Lake Titicaca.

Copacabana:

I’m sure most people haven’t heard of Copacabana, Bolivia (not to be confused with the ultra popular Copacabana, Brazil). But most probably have heard of Lake Titicaca. Copacabana is made famous by the infamous Lake Titicaca. I was definitely excited to see the highest navigable lake in the world at 12,507ft and check off another bucket list item. The four hour bus ride from La Paz to Copacabana had lovely views of the countryside. Bolivia really is a beautiful country.

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We only had one full day in Copacabana and needed to spend our time wisely. If we had an extra day we would have done a home stay on Isla del Luna, but that’ll have to wait until next time.

The Town.

When we arrived to Copacabana, we toured the small town consisting of one main street with tourist shops and a couple of cute restaurants. This is probably the only time I’ll say that it’s better to visit during the busy season. I think you’d get a more accurate feel of the area. It’s a tourist place, but during the low season it was so quiet, we were literally the only people in our hotel. Felt like a ghost town.

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Cerro Calvario & the 14 Stations of the Cross.

We took a sunset hike up 20 minutes from the town center to Cerro Calvario & the 14 Stations of the Cross. It’s a great place to see the town, Copacabana bay, and Lake Titicaca.

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Isla de Sol.

A two hour boat ride from Copacabana delivered us to Isla de Sol, the largest island on the lake. The boat dropped us off at the North side and we hiked the trail to La Estancia on the South side to catch the boat back to Copacabana. We arrived on the island at 10:30am, began the hike at 11am and had to be at the South side by 4pm. We were told by other tourists that the hike takes approximately five hours so we knew we had to hustle so as not to miss the last boat.

To be honest, the hike itself was much harder than we anticipated. Nothing like walking at 13,000 ft to make you feel really out of shape! This slightly concerned us for Machu Picchu in the coming weeks, but it was worth it! Seeing the Inca ruins (1 of 80 ruins on the island), walking on an official Inca trail with beautiful views of Lake Titicaca, strolling through villages seeing sheep, goats, llamas, cows roaming free everywhere, and women working in the fields in their traditional colonial clothes with donkeys carrying supplies. It felt like a movie.

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We met a couple from San Diego on the trail and had a great time chatting with them throughout the hike (only made me slightly homesick 🙂 )

This was a wonderful day trip, not to mention a great workout!

2015 Bucket List Complete:

  • Take a boat ride on Lake Tticaca 
  • Hike Isla del Sol
  • See the Milky Way over Lake Titicaca

Next time:

  • Home stay on Isla de Sol or Isla del Luna
  • Good Friday at Cerro Calvario
  • Kayak on Lake Titicaca

Pro:

  • Gorgeous views of the lake
  • Cheap, cute souvenirs 

Con:

  • Have to pay for everything. And no one tells you that. (i.e. Three different payment stations throughout the hike on Isla del Sol. Thank goodness we had enough cash!)
  • Quiet town with not much going on in April

Tips:

  • We read a lot of blogs that said you need at least 4-5 days in Copacabana, but two days was plenty for us. Nothing else to do here besides the Cerro Calvario hike for sunset and Isla del Sol. There are a couple other hikes around the town, but nothing too notable.

Overall Thoughts on Bolivia:

Cons:

  • No toilet paper – And can’t throw toilet paper in the toilet
  • Bathrooms cost money
  • Power lines everywhere
  • Beer costs more than alcohol – large population of alcoholics due to this
  • Freezing temperatures in Bolivia
  • Trash everywhere – No trash cans. Drivers throw trash out their window
  • Saltenas are the Bolivian version of a Chilean empanada, but sweeter. Not a fan.
  • Solicitors everywhere for restaurants.

Tips:

  • Bring your own toilet paper with you everywhere
  • Have extra change for public bathrooms
  • Bring plenty of lotion, eye drops, moisturizer. It’s incredibly dry here in the high elevation.
  • You need to acclimate and drink plenty of water
  • Bring lots of hand sanitizer
  • Ask how much a cab ride will cost before getting in – only use real cabs
  • If you have a problem with the altitude, chew coca leaves or coca candy. You can find it everywhere and it really does help. Doesn’t taste the best, but it’s better than a headache!

 Style:

  • Colonial. Women almost have a uniform. Bowler hats. Two braids, dresses and aprons, blankets on backs to carry supplies or babies – I kinda really love it 🙂

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Puno.

PERU!

We’ve now traveled to six countries throughout South America and we haven’t flown internationally once. International flights are very expensive, but flying domestic is incredibly cheap so we prefer to drive across the border then fly. 

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A 3.5 hour bus ride from Copacabana, we crossed the border into Peru which marks country #6! Puno is another town on Lake Titicaca, larger than Copacabana, but still not too exciting. The markets, the smell, no bueno. This is not a very big tourist town, mostly locals. But I will say, the food is good – and the ceviche and Pisco Sours are amazing! (Note: Pisco Sours are the traditional drink of Peru and we embarked on an endless quest to find the best).

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We only had one full day here (sounds like the same theme from Bolivia, I know), so we took a day tour to Uros Floating Island and Isla Taquile.

Floating Islands:

We were really looking forward to this tour, but once arriving we were pretty disheartened by the whole experience. Let’s recap: There are over 40 floating islands in Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. The islanders must lay down new reeds every 15 days to keep the reed depth at approximately two meters. The oldest island is 40 years old. The one we visited was first built 11 years ago and has three families living on it in extremely close quarters, complete with two toddlers and a puppy (Trust me, it’s as adorable as it sounds!). This is typical for all of the floating islands.

Once on the island, our guide and the island residents took us on a journey through their lifestyle, the history of the islands, and how they build them, which was very interesting. When we asked about the children and education, they informed us that the children can go to primary school on one of the other islands, but if they want to continue with their schooling, they have to go to Puno, a two hour boat ride away. What a way to live, huh?

All of that was great and hearing their stories was educational. However, then they started singing and talking about the “Mercedes-Benz” boat. This is where things took a turn for me. They basically forced all 20 of us tourists onto this large reed boat and then charged us $20 Bolivianos. 

We were really hoping for an authentic experience on the floating islands, but now we’re a little apprehensive about what’s real and what’s a show. Is this really how they live? I’m sure it is, and I hate that that I’ve questioned it, but it felt like more of a big production they were performing for us complete with songs, choreographed moves, and staged lines.

Either way, the island itself was an incredible place, but I would have rather hung out with the families and heard their stories of life on the island instead.

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Taquile Island.

After we left Uros, we hoped back on the boat for another hour ride to Isla de Taquile. Taquile is the second largest island on Lake Titicaca, behind Isla del Sol, which we saw in Bolivia. A 30 minute walk from the water will drop you at the top of the island where they’ve built an entire community complete with a plaza, restaurants, shops, markets, and even a medical office. The landscape was stunning – they grow all their own food and still use the Inca terraces for crops of quinoa and corn. Llamas, goats, sheep, chickens, and pigs roam free.

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We had a lovely traditional Peruvian lunch at Pacha Mama Restaurant, which was out of a local’s home, overlooking the island and out across the water to Bolivia.

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Overall, this was a nice day tour, but I don’t feel the need to do it again. To me, it felt like the people were being exploited. I know the money goes towards improving their community and most of the people want to show the world their way of life, but it still felt slightly invasive. The island people are a small civilization and everyone is very friendly, but I also got the feeling that they just wanted our money. I hate to say that, but I wanted to be honest.

Next Time: 

  • Stay overnight with a host family and really get a feel for the culture.

Tip:

  • Our guide told us that it’s OK to take pictures of the landscape, but we must ask before taking pictures of the people as some think that a camera captures their soul. Some will just want money and then you can snap away.

Con:

  • The markets, the smell. Terrible. Sucre’s market was much better, cleaner, bigger.
  • Soliciting people into the restaurants was extremely aggressive.
  • Beggars are very aggressive and in your face.
  • Uros Islands – Too touristy. Just want your money.
  • Smell of gasoline and car fumes is so overwhelming I couldn’t breath.

Pro: 

  • People actually pick up their trash, unlike Bolivia where they throw it out the window cause there aren’t any trash cans.
  • More English spoken
  • Less trash, government employs workers to maintain the clean streets
  • Best Pisco Sours ever! Not Chile. Sorry!
  • The empanadas are good, much better than Bolivia’s saltenas, but I think Chiles empanadas are better. 
  • Clouds are perfect popcorn clouds
  • Back to normal eating hours!! Lunch 12-2 and dinner 7-9. Praise the Lord! Going to bed without feeling full and bloated is such a blessing.

Next Time:

  • Kayak on Lake titicaca
  • Home stay on Isla Taquile

Bolivia and Peru:

  • Take your kids to work day is everyday
  • Women hold most of the jobs except mining and waiters
  • Similar shops on the same street (barbers, tools, beauty supplies, etc). How do you compete?
  • Quiet in every town – sucre Potosí la Paz and Copa. Thought we were the only ones in the hotel

Altitude:

  • We went from 8,000ft in San Pedro to 15,000ft in Bolivia. All of Bolivia is high elevation. I had no problem with it, but Michael didn’t feel very well. Thank goodness for coca leaves!

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