At 3,812m above sea level, Lake Titicaca is usually referred to as the highest navigable lake in the world. Shared by both Bolivia and Peru, it is also the biggest lake (by volume) in South America. Our visit to this beautiful area began on the Bolivian side in Copacabana, where we spent 4 nights. By all accounts, this was far too long to spend in this little town given that there wasn’t a heck of a lot to do there. Our accommodation however was absolutely fantastic, so we enjoyed the relaxation and the gorgeous views. We were hoping to spend a few days lazing around on the beach, but Copacabana’s beach was best seen from a distance – it was rocky and absolutely covered in trash.
From Copacabana a three hour, über slow boat ride took us out to the fabulous Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun). According to Inca lore, both the sun and the first Inca were created on this island. On the island, we did a three hour walk from its north side to its south side along the ridge line. This walk took as past quaint villages, Inca ruins, terraced farming, sandy beaches and beautiful vistas. It truly was a wonderful day that, of course, included a swim in the chilly waters of Lake Titicaca. Rather than heading back to Copacabana in the evening we opted to spend a night on the island. After the last boats left for the day, it seemed as though we had this already peaceful place to ourselves. Imagine old women in traditional dress herding goats and llamas up steep steps at dusk…
The following day, we left Bolivia behind and crossed over into Puno, Peru. Not overly special in itself, Puno is the jumping off point for the islands on the Peruvian side. We explored three islands by way of a two day / one night organized tour. During the first morning of the tour, we stopped at the floating islands inhabited by the Uros. These indigenous people have been living on floating islands (built on reeds) since Inca times. While neat, a visit to these islands has become incredibly commercialized – we actually couldn’t tell who was exploiting who! They were trying to sell us something the entire time (garments, crafts, boat rides, etc.) yet they sang us twinkle-twinkle little star as we were departing. The entire experience was just weird and uncomfortable.
From the floating islands, we continued on to Amantani Island where we would be spending a night with a local family. This experience was really special – eating and spending time with our “Papa” and “Mama” in their home was a great way to learn a little something about their way of life. Many of their traditions go back to pre-Inca times and they actually continue to speak the indigenous Quechua language (but thankfully also speak Spanish). On the island Patrick had the opportunity to play a little soccer with some tourists and some locals (not easy at 3800m). We also got dressed up in some traditional clothing for a party with the rest of our tour group and all of the host families at a local hall where we listened to and danced to some traditional music – a bit of a show for the tourists, but good fun nevertheless. Despite the number of tourists now doing homestays on Amantani island, the whole experience still felt quite authentic. Our homestay family seemed legitimately excited to have us as their guests and we were sad to leave after only one night.
Amantani Island itself and Taquile Island, which we visited the following day, were both lovely. Scattered with small villages and terraced hillsides the scenery was truly jaw-dropping. Overall though, we found the scenery a bit nicer on the Bolivian side and tourism on Isla del Sol was in its infancy compared to the Peruvian islands.
Best accommodation: Room #20 at La Cupula in Copacabana.
Most memorable meal: Dinner at the homestay – lots of potatoes!
What we’d change: Skip the tour of the Peruvian islands in favour of a longer homestay.