Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Copacabana and camping on Isla del Sol

After leaving La Senda Verde on the Gravity bus we ended up staying with our friend Mark, a Gravity tour guide, in the Gravity apartment. We were only going to stay 2 nights but we ended up staying 5! It was nice to relax after working everyday for over 2 weeks and get to know La Paz better, not just the touristy part. The scenery around La Paz is so interesting with crazy shaped mountains it's a very different feel from other countries capitols! I had to go to visit a doctor one of those days which was in this chuchi (posh) part of town that had some amazing hillsides around it, they were eroded and just really funky lookin!
Anyway, we finally tore ourselves away from La Paz and headed to Copacabana to see Lake Titicaca (this reminds me of 8th grade Ms. Marsh's class when we learned about geography...teachers all over must hate when they have to teach kids the name of this lake...*snicker*). On the way we had to get off the bus so that it could board a barge and ford the river while we took a ferry and waited on the other side. It's funny to see a bus floating on a wooden platform! Once in Copa we did our usual find a cheap hostel while carrying heavy bags tour. We ended up staying in one up a hill called Utama that looked nice and we were able to negotiate the price down from 150 Bolivianos for the room with breakfast to 80 b's for the room with no breakfast. Unfortunately we could only stay one night but it turned out to be a good thing since their pillows (actually one long pillow) was so uncomfortable I had to use my camping pillow and the shower suuucked! The water stream went everywhere but on me! The next day we hiked up a nearby hill which had the seven stations of the cross on the way up and shrines and stuff. What we didn't know was that we hiked up the back way which was a little harder and walked back down the main way. On the way up there was sooo much trash thrown over the hill, really ugly and unfortunate. You'd think on a hill where people go up as a pilgrimage to ask for blessings and good luck they'd keep it a bit nicer!
We also did a 30 min swan boat ride on the lake. Lake Titicaca is huuuge and a really pretty color blue. We keep reading that it's the highest navigable lake and it's true because we navigated around it in a swan boat. There are many islands on it and the next day we planned to do a 2 night camping trip on Isla del Sol, where there are no vehicles or paved roads, about 3,500 people live there, they use donkeys to transport things, there are some Incan ruins and also is the site where the Incan's believe the sun god was born from a rock.
We switched hostels to Hostel Leyenda right on the lake front with a room with a balcony and good shower. That night we re-arranged our bags so that we were taking a big one with the camping stuff and a small one with the food stuff. Next day we bought our boat tickets to the island from our hostel because it was actaully cheaper than buying it at the lake front. We would leave at 1:30pm so we had time to kill which was baisically us looking for a place to eat lunch. Finally we boarded the bus and headed for the south side of the island.

Isla del Sol

I searched and searched for information about camping on Isla del Sol, I knew it was possible because I saw pictures but I could not find a blog of someone who did it. When I got there I found out why, because I only saw Argentinians camping and I wasn't looking at Argentinian blogs! So I will put down some info about camping.
Ok, you can take a boat to the north side or the south side of the island and either hike across the island (about three, three and a half hours) to the other side. It can be done in a day trip but it's a bit rushed which is why we decided to stay over. On this island they charge you for anything they can since they mostly make their money from tourism. Once you arrive you are charged 5 bolivianos to get off the dock onto the island, you are charged for the bathroom (of course), you're hassled by kids to buy necklaces or kids asking you if you have a hostel yet or you'll get told to go on a 'free' tour that at the end you're required to tip 10 b''re even charged to walk across from one end to the other (there's a toll in the middle of the island for 15 b's). So I'm absolutely floored that you are able to set up a tent and camp on the beach by the river FOR FREE!! Amazing. The only campsite we actually found was on the north side even though the map says there are more. Water and snacks are sold in many places so it's not necessary to take many bottles.
So we started our journey in the south, got off the boat and paid the fee, avoided the 'free' tours and kids hustling necklaces. We didn't really know what to do actually when we got off the boat..we knew there were some ruins on the south side but we had to get to the north to set up camp since when we arrived it was 3pm and the sun set around 7:30 and we still had to hike across the island, plus there were just way to many people bothering us. We headed toward the first thing we saw that looked like it was going north, they happened to be a steep set of old Incan stairs which were horrible to climb up at high altitude. On the way up a boy asked if we had a hostel. I barely could breath but I managed to say 'si, tenemos', but that wasn't enough for him he needed to know which one so I told him 'hostel carpa', tent hostel. He was like that's not a hostel! Mentirosa! (liar) but then he noticed the tent strapped to nick's bag and I was deemed not a liar and he finally left me alone. This exchange happened for most of the hike up the stairs and I was way out of breath so a break was needed. Then we just followed a path and asked people along the way if we were heading 'Norte'. We ended up behind this old man and his donkeys, he asked us where we were going and we said North. He was really nice and told us that the path splits in 2 and one way is longer and more up and down and the other way is faster. He pointed the way to go and gave us some directions and sent us on our way, he was really nice. We wound our way through a path that led between adobe houses with lush grass and pigs in the yard, no one was out and it was nice and quiet. I had a feeling that this wasn't the normal walking route. Soon we realized I was right when, after walking through what seemed like someone's field, we got on a more main looking path and passed some girls walking back to the south end. Turned out we totally missed the toll since we weren't on the main tourist path! but we still had 2 hours to go.
At first we thought we would walk to the north, camp for a night and hike back to the south and camp another night. After the walk though we quickly vetoed that idea and decided to do two nights on the north and take the boat back from there. Hiking with heavy packs at high altitude is not fun! The views, though, were amazing so def worth it. We finally arrived at the north side and, after asking about 5 people, were told to walk across town (of two streets) to the beach to camp. Huzzah! That night we dined on pasta that we'd carried around since Argentina. A stray beach puppy was happy to eat the leftovers and we listened to the waves of the lake as we laid in the tent not sleeping because it was uncomfy.
Next day we got up, had some oatmeal and headed to the ruins and sacred rock. We paid 10 b's each to go see them but we didn't get a guide so we were only vaguely sure of what we were looking at. One was the sacred rock that the sun god was born from, one was the rock with the form of a puma of which the lake gets it's name, titi being Puma in Aymara and caca being kala which is rock. There was a sacrificial stone as well but our fav part was the ruins called the labyrinth. It was so nice there and barely any people. We had a nice picnic of crackers and cheese and sat in the sun looking out on the lake. We probably stayed there for two hours then hiked up to a higher point next to the ruins and got an amazing view of the lake and the smaller islands around it. We went back to our campsite and had a late lunch of Ramen Noodles which made us not hungry for dinner. We had snickers for dinner instead and a sneaky bottle of wine we bought from one of the shops. That night I couldn't sleep (again) and at 5:30 in the morning I heard our tarp rustling ( we had laid it on the ground outside the tent to use as a sitting and cooking surface and placed rocks around it). I thought it was the stray dog sniffing around for food again so I didn't go check on it. In the morning though I learned that it had been stolen and what I had heard was the %"^$* running off with it! It wasn't my idea to keep it out unsupervised..
We decided to leave on the 8:30 am boat (we were going to take the 1:30pm) which got us into Copa at 11:45, went to the hostel where we stored our bags and repacked them on the tables outside. We were leaving for Peru at 6:30 that night so we had lots of time to kill. We had lunch, charged the computer and phone, bought snacks and shopped till it was time to board and, sadly, leave Bolivia.

Our bus getting onto the barge

Lake Titicaca

view from our second hostel, La Leyenda

Can you spot the garbage cascading down the cliff side?

Copacabana from above

top of the hill

swan boat!

On Isla del Sol. House made of Adobe brick

Walking to the north side

One of the paths

view from the tent. Tarp still intact

peaceful ruins

back in Copa, llamas hangin on the shore


  1. Nice, I'm going myself to Bolivia and Peru this december, hope to find a good place to set up my "carpa" and have a good time out there!

  2. Hey! Funny, I too was randomly searching blogs in confirmation that there is a place to camp on Isla del Sol. (and also trying to find a testimonial that there is indeed a morning boat from the island back to Copacabana, since most places only seem to list the times that the boats leave from the mainland to go TO the island). So thank you! Ha, even funnier, I too am a PCV in PY. G36... sounds like you were G31? we must have overlapped for a couple months. Hope life as an RPCV is treating you well!