Why I didn’t love Copacabana, Bolivia (and what to do instead)

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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.

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.

The boardwalk in Copacabana, Bolivia.

The boardwalk in Copacabana, Bolivia.

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!

Street markets in Copacabana

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.

Isla del Sol, Bolivia

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.

Isla del Sol, Bolivia

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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11 Responses

  1. suziejprince says:

    We are heading that way soon. I’m wondering why you couldn’t get to the Isla del Sol?

    • Hi Suzie!
      The boats only leave at certain times in the day, and I think the afternoon one to Isla left around 1 pm and the last boat of the day returned to Copa around 3:30 pm. Because the boat ride is about an hour each way, we would have only had about half an hour to explore- not quite worth it! Obviously this isn’t an issue if you can stay in Isla Del Sol for a couple of days, but we didn’t have enough time to do that.

  2. Bob Waber says:

    I went there 42 years ago and had a great time.
    Hiking around, etc. I think I was the only tourist in town those days.
    The food is bad all over south America. Get used to it.
    You must be a wimp. I hitch hiked out of there to puno

    • Yorka Bosisio says:

      Dear Bob
      Your comment the food is bad all over SA, is a rude overstatement. 42 years ago, maybe, not nowadays.

    • Rafael Gonzalez says:

      Bob, food is not bad in South America. That is a big generalization, and you look really ignorant taking into account that good food for you(a steak maybe?) can be found in Argentina, much juicier and better than in the US. What about ceviche? Man if you dont like ceviche, go back to your McDonalds diet or get the hell out of here.
      As for the author of this article, if you dont like the waiter playing football while your food is being prepared, maybe you should go to a cell phone friendly destination next time and forget the concept of travelling as a way off your daily stress.

  3. Letizia says:

    Copacabana is indeed a backpacker town without interest really..
    But isla del sol is wonderful !! I spent the full day there from morning to afternoon hiked 8 hours from north to south and its trully amazing…
    The landscape and the maya ruins, the beaches and the people leaving in the island.. its one of the best place in south America for me if you have time book 2 nights in Copacabana and enjoy Isla del sol !
    Greetings 🙂

  4. Ed says:

    No mention of the beautiful church that is there, plus the local markets. I thought the food was good, you definitely will not get fancy upscale restaurants or 5 star hotels, but the experience alone is breathtaking. At night the sky is full of stars, something you don’t get to see if you live in the city.

  5. Claudia says:

    I went there in May 2001. Didn’t know that same day boat transportation to visit the island had limited schedule departures and returns. We had to choose between staying on island or in the Copacabana and explore only for two hours before leaving on last boat to island. We ended choosing staying in Copacabana and go by boat the next day early morning before leaving in afternoon.
    Regarding breakfast outside hostel if you decide to try local food there is a hot purple brevage called apí made out of corn. It has a lemon sweet flavour and cinnamon that you can eat with a flat bubbled donut called buñuelo. The donut does ressemble in shape to the beaver tail sold in Canada. They only put on top syrup or powder sugar. For lunch they sold a lot in restaurants trouts.
    It does get very cold at night and I ended up sleeping with my coat. So the warm drink api was not bad. In the middle of day is quite the opposite very warm under sun.
    I can’t recommend enough to bring layers of clothes. Nights reach zero degrees and at noon it can warm up to 18C

  6. Claudia says:

    I forgot to mention the reason I felt it was cold at night in Copacabana and La Paz climate at night, is because they don’t have heater. Back in trip 2001 I thought internet was very slow in the cafés. Today with wifi mobile internet you can check weather forecast quickly. A friend will be heading there the last week of May 2019. While checking forecast it mentions temperature dropped two days ago to -4C in the middle of night. In Salar Uyuni we checked this week and it dropped to -7C. Under zero degrees here in Canada I put a little bit of heater at night.
    The air is very dry and it took me longer to walk than I had anticipated.

  1. May 28, 2018

    […] Places I’ve disliked the most: Manila, Philippines (this is why) and Copacabana, Bolivia (also why). And the Los Angeles airport. LAX can suck […]

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