to a place called Las Velas (The Candles) for some great food and views. My problem was that I could not find it for the life of me, despite the town only having about 400 people and a few roads. Eventually, after wandering through a eucalyptuses grove I found maybe the coolest restaurant on my life.
Set off completely by itself behind the tree grove, Las Velas was owned by a super nice Bolivian named Pablo, who was also the only waiter and cook. A small group of travelers had formed (including a American! the first I met in Bolivia), and they invited me to join them. The tables and chairs were nothing more than sanded tree stumps, but instead of being uncomfortable, something about the setting made them the perfect place to sip some wine and watch the sun set.
Because it was a one man show (we even saw Pablo run out and pick some minty plants that he used as seasoning on some of the dishes), it was hard to mind that the food took a while to come. However, by then it had grown dark and cold so we moved inside. It turned out that Pablo ran his operation without electricity, but it was still still warm and the candle light added to the ambiance. Predictably, the food was incredible. The house specialties were trout and king fish, which everyone else claimed was amazing, but I inherited my dad’s distrust of sea food so I stuck to lasagna and loved it.
Our group, plus Pablo who joined us at the end of the meal, ended up getting along well so we stuck around and chatted for an hour or so. By the time we walked outside it was pitch black, except for the most incredible stars that I had ever seen. It turned out that being at over 13,000 feet and set off from the town on an already relatively dark island in the middle of a huge lake made for almost unbelievable star watching. I know that living in Milwaukee for the past decade hasn’t exactly made me an expert, but I can’t imagine it being much better. A pretty nice surprise to end the day.
The next day I didn’t want to miss the chance of watching the sun rise on the Island of the Sun so I was up nice and early to find a place. It so happened that on the highest point of the island, that I could find at least, someone had left a half-completed house with a balcony that ended up being the perfect spot. It also happened that the sun rose directly over the highest peaks of the Real Cordillera mountains in Bolivia.
I really couldn’t have scripted a better way to end my travels. Thanks for reading!