Well, I made it back from Bolivia alive. Probably strange to hear after I went on a trip to the much-visited and very touristy Lake Titicaca, but I can honestly say there were moments on the trip where I thought it could be the end for me. These life threatening moments all surfaced on the trip from Ollantaytambo to the small town of Juliaca which is on the route to Copacabana, Bolivia. Let’s just say there was a strike in Juliaca, and strikes are pretty intense here in Peru. Some of the lowlights included streets filled with shattered glass, boulders, and mounds of dirt, people screaming in the streets, and of course your run-of-the-mill grandma threatening to throw rocks through your car window. Overall a terrifying experience, but I left Juliaca with the very important life lesson that whatever you do, DO NOT drive through a Peruvian town that is on strike.
I also left Juliaca, which in and of itself can be considered a miracle. For those looking to travel to Lake Titicaca, there are numerous cheap (approx. $30) buses that run from Cusco to Puno – the big city on the Peruvian side of the Lake – or from Cusco to Copacabana, Bolivia. Assuming you won’t have the terrible luck of having to pass through a city on strike, the trip is actually quite easy. Even given the small issue that my life was on the line for a few hours, visiting Copacabana and Lake Titicaca was definitely worth it.
We arrived in Copacabana on Saturday afternoon and first dropped our stuff at a hostel. No need to book in advance, as Copacabana is a super touristy town with numerous hostels and hotels. Given Claire’s and my travel approach and the fact that we are living off our life savings, we chose a hostel for 35 Bolivianos (about $6!) which had WiFi, hot showers, and breakfast included. Phenomenal deal if you ask me. After dropping our stuff, we spent the rest of the day wandering around the town of Copacabana. Turns out Copacabana has all the same vibes as a small beach town in California. For anyone who has been to Santa Cruz, CA, Copacabana is very similar. The only difference is the minor detail that Copacabana is on Lake Titicaca: the largest navigable lake in the world, also at an extreme altitude. (Ed. note: The Google tells me it’s a whopping 12,507 feet. As Shaggy would say, ZOINKS.)
We started by doing the short hike called Calvario, to a point that overlooks the town of Copacabana and the lake. This hike passes 13 crosses, where you pay respect by placing a small rock at the base of each. While almost a beautiful, religious experience, the crosses and path are covered with graffiti. This takes away from the hike a bit, but the view from the lookout is incredible. You are both in the clouds and at a lake all at the same time. Eeps, confusing! From the lookout, we hiked down to the huge basilica church that dominates the town. This church takes up a full street square, and it’s bleach white color makes it stand out against the darker buildings surrounding it.
On Sunday we headed out to Isla Del Sol via a 2-hour boat ride which cost just 30 Bolivianos round trip. Again, great deal. There are a bunch of options for how to explore Isla Del Sol, but I definitely recommend hiking. The boat dropped us off on the northern dock where we were swarmed with tour guides offering to show us around the island. We denied the guide offers because we like to “forge our own path,” but the reality is we didn’t like the idea of paying. Good thing we didn’t pay, because to explore the sights of the northern area, including the Sacred Rock, Labyrinth, and Inca ruins, there is an entrance fee of 10 Soles.
Standing amongst the clouds looking below to the deep blue of Lake Titicaca was unreal. After taking in the natural beauty, we started out on the hike from this northern point to the southern dock. The hike follows a very well-marked path, and takes about 2.5 – 3 hours to complete. While you might break a sweat, this hike traverses the entire island, giving you a first hand look at every nook and cranny it has to offer. There are various stops along the hike where you are technically supposed to pay an entrance fee, but we managed to avoid all but the final one. Lucked out there. When you arrive at the southern dock you are greeted with numerous restaurants, which strangely all advertise pizza. I guess because tourists love pizza? We passed all these and ate at the local restaurant right on the water and had a full plate of rice and meat for 10 Soles. If you time the hike right as we somehow managed to do, we had just enough time to eat and then catch the boat back to Copacabana.
Because it was such a short trip and we’ve heard of some other great sights aside from Lake Titicaca, we decided to change our plans and return to Bolivia after two more weeks in Peru. Back to the “real” life in Ollanta for now, though!