A blue sea in the middle of the Altiplano

Finally, after three weeks of arid landscape we got to see something different, the thousand shades of blue of lake Titicaca at Copacabana. This tranquil and sunny little town, not to be mistaken with Copacabana beach in Brasil, sits on the banks of the vast lake Titicaca, very close to the Peru-Bolivia border. Here is where we were going to spend our last days in Bolivia, escaping from the stormy La Paz.

The lake front area of this very touristy destination is plagued with hotels, souvenir shops, food stalls offering the famous lake Titicaca trout, pizzerias and hundreds of pedalos waiting to be rented, but aside the shoreline the rest of the village is very local, very Bolivian, and there normal life continues. The best views of Copacabana and lake Titicaca are from Cerro Calvario, a hill next to town. It’s a steep and breathless 40 minutes hike from the base following the twelve stations of the cross, but the views from the top are really worth the effort.

The Basilica of our Lady of Copacabana, a very moorish looking basilic, is well known within Bolivians for its blessings, or cha’lla, of cars, trucks, buses… We thought the car baptism only happened on specific dates but when we saw a couple of cars decorated with flowers and a handful of photographers hanging around we soon realized that the baptisms happened regularly. At 14.30 o’clock, the priest came out from the basilica with a bucket full of holy water and started sprinkling the vehicles engine, the interior… After that, the owners open a bottle of champagne and sprinkle the golden liquid over the wheels. The car is now ready to make the journey home safely. It’s a cheap alternative to having a car insurance!

One of the days when visiting the market after sampling yet another lake Titicaca trout, Isma saw they were selling trompos (peonza in Spanish and spinning top in English) at one of the kiosks. It took him less than 3 seconds to buy one! After trying for more than 30 minutes to make it spin with no luck, the locals came to rescue. Some cholitas and their futsal coach (I still can’t imagine cholitas playing football with their skirts) showed Isma how to do it. In his defence he says that even though he used to play with trompos when he was a kid, this one was a bit different and needed some adjustments… ehem ehem! In the meantime I spent a lovely time playing with the cholita’s little girls and showing them how to take pictures with my camera.

We got to Copacabana with one thing in mind, visiting Isla del Sol, the home of the Inca civilization and culture. The island is a bit of a magical place, the story says the Sun and the Moon were born in the lake and that the first Inca, Manco Cápac, was put in the earth by his father, the sun, at Isla del Sol. Our plan was to cross the island from north to south and then spend the night at Yumani, one of the three communities on the island.

Local ferries take you to the island from Copacabana’s lake front, but these are the slowest ferries in the world. We took the ferry around 8.30 in the morning and we didn’t get to the north side of the island until sometime after 10.30. Once in the island, it takes a little imagination to visualize how it must have looked in the fifteenth century, when it was home to one of the most important religious sites in the Incan Empire. Sure there are some inca ruins at the island like the sacred rock, the Inca stairs, the sacrifice table or a labyrinth like building… but they are not very well preserved and they are nothing spectacular. For us the best of the almost 10km trek along the spine of the island were the views. With an elevation of 3812 m, lake Titicaca is meant to be the highest navigable lake in the world. Being in the middle of Isla del Sol, and with the sun shinning, it was like being in Malta, in the middle of the Mediterranean sea. We shared most of the trek with Victor, a Spanish guy travelling for a few weeks around Peru and Bolivia who we had met on the ferry. He is doing a PhD in London and he is hoping to embark on a long trip like us after finishing it. Best of luck Victor!

We were knackered by the time we arrived to Yumani. The sun, the altitude and the steep hills had definitely done some damage. After finding accommodation we spent a very quiet evening around the village and we regained some strength with a nice mango shake while soaking the sun and enjoying the spectacular views. Leaving aside the dozen of hotels and restaurants, the village is still very rural, with most of the people living from their land and their animals. We had expected to see locals going fishing with their totoro reed boats, but we didn’t see any. We were told that just a few still go fishing and that they do it by night. After a stunning sun set and a warm shower we went for dinner to a cosy and intimate little restaurant. The pizzeria was tiny and they had no electricity but we eat the best pizza in Bolivia by candlelight.

Back in Copacabana, Bolivia had yet one more surprise for us. Fences throughout the main street, a stage in front of the town hall… the 9th leg of Vuelta Ciclista a Bolivia was going to end in Copacabana. We had no idea the Bolivian tour was on, so we stayed around just to see how it was like. The organization was a bit chaotic, we couldn’t believe that just 5 minutes before the arrival of the cyclists they were still putting in place the finishing line, but this is Bolivia. Happily when the first cyclist got to the finish line everything was ready. Of course the local tv was around covering the event, and we couldn’t believe it when we saw the camera coming to interview us. We had our two minutes of fame on Bolivia TV! Sadly we never had the chance to watch ourselves on tv.

We didn’t want to leave Bolivia without tasting their wines, so on our last night we made our dinner that bit more special with a couple of glasses of Tarijan wine, from the highest vineyards in the world. Not the best wine, but not that bad either. Cheers Bolivia! You and your people have been a wonderful host!

Visit our flickr gallery to see all the pictures!

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Accommodation

Copacabana, Hostal Olas del Titicaca – We stayed at this family run hostal in a double room with private bathroom. Everything was super clean and the bed was quite comfy. There is free wifi, although it wasn’t working for a couple of days after a thunderstorm. A continental breakfast (bread, eggs, butter & jam and coffee) was included in the price. We felt in love with their little kitten Pelusa. Laundry is available for 10 BOB per kg. We paid 90 BOB per night. Recommended.

Isla del Sol – As soon as we arrived to Yumani after the trek a cholita offered us a room in her house. It was a double room, with private bathroom and hot shower. We paid 80 BOB for a night with breakfast included.

Transportation

From La Paz to Copacabana by bus (4h) – We booked the bus at the hostel in La Paz. After picking us up from the hostel we went to the bus terminal to pick up more people. Once we got to the border of lake Titicaca, we had to get off the bus to cross to the other side on a small boat. Then we got on the bus again for another 50 minutes until we got to Copacabana. We paid 35 BOB per person for the bus plus 1.5 BOB for the boat.

From Copacabana to Isla del Sol by ferry (2h) – We bought the ferry ticket right on the pier on the same day. From Copacabana it takes 2h to the north side of the island. To get back to Copacabana the day after, we bought the tickets at the pier in Yumani and this time it took 1h 30min. We paid 20 BOB per person per journey.

Restaurants

Isla del Sol, Pizzeria Isla del Sol – We had dinner at this tiny and super cosy restaurant in Yumani. They have no electricity, just candles and they make delicious pizzas, the best in Bolivia.

Copacabana, Mauraz – We had our last dinner in Bolivia at this little restaurant in the main street. The food was delicious and the service couldn’t be any better. Huara (meaning star in Aymara), the owner, made us feel at home and was a great host.

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3 thoughts on “A blue sea in the middle of the Altiplano

    • After a year of travels, Bolivia has been one of the most authentic countries we have visited. South America, and Bolivia specifically, are a must visit if you like travelling!

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