La Paz, Bolivia
After several weeks studying Spanish in Sucre, it was time to be on the move again. We travelled on to La Paz, Bolivia’s largest city and the highest capital in the world. La Paz, with it’s high-rises and gritty urban sprawl didn’t grace us with the same charm as pretty Sucre. It didn’t help that most of the attractions were closed being the 2nd of January and to add to this we spent the night sleeping on mattresses made of straw! I’m fine with roughing it occasionally, but in a hostel priced 30% higher than our comfortable one in Sucre and located far from the old centre we were not impressed (avoid Casa Wuayna). Staying in Sopocachi we hoped to comfort ourselves by sampling one of top-rated restaurants in the area. They were ALL closed, we ended up in a fast food style pizza place that was not particularly good or cheap despite the fact it was swarming with locals. Under different circumstances I am certain we would have enjoyed La Paz more than we did. We still spent a day huffing and puffing uphill to the historical centre, acclimatising to the altitude.
The following day we took a bus to Copacabana. There are a couple of options for reaching Bolivia’s main hub for excursions on Lake Titicaca. Regular mini-vans depart frequently (not sure how often – perhaps hourly, it’s a leave when full arrangement) from the ? Cemetery. Usually they cost 25BOB, although the guy at our hostel informed us that they were 35BOB due to the new year period. We opted for a tourist bus from the main terminal, deemed to safer, but also more comfortable. We’d read online that buses leave at 8am and 2pm but on arriving at the terminal found there are several additional buses throughout the day and for only 30BOB. The 3-4 hour journey is worth staying awake for. After we had slowly wound our way up the hills and out of La Paz, the dusty peripheral villages gave way to green farmland and snow-capped mountains. Eventually Lake Titicaca appeared to the left, glistening in the afternoon sun. The journey involves a short boat passage across the Strait of Tiquina (2BOB). We disembarked and climbed aboard the tiny wooden vessel, a quick five minutes and we were on the other side waiting for our bus to cross on a barge.
Another 45 minutes of breathtaking lake scenery and we arrived at our destination. Compact Copacabana is not exactly a beach resort but it is inviting in it’s own eclectic way. On the main street 8 Augusto there are no shortage of hostels and tour agencies alongside restaurants touting happy hour, live music and trout dishes. You’re better off finding accommodation when you get to Copacabana rather than booking online as few seemed to be listed and they tended to be the more expensive places. We checked trip advisor for ratings and found Hostel Del Sol, a lovely family-run hostel. They have no website or contact details and the only way we found them was through another reviewer’s directions. The afternoon affords enough time to visit the Basilica of our Lady of Copacabana and hike up to the Cerro Calvario (stations of the cross) for a view across the lake and to watch the sunset.
Isla Del Sol – Challapama
The following morning we woke early to a thunderstorm and rain, we debated if it was a good day for the island but decided to chance it and we were glad we did, it rained throughout the boat trip and finally began to ease as we arrived at the North side of the island. Our boat docked in the town of Challapama and walked to the Chincana ruins and the Inca table, passing by local farms and the only form of island transportation – donkeys. It takes about 45 minutes to reach the ruins (15BOB entry fee). You can either walk back to Challapama and take a boat to the south side or hike across the island. You can stay overnight in the simple accommodations or if you have a tent, camp on the beach.
Isla Del Sol – Yumani
We hiked across the island, most of the ruins require a detour from the main path and there is no signage so often we couldn’t tell if we were looking at a ruin or a dilapidated farmhouse abandoned 20 years ago. We needed to pay a further 15BOB to cross the island and another 10BOB to enter the village of Yumani on the south side. This money goes to maintaining the ruins and hiking paths, as well as supporting the local communities. Despite the lack of obvious ruins and the difficulty reaching them (which would require further hiking and staying several days) the journey across the island is worthwhile in it’s natural beauty and changing landscape.
After around three hours of solid walking we arrived in Yumani, where we visited the garden of the inca steps. Unfortunately we missed out on the Temple of Pilcocaina, which we were told by the ticket office was included in our boat ticket but the boat never stopped there on the way to the North Island, perhaps due to the weather but nobody explained. I would’ve complained to the ticket office only we only had an hour to collect our luggage and take a bus to Puno. It was an easy border crossing through the Kasani frontier with Peruvian bus company Transzela, who were making their maiden voyage for that particular route. It turned out their bus was not yet licensed to enter Bolivia and so they had to arrange a mini-van to the border.
An unattractive city, Puno’s location on Lake Titicaca is it’s selling point. We took a boat (10/S return) to the Uros floating islands which I’d heard were spectacularly touristy but are an example of a unique way of life where the houses, boats, handcrafts and islands themselves are built from totora reeds.