Copacabana Bolivia (not to be confused with Copacabana Brazil) in the main Bolivian town on the shores of Lake Titicaca – the largest high altitude lake in the world. (I think high altitude means about 2500m). The high altitude has a very pleasing affect and ensures that the water of the lake is a vibrant bright blue every day. It is absolutely beautiful.
These were our 5 favourite things about visiting Copacabana. You will be pleased to hear that there are no real buildings of note in Copacabana (except an exquisite cathedral) so architecture is not going to appear on this list
1. Arriving at Copacabana by bus
In a rare moment of laziness we decided not to trek out of town to the local bus station and rather paid a more extravagant price of about of 40 Bolivianos each (£4) for a ‘tourist bus’ which picked us up from our hotel in La Paz at 7:30am and took us (along with 30 or so other very non-Bolivian passengers) to Copacabana. The bus ride itself was pretty horrendous in that 1) we were squashed into the back row – the only row where the seats don’t recline and the only row where they squeeze a 5th person into the space and 2) at one stage the bus driver actually drove away without a dozen or so of our fellow passengers. (Luckily the other passengers were pretty vigilant and demanded that he stop.)
Anyway, the reason why this journey was one of our favourite things is that it involved our bus crossing the river on a plank of wood (read barge). Copacabana is in an unusual position in that the only way you can reach it by land from the rest of Bolivia by land is to go through Peru. So, instead the bus is routed directly over the lake. With about 90 minutes left in our journey, we were all told to get off the bus and onto a ferry while we watched our bus and all our possessions drive onto a barge and get pulled slowly across the river while constantly seeming about to topple into the water.
2. Lounging on hammocks enjoying the view
We stayed at a lovely hotel, Hotel Cupula, which was set slightly apart from the town up a hill overlooking the lake. It had several gardens each with lovely big hammocks. We spent many a sunny day reading, writing, researching our holiday, sleeping or just simply enjoying the view. We loved it so much that we extended our stay an extra day so that we could have one whole day dedicated to ‘hammock lounging’. I even bought my own hammock so that I could replicate that feeling of relaxation at home. (Now all we need to do is find a home overlooking a large, blue, sparsely inhabited lake.)
3. Visiting the floating islands for fresh trout
Not being very well researched we didn’t know what ‘floating islands meant’ but, as we were keen for a walk and they were 1.5 hours away we decided to go and see them (hoping we would recognise what they were and know when to stop walking). The walk was relatively flat which was good for me because I was suffering at 3800m – I only needed to run 2 steps or try and walk uphill and I felt dizzy and sick. The views along the lake were gorgeous- it was a pleasure to get out of the town and find ourselves in farmland with senoras minding sheep and harvesting flowers. We worked out pretty quickly that the wooden platforms in the lake covered with reeds were the floating islands and were intrigued by the fact that each one had a series of trout farms neatly placed alongside them. We picked a wooden platform and walked to one at random only to be offered freshly cooked trout for a mere 25 Bolivianos (£2.50). All of a sudden, my empathy for the trout kicked in and I could not face choosing a fish to be caught and killed just for my lunch. Chris was fine with it though and eagerly watched how they caught the fish (no skill needed there, they were basically already in the net), killed it, cleaned it and fried it. I was glad he did because it was absolutely delicious. (I am lucky to have a husband who shares all his food so willingly).
4. Walking across the Isla del Sol
The Isla del Sol is the main reason people come to Copacabana. It is a very important island in the mythology of the region and today people come to listen to the history and then walk across it (there are no cars on the island so that really is the only way to see it). We loved our hotel in Copacabana so much that we decided to only visit the island for a day (there are some hostels on the island if you would prefer to stay). We took the 08:30am boat and arrived at the northern end of the island around 10:45am. We had to make sure we were at the southern end by 3:00pm (the last boat back to the mainland) so we didn’t really hang around and started the walking straight away. After the way I had been managing with the altitude we had no idea how long it would take us to climb all the hills and get across the island!
The island lived up to our expectations and provided incredible view after incredible view along our walk. We took 3.5 hours to get across and never grew tired of the gorgeous sapphire water of the lake that stretched to horizon on every side. Towards the end of our walk we stopped off at a little rustic restaurant for some juice That restaurant had the best view of any restaurant I have ever been to in my life. (I think I may have found the place to hang my hammock…)
5. Climbing up the hill to watch the sunset
Our hotel was situated at the start of a steep hill leading up to a viewpoint of the town and lake. I cannot comment on it at all because I didn’t go – given that I could barely make it up the short hill to our hotel it seemed silly to try and attempt the ridiculously steep path for a view. (Again, I blame the altitude rather than lack of fitness.) Chris, being the strong, fit, mountain goat that he is, ran up there one evening to watch the sunset. He thinks it is an excellent viewpoint and totally worth the walk up the hill.
and a special mention for…
Car blessing ceremonies at the cathedral
If you are bored while in Copacabana, just go and sit in front of the cathedral and you will undoubtedly get to observe a car blessing ceremony. Basically, new cars are bought to the cathedral, dressed up in flowers and then all the family and friends stand around drink to the car – of course, spilling the first sip on the ground as an offering to pachamama (mother earth).