After Coroico we returned to La Paz for a night and then caught a bus the following day to a town on the Bolivian border called Copacabana. It’s situated right on the edge of Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest lake. Our first views of the lake were from the bus, a huge expanse of deep blue water that snuck up on us as we turned one of the many corners of the winding road. There were small clusters of basic houses towards the lake’s edge, and patches of farm land where cattle roamed, but apart from that it felt pretty remote. All this changed once we reached Copacabana.
Although it’s only a small town, it was pretty full of people. We dropped our bags off at our hotel and went for a wander, to discover that the town was pretty much made up of one main tourist stop, lined with touristy shops and restaurants. It isn’t the most typical Bolivian town, but it doesn’t pretend to be either. The highlight isn’t the town anyway, it’s the lake itself. We went for a stroll along the beach (it felt just like being by the sea, the water stretching on as far as the eye could see), a little further away from the tourist patch was a row of food kiosks, all selling very cheap trucha (trout) from the lake. For dinner we picked one at random and had a mammoth and delicious meal, for a grand total of a fiver (for both!).
The one thing we actually did in Copacabana was walk up the big hill at the end of the beach, called Cerro Calvario It’s a short walk, but it’s pretty steep, and I have to admit it proved a bit of a challenge for me, partly due to the altitude. But the views from the top were magnificent, and the lake was still a novelty to us, so it was exciting to see it from above, where you could follow the hilly coastline out to the horizon.
However, the best thing to do in Copacabana is to leave Copacabana. That sounds really harsh, and it’s quite a nice sunny little town, but the real gem of the area is the Isla del Sol, a two hour boat ride out into the lake. Many visit the island on a half day or full day tour, with most boats returning you to Copacabana in the mid afternoon, but we decided to book a hostel and stay on the island. We booked to stay for three nights and I wish we could’ve stayed longer. The island has no internet, so we booked accommodation in advance for when we returned to the mainland, which restricted us a little more than we would’ve liked.
As well as no internet, the island also has no roads, and therefore has no cars. It doesn’t have any vehicles at all, for that matter, except boats which are mainly for fishing. So all you’re left with is walking, which suits the island perfectly. There are some beautiful walks on the island which offer spectacular views of the lake, secluded and unspoilt beaches and pretty villages along the way. We walked to the ruins in the north of the island, and visited some small villages further to the south, stopping on the beach for a picnic lunch, of course. Our stay was also unspoilt by the noise of cars, which until they’re gone, you don’t realise how much they invade your peace and quiet! There is no better feeling than falling asleep and waking up to nothing but the sounds of the waves.
On one of the day’s Freddie, who owned the beachside hostel we were staying in, very enthusiastically leant us his fishing boat for us to take out on the lake. At first we thought he was taking us out, but as we clambered in we soon realised he didn’t plan on coming with us. For some reason he trusted us with his little boat, which was really kind, but filled me with worry that we would damage it in some way. However, of course we didn’t, and it was a wonderful experience. We rowed away from the small town, Cha’llapampa, and we were the only ones in the bay. We spent some time reclining on the boat and enjoying the sunshine before we returned to shore.
The small beaches on the island are equally as peaceful. As beautiful as the beaches off the coast of Greece, for example, but with hardly any people and with livestock! It seemed very common for people to let their cows, pigs and donkeys wander on the patch of beach near their house, and it was quite strange, but pretty cool to be sharing the beach with farm animals.
The Isla del Sol was definitely one of my favourite places so far. It felt authentically Bolivian, with traditional Aymaran communities, beaches and wonderful views all unspoilt by tourism. We read on the beach, swam in the lake (freezing!) and ate trout with the locals. All in all, a wonderful place to be.