10 Things to Know Before Visiting Lake Titicaca, Bolivia

Sunset Lake Titicaca | © Richard/Flickr
Sunset Lake Titicaca | © Richard/Flickr | © Richard/Flickr
Photo of Harry Stewart
15 April 2018

Famed for its tranquil crystalline waters which shimmer beneath majestic snowcapped peaks, Lake Titicaca is among Bolivia’s most magical destinations, with ample picturesque hiking trails and endless ancient Inca sites to explore. However, it’s important to prepare to get the most out of this enchanting locale. Here are 10 things you should know before visiting.

The altitude is extreme

At 12,506 feet (3,812 meters) above sea level, the extreme altitude of Lake Titicaca can leave even the fittest of travelers gasping for air. Take it easy at first if you haven’t already acclimatized, and consider taking Diamox or coca tea to mitigate the effects.

Isla del Sol on the Titicaca lake | © Rafal Cichawa / Shutterstock

It’s sacred

Lake Titicaca is sacred to Bolivia, partly because the ancient Incas believed it to be the birthplace of the Sun. As a result, a plethora of fascinating archeological sites can be found scattered throughout. More recently, the continent’s most important effigy, the Virgin of Copacabana, was housed here in an elaborate church.

Sunset Lake Titicaca | © Richard/Flickr

The sun is relentless

A distinct lack of shade and the thin mountain air mean that sunburn is a real danger throughout the region. Always take adequate precautions to avoid burning to a crisp under the unrelenting sun.

Hiking Isla del Sol | © Pedro Travassos / Flickr

The north section of Isla del Sol is currently off limits

A fiery dispute between two neighboring indigenous tribes has meant the entire northern section of the island has been closed to tourism since March 2017. Check locally to confirm the north is open before attempting to hike there.

Inca ruins in the north of Isla del Sol | © Jimmy Harris / Flickr

Boats between Copacabana and Isla del Sol run twice per day

Catamarans depart Copacabana towards Yumani each day at 8:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m, returning at 3:30 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. Due to the aforementioned community dispute, there is currently no service to Challapampa.

Lake Titicaca | © JT Kendall / Wikipedia

It’s worth staying overnight on Isla del Sol

Even if half the island is inaccessible, tranquil Isla del Sol is a highlight of Bolivia that should not be missed. As the sun starts to go down, make your way to Las Velas restaurant for an unforgettable meal with a view.

Isla del Sol, Lake Titicaca | © Justin Vidamo / Flickr

Some entrance fees apply

Upon arriving at Isla del Sol and when moving between certain zones, islanders will insist you pay a small fee. This is not a scam, but rather an official and essential source of income for the impoverished local inhabitants.

View from Isla del Sol | © Stefan Krasowski / Flickr

There’s a little-known hike on the mainland

Starting in Copacabana, head north along the dirt road for about five hours until you arrive at the fishing village of Yampupata. Here, locals will ferry you the short distance to Isla del Sol for a nominal fee.

Comunidad Yampupata | © Mandy / Wikipedia

Copacabana is worth it

Many travelers head straight for Isla del Sol without giving Copacabana much thought. Yet this is unwise, as those who linger will discover a grandiose colonial church, a zany car-blessing ceremony, a stunning viewpoint, and countless Inca ruins.

Copacabana, Lake Titicaca | © TravelingOtter / Flickr

Don’t forget about Peru

Of course, Bolivia is only home to part of Lake Titicaca, with the remainder residing over the border in Peru. Be sure to check out both sides of the lake, particularly the famous Uros Islands near Puno.

Uros people on Lake Titicaca | © Pakhnyushchy / Shutterstock