America,  Bolivia,  TDM,  Travel Journal

Lake Titicaca and Isla del Sol (Bolivia): cut off from the world

Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) is considered the cradle of Andean civilization. That’s all there is to it! Some even claim that Atlantis is swallowed up there. We will make a trek from the North to the South of the island, called “Sacred Road of the Eternity of the Sun”. This hike will cross 3 villages: Cha’llapampa, Cha’lla and Yumani. At the entrance of each village, you have to pay the visit fees for the different communities (between 10$B and 15$B/person)

Part 1: Travel Diary
Part 2: Budget

Part 1: Travel Diary

Finally a place where we are a little cut off from the world. Implied: no Wifi, no TV, no ATM, no cars. It’s in Isla del Sol where we really feel the energy released by the Titicaca Lake and where we really appreciate its beauty.

Located at more than 3800m of altitude, Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world. The lake is interesting to visit on both the Bolivian and Peruvian sides. On the Bolivian side, Isla del Sol is a must-see because the island opens the door to another world.

Even if the island has good tourist infrastructures, it remains very traditional. No cars circulate on this island, made up of Inca trails, bays worthy of those of a Greek island, and small archaeological sites. The only way for us to explore it, is to walk.

I put you the detailed plan here (click on zoom).

Day 1 :

Our luggage being kept by our hotel in Copacabana (Wendy Mar, link Booking), we leave only with the bare minimum in a small backpack each and take a boat at 8:30 am with Asociacion Union Marines to go to the North of the island. The trip is long (2h), and even more because of an engine failure. Fortunately there are two of them and the captain can switch from one engine to the other. It is important to avoid sitting next to the engine because of the smell and the smoke coming from it. If the weather was better, we would have liked to sit on the roof.

Even if the North of the island is less touristic than the South, new and very modern hostels have been built in the space of a year. One can now have a room with private bathroom and even, ultimate luxury, warm water (don’t dream, hot water does not exist in this area).

As soon as I landed in the village of Cha’llapampa, I immediately buy a coca mate (coca tea) to warm up and avoid any mountain sickness. The weather is cloudy today, it’s very cold when we don’t walk. We first discover a small beach where the campers set up their tents, I hope that they will not be disturbed by the pigs and cows whose breeding is on the beach.

We follow the only road leading north. The landscapes are magnificent! With these beaches of fine sand, one would believe on an island in the middle of the ocean.

We walk (or rather climb (gasping) up to the ruins of Chicana. The entrance fee is 15$B/person, we will have to pay 3 times during our stay on the island because each ticket finances a community. The ticket will be checked several times on the way.

After 2 hours of ascent, we finally reach the ruins, where I search in vain for the well containing sacred water. A local shows me the exact location (see photo above) and explains me that I can drink it without any problem, it has been scientifically proven. Other Bolivian tourists do not hesitate to plunge their water bottle into the well and fill it completely. The water is really pure, you can see through the bottle that there are no impurities. This gives me courage to take a sip (no digestive problems to report afterwards).

The ruins give us a preview of Machu Picchu that we will see very soon. It is like a labyrinth, we can’t manage to have a global view on the whole site, the ceilings are all collapsed but the doors still hold a little. By the way, be careful with your head if you are tall.

On the way, we see two panels of hospedaje and casa, but both are closed. Our attempts with the souvenir sellers to be accommodated in their homes, in a traditional house, have been politely refused.

We return to the village, still without accommodation, and nothing in the belly since breakfast. It is already 13h (we arrived at 10h), we stop at the first restaurant opened (there isn’t much more at this hour). The menu is standard: soup of quinoa, trout with plancha for 25$B/person. Dead from hunger, we find the meal delicious while the two French people next door look disgusted by it.

All the hostels in Cha’llapampa are side by side, and they are very busy, we often see 6-7 people at the terrace of each hostel, which does not encourage us to stay here. We take again the way, this time towards the South of the island, with the idea to sleep in the village of Cha’lla, in the middle of the island.

As soon as we leave, we have a magnificent view of the whole village of Cha’llapampa, and it is there that we find a super cute refuge on the edge of the cliff.

His name is Refugio Alejandro or something like that. But since we decided to go all the way to Cha’lla, we take the road again.

1h30 and 2 mountains later, here we are in Cha’lla. Everything looks a bit dead. We expect a little more stores, but at the end of the afternoon, the village is super quiet. We spot a hostal with our taste (maintained garden, meal served on request, architecture half-traditional half-modern), it is called Playa del Inca. We expect to see an expat welcoming us, but no it’s a woman with 2 long braids up to the belt, and the typical bolivian bowler hat that welcomes us. 40$B/person, she tells us. We say yes right away, before discovering a comfortable room with a private bathroom (and warm water). The appointment is taken for dinner with trout a la plancha on the menu.

It will be the best trout that we will have tasted at Lake Titicaca, marinated with herbs from the garden, seasoned as it should be, and accompanied by lots of vegetables (a rare thing in Bolivia). One understands better, compared to that, why the lunch was infecting for the two Frenchmen crossed at the restaurant. After the meal, we discuss a little bit with the owners: this inn was renovated 6 years ago, they built a lot by themselves and use as much as possible materials coming from the island. They also told us about how difficult it is for children, growing up on the island and speaking their dialect, to go to school or to a big city and suddenly have to speak Spanish. That’s it, my Spanish vocabulary stops there, I couldn’t push the conversation any further but it’s already a bit more developed than what I’ve had so far.

Photo: the beautiful beach in Cha’lla. Camping possible, permission to ask the owner of Playa del Inca because apart from this hostal, there are no public toilets.

Day 2 :

The next day, after a good breakfast, we leave at 10am to Yumani, the last village to be explored on the island. The weather is surprisingly beautiful, which makes the walk more pleasant. We are the only tourists on the road, the others having left earlier, or not yet arrived by boat. We are accompanied by a few shepherds, sheep, pigs, donkeys and dogs.

Here is the village of Cha’lla (North side) seen from above

The village and its shepherds

The village of Cha’lla (South side) seen from above :

On the way, we pay Cha’lla’s visit fee (15$B) and then we hit the road again. At one moment, we pass on the other side of the mountain, it isn’t any more the Bolivian bank that we see by far but the Peruvian bank.

We stop at a restaurant on the road (note the parquet floor made of tree trunks) to regain our strength, before starting a very pleasant descent to the port of Yumani (ticket for Yumani: 10$B). The hotel opposite: Palla Khasa, has rooms with panoramic view on the lake.

The port of Yumani :

The search for a hostel in Yumani begins. Wanting to be next to the port (which turns out to be a very good decision), we head to the most bling bling hotel on the left of the port, before being cooled down by the price (80$B/person bathroom to share). The owner, very nice, shows us her neighbor’s hostel, Las Cabañas de Agua Dulce (link Booking), 50$B/person, private bathroom. We say yes right away.

Our hostel is the simplest of all here, with adobe walls (by the way, you can see abode bricks drying in the garden). 3 rooms in all, leaning against a small hill giving an impressive view of the entire port & snowy peaks. JB, too tired, takes a little nap while I wash my pants soiled by donkey droppings (yes, you have a 100% (bad) chance to walk on donkey droppings on this island). The water being tepid, I still manage to take a shower, as long as I warm up afterwards in the sun in the garden.

This is the perfect opportunity to observe a family scene of the inn’s owner. She has to hand wash the clothes and sheets in a bucket. The waste water is used to water the plants and the lawn. The children also take the opportunity to wash themselves with cold water. Brrrrhhh… In short, everything happens in the garden.

It is 3pm, hundreds of tourists from Copacabana climb the famous sloping staircase with great difficulty. This path is very nice and green, with some nice viewpoints and hostals, but it is very hard physically. We watch with amusement the tourists coming here, in the South of the island, with a very heavy backpack. They surely did not inquire before coming, otherwise they would have left their bag in Copacabana. If they look for a place to camp, well it isn’t the good spot either, the North of the island is more adapted.

At 5pm, there is no one left. Even the tourists who stayed overnight on the island flee the port and prefer to sleep on top of the hill filled with hostals. We are 6 tourists to want to sleep near the port. The view is magnificent, in particular at sunset (we aren’t in the good direction because we turn to the East), but we see nevertheless the snowy summits reddening under the last rays of the sun.

We eat in a restaurant at the bottom of the hill and watch the stars. The few lights on make stargazing a bit difficult, but for me, it’s already pretty nice.

At 5am, we are woken up by the cold and the sound of rain. We try to sleep half asleep until 9 am, before having a very simple breakfast at the port. We are so happy to have slept next to the port, because judging by the overloaded people‘s heads who have to go down the whole hill on slippery stones strewn with donkey droppings, the exercise must not have been easy.

The boat ticket office is closed, but a guy hangs out next to a liquor store with tickets in his hand, we spot him directly and buy him tickets for 25$B/person. Why didn’t he just sit at the ticket office? We’re not sure.

It does not rain any more, and we return to Copacabana, crammed in a small boat without life jacket, suffocated by the pollution of the engine. Back to the hard reality!

Part 2: Budget

  • Lodging :

    • Playa del Inca in Cha’lla: 40$B/person – private bathroom, 35$B/meal and 10$B/breakfast
    • Las Cabañas Agua Dulce in Yumani: 50$B/person, private bathroom – attention there are 2 hostels Las Cabanas, ours is “Agua Dulce”, on the left of the port, you don’t have to climb much to reach it

  • Boat :

    • Copacabana -> North of the island : 25$B/person, departure at 8:30 am and 1:30 pm
    • South of the island -> Copacabana : 25$B/person, departure at 10:30 am and 3:30 pm

  • Food :

    • Menu between 25$B and 35$B for lunch (quinoa soup + trout)
    • In the evening: dish between 15$B and 45$B
    • Pressed juice: between 10$B and 15$B
    • Breakfast: between 10$B and 15$B

  • Visits :

    • 15$B to Cha’llapampa
    • 15$B to Cha’lla
    • 10$B in Yumani

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