While planning my Bolivia trip, I became enamoured with the idea of a visit to Isla del Sol, a sacred Inca island in the middle of shimmering Lake Titicaca. Sadly it was not meant to be due to timing, but I did end up at the next best thing, Copacabana. Or so I thought.
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Copacabana Bolivia is the gateway to Isla del Sol, serving as a launching off point for the boats that shuttle tourists back and forth multiple times a day. When I began looking into Copacabana, I had visions of that famous Barry Manilow song in my head (yes, I know he was singing about the beach in Brazil, not Bolivia, but bear with me!) and thought it sounded like a fun town.
Well, there is a beach. But that’s about it.
How to get to Copacabana Bolivia
Most people stop here en route to the fascinating Uros floating islands in nearby Puno, Peru, book a day trip from La Paz like this one that includes a stop in neighbouring Yumani, or just spend a couple of hours wandering around town during or after their trip over to Isla del Sol. Bolivia Hop is one of the top rated operators, with modern buses and knowledgable guides who make the sometimes confusing border crossing between Peru and Bolivia much easier to navigate.
Those who take the three hour bus ride over from La Paz will enjoy a scenic drive along winding roads overlooking the gem-toned lake. Donkeys, sheep and llamas graze on the bright green grass on the side of the highway, while traditionally dressed villagers work in the fields.
As you descend over the last hill and catch a first glimpse of the town, you’ll see houses tucked into the hillside, as dusty roads lead towards the blue water.
What to do in Copacabana Bolivia
With a population of only a few thousand people, truth be told there isn’t a heck of a lot to do here.
It only takes a few minutes to walk the entire length of the waterfront through town, and the only real attractions are the 16th century church Basilica of Our Lady of Copacabana, browsing the street markets, or the glorious view of the horseshoe-shaped bay from the Cerro Calvario lookout point which is a great place to watch the sunset.
If you’re in the mood for another hike, head to Horca del Inca which is an astronomical observatory dating back to the 14th century which was built by the Chiripa people. Though only some of the original structure remains intact, there are also great views overlooking the lake.
Those who manage to time their visit right might be able to to witness one of the quirky things to do in Copacabana Bolivia: the so-called blessing of the cars, Bendiciones de Movilidades. Twice a day, people drive their cars to the church to be blessed by a priest, and the spectacle includes dousing the vehicles with ‘holy’ beer or Coca-Cola!
Where to stay in Copacabana
Most of the accommodation options in Copacabana are extremely budget-friendly (under $40 USD per night) and have great views since they overlook the water, but if you’re looking for luxe digs this is not your place. The interiors are typically quite dated, not clean or smell of chemicals, and service can be an issue. There are a couple of exceptions though, including:
- Las Olas: The fun, whimsical architecture makes this place feel a bit like a fairytale, and the private rooms overlook the water and have hammocks and gardens. There’s also a hot tub on site, which is a great spot for star gazing. Click here to book
- Hotel Rosario Lago Titicaca: The bright, colourful rooms are recently renovated and inspired by Indigenous designs, and guests rave about the on-site dining and helpful staff. Click here to book
Most people prefer to stay on Isla del Sol instead, to have more time to explore. At time of writing, disputes on the north end of the island mean visitors must stay on the south side.
Visiting Isla del Sol Bolivia
So while Copacabana itself leaves much to be desired for people like yours-truly, it’s still worth heading there if your final destination is Isla del Sol (the “Sun Island”) or Isla de la Luna.
About 800 families live on the islands, which are considered to be highly sacred and the birthplace of the Inca bloodline and the sun. There are Inca ruins like Chincana and the Temple of the Sun, the archaeological complexes of Pilko Kaina, the Sacred Rock, an archeological museum and the Table of Ceremonies.
The islands themselves are stunning: think rocky hillsides dotted with eucalyptus trees, and serene hiking trails along the water. Since there aren’t any paved roads it’s like traveling back in time, and guests can watch traditional activities like weaving.
Day trips run almost every day, leaving the main harbour at 8:30 am and returning at 5:30 pm with the option to see both islands. Return tickets cost 30 Bolivianos and can be purchased from travel agents in town. The boat ride to Isla del Sol takes just over an hour from the mainland, and if you do the quick stop at Isla de la Luna you’ll also have great views of the Andes.
This article was originally published in February 2014 and updated in November 2020
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