Why I didn’t like Copacabana, Bolivia

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While planning my itinerary for a trek around Bolivia, I became enamoured with the idea of a visit to Isla del Sol, a beautiful island in the middle of massive Lake Titicaca. Sadly it was not meant to be due to timing (a traveller’s curse!), but I did end up in Copacabana—the next best thing. Or so I thought.

Copacabana is the gateway to Isla del Sol, serving as a launching off point for the boats that shuttle tourists back and forth. When I began looking into Copa, I had visions of that famous Barry Manilow song in my head (yes, I know he wasn’t singing about Bolivia, but bear with me!) and thought it sounded like a fun beach town.

Well, there is a beach. But that’s about it.

The boardwalk in Copacabana, Bolivia.

The boardwalk in Copacabana, Bolivia.

I ended up in Copacabana for one night en route to the reed islands in Puno, as many travellers do. The three hour bus trip from La Paz only cost about $4, and the travel agent also hooked us up with a decent looking hotel for about $30 a night—what a bargain! Well, it’s true that you get what you pay for.

The day started off well, as the drive towards the town is scenic, featuring windy roads that look down on the shimmering 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.

We hopped off the bus in the middle of one such dusty road, grabbed our bags then walked a couple of minutes to our hotel, which faced the water. Prime spot right? Well, if you like a good view then yes, but if you are hoping for anything above a one-star hotel experience, move along! Our room was on the fourth floor, which meant hauling our baggage ourselves up eight flights of stairs. The room reeked of cleaning supplies, the pillowcase didn’t even cover the pillow (eww!) and it’s safe to assume the water coming out of the taps was straight out of the lake. That’s the way it smelled, anyway. From what I saw of other hotels along the strip, they are all very similar, so be prepared for a similar experience if you’re brave enough to stay!

Hoping a walk around the town would make up for the dismal accommodations, we set out for a nice walk along the beach. It only took us about three minutes, as there was absolutely nothing to see. Hmmm. OK, we thought, guess we’ll go for an early dinner? So in true tourist fashion we picked the place that had the most fellow foreigners sitting out front, and ordered a couple of drinks. We had to wait quite a while, actually, as the waiter was super busy kicking around a soccer ball in front of us with some other guys. Frankly I don’t blame him, as playing soccer is far more fun than working. Anyway, we managed to kill an hour with dinner, which included watching the sun set over the lake.

Sunset in Copacabana, Bolivia.

Sunset in Copacabana, Bolivia.

Let’s just say that when morning rolled around we were psyched to be getting out of there, and the piece of hard bread and runny eggs we were offered at breakfast didn’t do much to change our mind about the place. I’m sure that Copacabana is absolutely lovely if you just hang out for an hour before catching your boat to Isla del Sol, but if you value your vacation time, find another place to spend the night.


Cute little resident of Copacabana.

Cute little resident of Copacabana.

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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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