Whether visiting Peru or Bolivia, it is definitely worth taking the time to visit Lake Titicaca. The lake extends into both countries and has several islands with Incan ruins that are thousands of years old. Obviously, we visited from the Bolivian side of the lake and we visited both Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) as well as Isla de la Luna (Island of the Moon), which were fascinating. There are several tour companies that will take you out to the islands via boat or hydrofoil and it is even possible to spend the night on Sun Island. Our trip out onto the lake started out a little choppy as a single rain cloud seemed to follow us out to the island. We even saw a waterspout at one point and had to take cover inside of the cabin of the boat. This week’s Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge, words that have two T’s, we decided to look back on our time on Lake Titicaca. We saw many interesting things during our time in Bolivia, but visiting the ruins on the lake was certainly one of the highlights of our time there.
Much of what we saw during our time in Bolivia was harsh, wild, and rugged. The exception to trekking the Amazon rainforest or scaling the heights of the Andes mountains was our trip to Copacabana on the shores of Lake Titicaca. Copacabana is a resort destination for tourists and locals alike. Having seen the relatively poor living conditions for most of the citizens of Bolivia, seeing the upscale, boutique hotels on the shore with the boats in the water was quite a juxtaposition to the rest of our experience in Bolivia.
To be fair, most of the boats are tour boats to take tourists out to Sun Island and Moon Island and not necessarily pleasure boats. There were paddle boats shaped like swans to rent and tour around the harbor. The main street of Copacabana is lined with tourist stores and small, family-owned restaurants. We watched as ferries arrived from Peru dropping tourists off to start their journey into the heart of Bolivia. One look at that unpaved main street and there was no mistaking that we were still in Bolivia, despite the relative luxury of the hotel where we were staying.
Besides people coming to enjoy the sun and beach, the other main reason for people from Bolivia to travel to Copacabana is to have their new car blessed at the Basilica of Our Lady of Copacabana. Vehicles are dressed up with rings of flowers and party hats on the roofs. Vendors line the street outside of the Basilica to sell a variety of trinkets as it has a cobblestone road and is where all of the buses line up to pick up the tourists arriving on the ferries.
Staying in our hotel was like stepping out of Bolivia into a Mediterranean resort. The lawns are manicured, the restaurant was first class, and the room was spacious and comfortable. The hotel was part of the tour package that we had booked to visit the Incan ruins on Lake Titicaca and we were definitely pleasantly surprised. We ate lunch at a restaurant on the beach before heading back to La Paz that had an outdoor patio and definitely catered to English tourists. We usually choose less touristy type places, but the food was authentic and delicious.
All-in-all, the time in Copacabana was almost surreal compared to the rest of our time in Bolivia. If you are going to visit Lake Titicaca, taking the time to spend a night in Copacabana is well worth the extra time. Compared to how hectic most of our nineteen days in Bolivia was, sitting on our balcony and watching the sun set over Lake Titicaca was completely relaxing and refreshing. Copacabana was certainly one of the highlights of our time 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.