When I decided to go to Lake Titicaca, I had no idea that it was a tourist hub for local Bolivians. After visiting, I understand now that it’s because of how incredibly beautiful it is. As a piece of natural scenery featuring beautiful lakes, lush hills, and colorful sunrises, Lake Titicaca is a must see in Bolivia. With a Bolivian Sol / US Dollar registering at 7⁄1, not only was it incredibly beautiful but it was also very affordable.
This is definitely a destination you want to include on your list if you ever make it to Bolivia.
Where is Lake Titicaca? Well, for starters, Lake Titicaca is the largest lake in South America and at 3,812 meters it is the highest navigable lake in the world. As a tourist, keep in mind it has two sides to it: A Peruvian and Bolivian side.
To get to Lake Titicaca from Peru you can take a 6 hour bus ride from Arequipa to Puno. My recommendation: take the night bus for mainly 2 reasons:
Unbelievable right? This is just one of the many times I saw unbelievable scenery in the area.
Note: In this post I’ll also discuss a few travel tips when traveling to Bolivia that you should definitely keep in mind when you make it over.
American relations with Bolivia are tense. President Evo Morales has been publicly critical of the US foreign relations and America (particularly now with Trump) is not favorably considered within the context of Bolivian politics. With the legalization of coca, Bush put Bolivia along with Venezuela on the counter-narcotics blacklist.
Coincidently, while in South America it is very common to have coca with tea (the same coca used for cocaine). As I’ve had quite a few cups, it’s official, I’m a druggy ;). The plant has medicinal properties, is critical to the indigenous culture, and helps with altitude sickness which makes it perfect for your first drink at high altitude.
Foreign and domestic relations in Bolivian have been tense since the current presidential election and there is political unrest in Bolivia. I’ve seen a few protests within Bolivia, including Uuyuni, which shut down access into and out of the city in protest of the current president, and La Paz which had riots in the middle of the city.
While I will expand on this later, I still strongly recommend making it over to Bolivia if you have the capacity to. The country is rich with culture and nature and is a gem of South America. Most Bolivians are extremely friendly and open to foreigners, and so while you should consider the political climate, this shouldn’t deter your adventure.
Fun fact: Bolivia has a constitution which only allows a president to serve for 2 terms. The current president found a loophole in the constitution, and by renaming the country of Bolivia to the Plurinational State of Bolivia he reran for a 3rd (trying for a 4th) election by serving only 2 terms in Bolivia and now 1 term in the Plurinational State of Bolivia. Many people are concerned that Bolivia is turning into a dictatorship, and that the current president will have served for nearly 16 years (not unlike FDR with 12 years).
While Bolivia’s political unrest is very real, it doesn’t feel dangerous and I would not let that deter you away from this beautiful country. It has some of the most beautiful natural scenery I have ever seen. The Salt Lakes in Uuyuni are incredible and unlike anything else in the world. I’ll elaborate on this in a future post.
At Lake Titicaca, most of my exploration was on the Bolivian side at a town called Copacabana. Copacabana is a tourist town for local Bolivians and quiet beautiful. After arriving in the bus station in Puno, I took an early bus at 6 am over to the Bolivian side to a town called Copacabana. I decided not to stay in Puno, because I was anxious to get across to the Bolivian border and I heard that it is not simple to get over the border.
Warning for Americans: If you are an American be prepared to cross the border. They do not treat American passports like other passports.
To give you an idea:
Visa for Americans:
$160 Most of the World: $0. As an American expect it to take >30 min to get your visa. If you are eveyone else it should take 5~10 min.
You will need to have all your documents in order. That means:
Don’t listen to anyone in Puno that says you are fine if you just bring your money and a headshot photo. That didn’t work, at least for me.
As an American you will need to go to multiple stations and I was accompanied by a security guard the entire process. Just keep this in mind when you cross over. It was a really interesting experience, because know I experienced what it feels like to get discriminated based upon your country of origin. Everyone on the bus had to wait for me, and apparently that is typical.
It’s important to remember that people experience something like that frequently if you’re from one of those Shi—le countries, and I can tell you it sucks because you are powerless in these situations. Every American should go to a border like Bolivia at least once to see what it feels like to be from most of the rest of the world traveling to other countries.
Copacabana is the Hawaii equivalent for Bolivians. Bolivia lost its access to water when they lost the War of the Pacific in the late 19th century and the territory was redefined. In that battle the Bolivian border was completely redefined. Now Copacabana and Lake Titicaca are one of the few parts of Bolivia with access to water.
It is a resort/tourist destination so be prepared to see a lot of Bolivian tourists around the area during the middle of the day. Within Copacabana, there are plenty of things to do that are really cheap if you have the American dollar. The food is pretty good and there are a variety of water activities to indulge in such as kayaking and jet skiing. I ended up going for my first jet ski ride after we landed.
The most expensive thing you will need to buy is accommodations. After you’ve gotten your accommodations to your first night DO NOT BUY IT THROUGH THE INTERNET. Prices on the internet will be significantly higher than local prices you will find by asking around. Especially if you are not visiting in the busy season don’t go online to book anything.
There are plenty of amazing restaurants there and everything is cheap. Oddly enough, it seems Bolivia has a knack for really good pizza, and most restaurants will serve it in some form or another. With the exchange rate at ~7⁄1 you can get a very large dinner or breakfast for a fraction of the price you’ll get in the states. At Copacabana, they specialize in trout criolla, which is stuffed trout.
Food Recommendation: I ended up going to Orilla, a local restaurant that supposedly served some of the best trout criolla in town (albeit more expensive). I got in a conversation with the owner and turns out he lived in Northern California for a bit and was from Washington DC. Since then he’s lived in Copacabana for 20 years. Stop by this restaurant early in your stay if you don’t speak great Spanish and want to get some helpful pointers about the area.
This is not as common route, but I met someone traveling around that wanted to hike to the Island of the Sun (Isle del Sol) to acclimate to the high altitude. Most people will take a boat directly to the Island which costs ~45 sol one way.
Always up for an adventure in the less beaten path, I asked to tag along and we left bright and early to see the sunrise and depart for a 17km hike along the coast of the lake. As a general rule, I’ve started leaving for all my hikes before 6 A.M to get the benefits of the colder climate and sunrises. It challenging at first, but after multiple 3~5 AM starts you get used to it.
The hike in itself is not that difficult, but the views are stunning. This was one of my more enjoyable and relaxing hikes I’ve taken that is likely overlooked to most travelers going to Copacabana. If you have a pair of legs on you, give yourself a challenge and try the hike. Along the way you’ll pass through a few small villages, though none will have food in case you’re hoping to stop for a bite.
The scenery along the way breathtaking. Here’s some photos from the hike.
The entire hike took approx: 4.5 hours.
At the tip, you’ll find a small village called Yumapata. From the village, there are a few people with boats that you’ll have to talk to and negotiate to get to the island. It ended up costing us more to get to the Isle del Sol even through we were much closer because we were the only ones on the boat (75 Bol per person). We probably could have haggled it lower but it seemed petty and we wanted to get to the island.
At the Island, once again DO NOT BOOK ONLINE. My friend ended up getting a shared hostel room for 200 Bolivian Sol. I didn’t reserve and did it at the site, so I managed to get a private bedroom overlooking the lake for 100 sol (~14 dollars). I’m sure I could have found cheaper, but I felt like “splurging” and because of the exchange rate it won’t break the bank.
There are two islands around the area: Island of the Sun and Island of the Moon (Isle del Sol and Isle del Luna). The island of the moon is much smaller than the Island of the Sun but quite beautiful. Both are walkable distances around the circumference. Come early on Sunday, I decided to hike around the the Island of the Sun for the first half of the day.
You can walk around the island however while I was there the two northern island were in political fights with each other, and the route was blocked. The Island itself is incredibly relaxing and beautiful and even though movement was restricted I managed to make my way to some of the smaller villages near my hotel. There’s a glacier far away which makes the view quite refreshing no matter where you are.
At night, I was lucky enough to experience the amazing lightning storm. I had never done lightning photography before, and it was one of my favorite experiences at the Isle del Sol. As you can see, the lightning was right over the Isle del Luna, which made it perfect.
This left a silver cloud over Lake Titicaca over the morning.
Lake Titicaca is amazing and beautiful and you should definitely head over there while passing the Peruvian border. It’s an excellent first stop in Bolivia and highly worth your time.
Much more coming on my blog so stay tuned!
Check out the gallery here