Bolivia is a remarkable country. It has some of the most beautiful remote landscapes that lie high up in Andean desert, and some of the most disgusting living city conditions I’ve ever witnessed. It has some of the warmest, genuinely kind people who beam with pride to be from their country, it has some of the smallest, angry people I’ve ever noticed take a dislike to me. It’s certainly a place to split opinions. However one thing I’m adamant about is that it’s home to the best day hike I experienced in five months backpacking around South America.
That’s on Isla Del Sol. At 3,808 metres it lies on Lake Titicaca, about an hour’s ferry from the shores of the lake’s biggest town, Copacabana. There’s plenty going on here, but Copacabana is more of a gateway to the 70km island on the lake.
It’s worth mentioning now, do not make your way to Copacabana if it’s Good Friday. The town is absolutely rammed with locals who have headed down there in pilgrimage. However if it does happen to be Good Friday, and unwelcoming stress, a dangerous proximity to having no place to sleep, to accepting the offer of a quite shady man with a ‘room upstairs’ and sleeping in there with three random people you met on the bus from La Paz all sounds ok, you’re good to go.
Copacabana is the not nicest lake town you’re likely to ever visit, but Isla Del Sol soon allows you to forget the frenzy of the rest of the world. The ferry will first take you to the south of the island which is where the majority of (basic) tourist infrastructure lies.
My recommendation is to get off here, and spend two nights on the island. With a full day free and no worries about the times of ferries back to Copacabana you can enjoy a day’s hike to the north and back at your own leisure.
The most breathtaking part of a hike here is the views of Titicaca around the outside. They remain present for hours on the whole way around. The locals are mostly descendants from the Incas, and the straight, stone roads were built by their very ancestors. They’re still being used. Incan ruins to explore lie to the north, and if there’s on thing that Isla Del Sol can guarantee, well it’s sun.
Surrounded by the world’s largest high-altitude lake, it’s easy to mistake your surroundings for the sea. Every so often glimpses of snow-capped peaks in the distance might be able to distract from that illusion, or just confuse. The freshness of the air feels welcoming after the fumes of La Paz.
As the hike continues to draw your breath, the sun beating down and the air thin, you really could be on a different planet. You are certainly a long way from home.
A word of warning back on the mainland, if you are leaving Bolivia from Copacabana and going onto Peru, perhaps Cusco, do beware that Peru’s timezone is one hour behind their Inca friends. After crossing the border and pulling into Puno for a break, don’t be waiting around your very depleted bus for a while wondering why nobody else is back yet. Who’d be stupid enough to do that?