One morning last July the Bolivia Hop bus picked me and others up from La Paz’s Wild Rover Hostel. Our destination was Copacabana on Lake Titicaca, at 3,800 metres, the world’s highest navigable lake.
The Bolivia Hop bus and other vehicles being moved by barge across Lake Titicaca on the way from La Paz to Copacabana
Copacabana lies on a peninsula, the start of which actually belongs to Peru. Hence, getting to Copacabana from Bolivia without visiting Peru involves crossing the short Tiquina Strait. We exited the bus and travelled in a small boat while the bus crossed on a barge.
Copacabana has the reputation of being a tourist trap and my intention was to stay long enough to leave my main bag and take a ferry to Challapampa, Isla del Sol’s northern port. After a night in Challapampa I would hike south to Yumani and then return via boat to Copacabana.
Boats and piers at Copacabana’s port
A Copacabana hotel declined to hold my bag overnight, instead, directing me further up the main street. There, I saw a souvenir shop with a sign in Spanish indicating they held luggage. Inside, a young girl, no older than 10, manned the shop with no adult in sight. I asked for a luggage receipt but she did not understand. With slight trepidation, I left my locked bag there and hoped for the best. Thankfully, after leaving, the girl chased after me to get my passport details. At least that was something.
Although several ferries link Copacabana and Isla del Sol, annoyingly, they all leave at the same times: from Copacabana twice a day: 8:30am and 1:30pm, returning from Yumani 10:30am and 3:30pm and returning from Challapampa at 1:30pm.
Upon arriving on the afternoon boat to Challapampa, the weather became unsettled. Challapampa has many cheap and basic accommodation options and locals greet arriving passengers, offering them their rooms. I chose to stay at Hostal San Francisco. Although my room’s power outlet didn’t work and the shared shower had no hot water, the bed blankets were heavy, the upper level had views of the bay and the area was silent. Like all of Isla del Sol, no motor vehicles spoiled Challapampa.
My room at Hostal San Francisco in Challapampa, Isla del Sol
That evening I spent dodging the rain getting to and from a restaurant serving great vegetable soup, delicious enough to eat two bowls in addition to the main course. The rain, cold and non-existent nightlife supported an early night.
Waking up before 6am, I witnessed the a stunning Lake Titicaca sunrise.
The sunrise illuminating Challapampa’s harbour and flaming clouds in the sky
The sun rising behind Cordillera Real’s snow covered peaks on Bolivia’s mainland painted shadows in the sky
Girl walking past Challapampa art depicting a woman riding a penny farthing and carrying a basket of corn
Challapampa boats, reeds and reflections
Thankfully, the weather cleared making for a beautiful day. Hiking across Isla del Sol requires three different access fees, totalling 40 bolivianos. Locals wait at different places to ensure payment.
Isla del Sol contain various Incan ruins and paths, including the one across the centre of the island I was to follow. Although walking solo, several other travellers also hiked the path at a similar time.
The Inca Table on the right of an Incan trail, both made out of stone
The high altitude and freezing wind made an easy hike more difficult and when I came across a tienda (shop) I was glad to stop for a chamomile tea and Snickers bar.
Enjoying a chamomile tea in a hut in the middle of Isla del Sol; note the hand-hewn door and the Christmas table cover (this was in July)
Isla del Sol has undulating terrain, allowing for wonderful hilltop views of Lake Titicaca
Hikers walking along an ancient Inca path through modern eucalyptus tree stands
A lamb resting on Isla del Sol
A donkey grazing in front of terraces and cove
The southern town of Yumani is on a hilltop and accessing its port involves hiking down steep stairs. I arrived too late for the morning boat back to Copacabana so had a few hours spare before the afternoon boat. I spent my remaining bolivianos on a fish meal and chatted with the other travellers also waiting.
Hand cut oat hay near Yumani, Isla del Sol’s main northern port
By the time the afternoon boats departed, a storm loomed. The journey back to Copacabana was treacherous with waves and wind lashing the severely underpowered ferry. My primary fear was the vessel capsizing and secondarily, missing my bus.
Gratefully, the ferry arrived to Copacabana safely and, surprisingly, the Bolivia Hop bus was still there. Impatiently, I waited for the boat to moor and then ran to the bus to ensure it stayed while I retrieved my backpack. The kids at the shop did their job and officiously checked my passport details against their record. A sprint back to the bus and all was okay. I was finally on my way to Peru.