Isla Del Sol on Lake Titicaca

Isla Del Sol was certainly one of my highlights of our trip through Bolivia.

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The ‘Island Of The Sun’ is a 70 sq km island on Lake Titicaca, very close to the Peruvian border. This unique, quirky and traditional place is accessible only via boat from Copacabana and once you’re on the island, it’s walking only as there are no roads, or vehicles. The island is inhabited by a mix of indigenous people and more recent settlers.

We travelled from La Paz to Isla Del Sol staying just one night in Copacabana before travelling over the the island. Copacabanas’ main avenue offers all the same items you will have seen all over Bolivia and Peru and vendors constantly bother you to buy bus / boat tickets, which I found rather irritating, so I wouldn’t recommend staying more than one night.

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The journey from La Paz to Isla Del Sol is broken up by a short lake crossing.
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The bus travels over on a float, and passengers take a small boat.
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Arriving in Copacabana at 3800 metres means chilly evenings, so we found the first place with a fire and settled ourselves down for some trucha (trout), which is a popular local dish here. 
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Sunset in Copacabana

The next morning we hoped on the boat for the slow 2.5 hour journey to the north of the island.

As we cruised into the ‘harbour’, local children gathered to collect the small entrance fee and gaze at all the new gringo faces embarking on their island.

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Small herds of animals roam free all over the island
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The north island ‘harbour’

Although there are cheap hostels on the island for around 20Bs a night, you can camp on the beautiful beach for free.

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Henry the tent facing Lake Titicaca. 

I thought Isla Del Sol would be more busy, but there were only around 5 tents on the beach and a handful of travellers staying in hostels, a lovely surprise.

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The people on the island live with just what they need. They own small herds of cattle and sheep and breed from them to produce more meat, returning to the mainland for additional items. They bring their livestock down to the lake to drink and some roam free without tethers all the time. I really loved this way of life, so simple and yet sufficient. 

We soon realised we were pitched next to an Aussie couple who we recognised from Sucre, a town we had visited a month earlier. After chatting to them and meeting some other peeps, we headed up to a cliff top to watch the sunset. We went armed with a bottle of wine and salami, Bre and Matt bought their Ipad for music and others bought beer and Pringles. We were ready for a sunset picnic!

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We stayed up late, chatting and sharing stories, one of my favourite past times.

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We woke up to the sound of donkeys braying to one another. The sun quickly warmed up the cold tent. We took all our own food and cooking equipment but left a lot of stuff back at the hostel so our bags were nice and light for this short 3 day trip. Breakfast time accompanied by a resident dog!

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Piglets run around the beach looking for any discarded food to eat.

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After breakfast, Max went in the lake for a short swim and I continued to read my book, ‘Marching Powder’, which was very hard to put down. I was minding my own business when I heard a few shouts and then 10 seconds later this dog ran straight into the tent,virtually throwing himself on top of me in fear. I think he was probably stealing food and got a good kicking from a local. We later named him Rocky. 

Our initial plan was to hike from the North to the South of the island, but we had heard the south was no where near as nice and we were having too much of a great time in the north to warrant packing up the tent and all our things to trek to the south.

We decided to go on a short hike to the Chincana Ruins, the most notable on the island.

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I didn’t realise the weather on the island would be quite so warm, so having left most of my clothes on mainland I had to make do with my zip off walking pants. It is worth baring in mind that the days are really warm but the nights are really very cold. If you are camping, you will need at least a 0/1 degree comfort level sleeping bag and even then, both Max and I shivered for most of the night.
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I go through phases of loving to take hundreds of pictures and others just not fancying taking many. Unfortunately I have no other pictures of the ruins. Whilst they were interesting, they do not rival many of the other ruins we have visited on the trip but we enjoyed the exercise anyway. 
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We bumped into Rocky, who was hanging our at the ruins, and he followed us all the way down to this secluded private beach where we enjoyed a picnic with Matt and Bre and spent the afternoon bronzing. 

After a few hours, we hiked back, Rocky in toe.

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On the second night we decided to make a fire. We bought a small batch of logs from a local lady on the way back from the beach and figured we would find some more around where we had planned to make the fire. We were wrong. Turns out you really can’t find much wood on the island, which probably explains why the wood was reasonably expensive. However, you know how much boys love to make and tend to fires, so we made one anyway.

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The girls made supper in exchange for the boys efforts. 

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The fire was a success although the constant fire management was relentless! Even with copious layers of clothing and the fire, we were still cold, but had a great time chatting and drinking cheap, slightly corked, red wine.

We adored Isla Del Sol, it’s a charming unmissable place for anyone travelling through Bolivia. I love the ethos the island promotes and whilst the residents are not the friendliest bunch, they really care about their home and encourage you to pick up litter and only have camp fires in a designated spot amongst other things. Children run around, a lamb under each arm, cattle bound down to the lake to drink and cool off and donkeys bray to one another and bask in the sun.

A Few Travel Tips:

  • Take cash. Obviously, there are no cash points and you will need to pay certain ‘fees’ to cross through the different parts of the island, and for the boat. Anything you buy on the island is at an inflated price.
  • Take food or be prepared to only eat empanadas. Although there was the odd restaurant, they were all shut for the 3 days we were there and they had no formal opening / closing times. Large empanadas are available from many little side stalls, which could be sufficient for a night.
  • No facilities for campers i’m afraid. The bathroom is about a 5/6 minute walk away and perhaps you could ask to pay for a shower in a hostel if you feel the need. Toilet paper is available after you have paid your fee to use the loo.
  • To take pictures of locals and there animals, they will often ask (quite abruptly) for money. This is fairly usual for Bolivia (and also Peru), so it depends how much you want that picture!
  • In Copacabana, there is a small cafe run by an American couple, called Pan America. They are lovely people who love to chat and offer travel advice. The food is utterly delicious and it’s right near the bus stop, definitely worth a visit.
  • Be aware the island sits between 3800 and 4100 metres, therefore walking can leave you quite breathless and acclimatisation is highly recommended.
  • SUN CREAM – Living up to its name, the sun is out all day and omits very strong rays.
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