The Ultimate Guide to Discovering Bolivia’s Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca
Lake Titicaca | © Jimmy Harris/Flickr
Harry Stewart

The glistening crystalline waters of Lake Titicaca under the majestic backdrop of snowy mountain peaks are a highlight of any Bolivian itinerary. Thought by indigenous inhabitants to be the birthplace of the sun, this tranquil area is packed with ancient Inca relics and picturesque hiking trails. Read our guide on how to discover this magical part of the Andes for yourself.

Copacabana

A central hub for exploring Bolivia’s Lake Titicaca, the pleasant lakeside town of Copacabana is worth investing a day or two.

What to do

Take a 30 minute hike up Cerro Calvario at sunset for awesome views of the lake and town below. The top of the hill has an interesting mix and Catholic and indigenous religious monuments.

Check out the Copacabana Cathedral, a beautiful Moorish church that houses the country’s most important statue, La Virgen de la Candelaria. Of most interest is the blessing of the autos ceremony that takes place at 10AM everyday.

Rent a kayak, banana boat or canoe and go cruising around the lake.

Go on a tranquil five hour hike to Yampupata, from where you can hire a local villager to take you across to Isla del Sol in a rowboat, an absolute must and highlight of the region.

Copacabana Catherdral

Where to eat

Trucha (trout) is the specialty of the region and is sold practically everywhere. The stalls along the lakeside offer excellent cheap trout with views of the lake.

El Condor & The Eagle Café: Irish and Bolivian owned place that gets rave reviews for its delicious breakfast. They close at 1.30PM but sell takeaway sandwiches for trips to the islands.

La Orilla: Great upmarket option with a nautical theme who do a mean grilled trout with added extras.

Copacabana

Where to stay

Hotel Rosario Lago Titicaca: The best upmarket option in town with luxurious spacious rooms, lake views and a fine restaurant on the ground floor.

Hotel Mirador: Excellent mid range hotel with spacious rooms that overlook the lake.

Hostal Central: One of the best of the cheapies. It’s modern, clean, and even has wifi.

Copacabana

Transport to and from La Paz

By air: There’s no airport in this sleepy little town, but those flying into El Alto can save time by taking a taxi to the minibus stop on Avenida Juan Pablo II and jumping on a direct bus to Copacabana. This is much quicker than traveling to La Paz first.

Minibus: Minibuses depart from La Paz’ Cementerio district when full and cost 20BOB (US$2.90). They return to La Paz from Copacabana’s Plaza Sucre.

Bus: Larger, more tourist friendly buses depart from La Paz’ main bus terminal twice daily around 8AM and 2PM. They cost 35BOB (US$5) including a hotel pickup and can be booked from almost any travel agency.

All buses from La Paz take a ferry across the Tiquina strait before arriving in Copacabana. You’ll need to jump off the bus, buy a ticket for the ferry (2BOB/ US$0.30) and jump on a smaller boat which transports passengers to the other side.

Ferry near Copacabana

Transport to and from Puno

Bus: Morning and afternoon buses depart from Plaza Sucre in Copacabana on a three-and-a-half hour journey to Puno for 35BOB (US$5). In the other direction, buses leave the main bus terminal in Puno in the morning and afternoon. Check locally for departure times as they vary.

Transport to and from Isla del Sol

Boats leave the Copacabana pier at 8.30AM and 1.30PM towards Challapampa (north end) and Yumani (south end) on Isla del Sol, costing 30BOB (US$4.30) one way or 40BOB (US$5.70) for a same day return. They return to Copacabana from Challapampa at 1.30PM and Yumani at 4PM.

Copacabana sunset

Isla del Sol

There’s pretty much no point visiting Bolivia’s section of Lake Titicaca without checking out Isla del Sol, the undisputed highlight of the region. It can be visited in a day, or even an afternoon (not recommended), but to get a true appreciation of the island it’s a good idea to spend a night in either Challapampa or Yumani. The locals charge tourists to enter certain areas of the island so expect to fork out a few dollars here and there.

Isla del Sol

What to do

The best way to see the island is by hiking from north to south or vice versa. The trip takes three to four hours and is suitable for those with a moderate fitness level. Keep in mind that the altitude here is extreme so those who are not acclimatized will definitely feel it. Bags can be left at any Copacabana hotel to lighten the load. Those with less time or a lower level of fitness can still visit most highlights by taking a boat between the north and south.

In the north:

Challapampa: Relaxed little town with very basic food and accommodation as well as some nice beaches.

Gold Museum: Hosts a fine collection of Inca artifacts that have been collected from around the island and under the lake.

Titikala: A puma shaped rock that the Inca believe is the exact birthplace of the Sun.

Inca Table: A table that is said to have been used for human and animal sacrifices in precolonial times.

Footprints of the Sun: Foot sized impressions in solid rock that are believed to have been made by the Sun at the dawn of time.

Chincana ruins: A labyrinth of stone walls which are the island’s most interesting ruins.

Cha’lla: A very small village with some of the island’s best sandy beaches. Swimming is possible but the water is cold. The village has basic accommodation for those who really value seclusion.

Inca ruins on Isla del Sol

In the south:

Yumani: A well developed settlement with the best restaurants and accommodation on the island.

Inca Steps: A staircase built by the Inca which begins at the southern pier.

Fountain of Youth: A stream that legend says will grant eternal youth. In reality, the water of questionable purity is more likely to grant dysentery.

Boats from Yumani will continue to Isla de la Luna if there is enough demand. The sparsely visited Isla de la Luna is home to the Temple of the Virgins of the Sun among other Inca ruins. The excursion costs 30BOB (US$4.30) per person and takes an extra hour-and-a-half.

Hiking Isla del Sol

Where to stay

There is plenty of basic, family run accommodation in both settlements, offering simple but clean rooms for as little as 20BOB per person (US$2.90).

Ecolodge La Estancia: A beautiful 15-room eco-lodge that has all the necessary modern facilities. The best but most expensive place to stay on the island (1,064BOB/ US$150)

Willka Kuti Hostal: Best mid-ranged option in north. Clean, well maintained rooms for a fair price of around 160BOB (US$23).

Sunset at Isla del Sol

Where to eat

Las Velas in Yumani has the best reputation on the island. They do awesome pizzas and trout and it’s a great place to drink wine and play cards as the sun goes down. It’s a little hard to find, so follow the signs from Yumani to get there.

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