Taking a boat out to visit Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) and Isla de la Luna (Island of the Moon) on Lake Titicaca in Bolivia is truly fascinating. The islands have many interesting ruins that pre-date the Inca empire and have been dated back to as far as 300 BC. The ruins are mostly of temples, but people lived on the islands as well. Island of the Sun is the larger of the two islands and there are even hotels where you can spend the night if you would like. If you just want to tour the islands and return to the town of Copacabana on the same day, it will take you about four to six hours.
We did a three day tour from La Paz, the capital of Bolivia, where we first visited the ruins of Tiwanaku before continuing on to Copacabana where we stayed at a hotel that overlooked the Lake Titicaca. The following morning we rose early to take a rented boat out to visit the islands. We visited Isla de la Luna first where we were greeted by some local women selling souvenirs as well as a very friendly llama. The views of the ruins with the lake in the background were simply amazing. We were able to walk through the ruins and see them first hand, which made the experience even more interesting.
From Isla de la Luna, we continued on to Isla del Sol where we continued to tour ruins that are in excellent shape considering their age. Inside of one of the temples, there were coca leaves left on an altar by people hoping to receive blessings from the gods. Looking back towards the Island of the Moon from the shores of the Island of the Sun, its smaller size becomes quite apparent. We did not stay the night on the island, but instead returned to Copacabana, but we understand that they do reenactments of the Incan ceremonies on the island at night if you do decide to stay.
We saw many different ruins during our time in Bolivia, but certainly the ones on Isla del Sol and Isla de la Luna were among the most interesting. It was also a refreshing break from the busy city to stay a couple of nights with beautiful sunsets and wonderful views. It took us about eight hours to reach Copacabana from La Paz, but that included a couple of hours touring Tiwanaku and a stop for lunch. It also included a ferry ride across part of Lake Titicaca in order for our van to make its way to the lake. It was definitely one of our favorite tours while we were in Bolivia.
Of all of the places that we visited while we were in Bolivia, Copacabana felt strangely out of place. It was very much a tourist destination with resorts sitting on the shores of Lake Titicaca. We’re glad that we went to Copacabana towards the end of our trip in Bolivia and not at the beginning because it might have completely changed the way that we viewed the country. It was the only place in Bolivia where we saw other travelers, mostly on their way out of Bolivia and heading into Peru, which is on the other side of the lake, with Cusco and Machu Picchu being within a day’s travel. If they weren’t heading out of Bolivia, they were on their way into Bolivia from Peru and heading to Uyuni Salt Flats, seemingly the only place that people visit in Bolivia. We sat in a café and watched the parade of young people with their backpacks getting into or out of buses as they passed through this idyllic little town.
Like everyplace we visited in Bolivia, it wasn’t easy to get to Copacabana, the roads were horrendous with apparent construction every few thousand feet where it just seemed that the road was torn up for no apparent reason. The only construction workers that we saw were placing rocks on parts of the road that were apparently re-paved, but weren’t ready for traffic yet or they just didn’t want traffic to be able to move smoothly. We also had to take a ferry across part of Lake Titicaca with cars and buses floating back and forth. We know it is a pretty common Latin American attitude, but no one is in a hurry to get anyplace in Bolivia and we got used to sitting and waiting everywhere that we went, including when crossing on the ferry. You wouldn’t know that Lake Titicaca and Copacabana are one of the biggest tourist destinations in Bolivia based upon the road conditions, but apparently thousands of tourists and Bolivians visit Copacabana all of the time.
The resort where we stayed had incredible views of the bay and we were promised a gorgeous sunset over Lake Titicaca and we weren’t disappointed. After days of non-stop running from place to place, it was actually pretty nice to sit and relax in a beach resort, a very different experience than anything else that we did in Bolivia. Instead of Spanish, it seemed that French and German were the dominating languages while we were in Copacabana, a strange change of pace. As with every resort town, there were plenty of restaurants and food stalls along the beach to choose from and a cold cerveza was an absolute must. We ended up having lunch at a place called Manchester United, named after the English Premier Football (Soccer) team, which seemed an odd choice for a name, and had an incredible version of Pollo Macho.
When we first arrived in town we headed to the local church, which is the center of every town in Bolivia. Apparently people from around Bolivia come to Copacabana to have their new cars blessed by the Catholic priest and then they drive it up to the temple on top of the mountain outside of town to have it blessed by a Quechua priest as well. Two blessings, one location. The cars are elaborately adorned with an array of flowers and they looked as though they were being prepared for a parade. In fact, there are so many cars that come to Copacabana to be blessed that there is a very active market across the street from the church taking advantage of all of the people who have come to visit. The church itself was beautiful and is the typical Spanish style church found all over Bolivia, which is an extremely religious country.
The following day we would venture out onto Lake Titicaca to visit the islands and learn about the temples, but our day in Copacabana was completely relaxing. The hotels were some of the nicest that we saw anyplace in Bolivia and the town had a Bolivian flare to a beach resort. If it weren’t for the women dressed in typical Aymara clothing, you wouldn’t even know that you were still in Bolivia. With all of the boats in the bay, hotels, restaurants, and shops, we could have easily been on the coast of the Mediterranean instead of Lake Titicaca. It is certainly worth visiting if you go to Bolivia, but make sure that you visit other parts of Bolivia first so that you have a greater appreciation for the amenities that this resort town has to offer.