Copacabana is a small town on the southern shore of Lake Titicaca, and our first stop in Bolivia on our Latin American adventure. Copacabana is generally the more favored destination for backpacker’s who want to explore Lake Titicaca.
Copacabana is believed to mean “View of the lake” in Aymara and Copacabana is the patron saint of Bolivia. It also lends its name to a certain famous beach in Brazil!
We spent 3 nights in Copacabana and it was an interesting first introduction to Bolivia. Perhaps it was due to heightened expectations but we didn’t think the town was much to write home about. This blog covers some important information about our first Bolivian destination.
Getting to Copacabana from Puno
We booked our tickets in advance (before leaving for our overnight trip to Peru’s Lake Titicaca) and booked them with Tour Peru. Their office is located close to the market in Puno, and we paid 35 soles (~9.50e). The bus wasn’t the most comfortable but it is a short journey of about 4 hours. We left at 7.30am and arrived at around 12 pm in Bolivia (which is 1 hour ahead).
Note that we had a guy come on our bus just outside Copacabana who demanded an “entrance fee” from everyone upon boarding. Everyone disputed this and eventually, he left empty-handed – it seems like a scam so be wary!
Where we stayed
We happened to arrive in Copacabana at the tail end of the Festival of the Virgin de la Candelaria so it was busier than usual in the town. We stayed in Hotel Utama which was located on Calle Michael Perez, a short stroll (uphill) from the main square. It was an adequate room for the 3 nights we stayed, costing around $30 per night.
Top Things to do in Copacabana
Below are the top things that we did when in Copacabana.
Isla del Sol & Isla de la Luna
The first thing to note about this tour is that the north part of Isla del Sol is completely closed to tourists, and has been for a couple of years. Despite this, you will still see tour agencies advertise tours which include the north of the island. As a comprise for missing out on the north of Isla del Sol, Isla de la Luna is included as a stop-off on most day trips.
You can book the tour anywhere on the main touristic street of Copacabana, Avenida 6 de Agosto. We booked with a small agency whose name I can’t remember but it is one of those tours where it is irrelevant who you book with because people all get thrown in together. We paid 35 bolivianos (~4e).
Departure time for the tour was 8.30am. The boat wasn’t the best and the smell of petrol fumes was overpowering, but after 1 hour we reached Isla de la Luna. Isla de la Luna is the smaller of the two islands and we started by paying the 10BOB entrance fee (not included in the tour).
We made our way to some Aymara ruins first, which were called the ‘Temple of the Virgins of the Sun’. They were well preserved and we managed to get some nice pictures.
Next we climbed up to a viewpoint on the island and got some nice views of the surrounding area, and the mountains beyond on the mainland.
After 1 hour on the island of the moon, we made our way to the island of the Sun (Isla del Sol). Here we again paid the 10BOB entrance fee and began a nice 2-hour self-guided walk along the island to the town on Yamani. Some of the views along the way were astonishing, and there was plenty of llamas too. Of course, this is a touristy excursion, but it is also worth it. Although in saying that, we much preferred the experience on the Peru side of Titicaca.
After this, it is a long 2-hour journey back to Copacabana.
Climbing Cerro Calvario
No doubt that this is the postcard image of Copacabana. But having done it, it left us with a negative opinion of the town! On the way, the surrounding areas were littered, with confetti, plastic bags, beer bottles, and beer cans. It was just after the big festival and on the way down we saw some local women cleaning up, but it really showed us how bad the rubbish problem in Bolivia is (and would be during our trip).
The walk itself is relatively easy, despite the high altitude at Lake Titicaca. You will pass the 14 stations of the cross along the way before reaching the pretty views from the top.
Blessing of the cars at the Cathedral
Yes, you read that correctly! As you go to the center of Copacabana, the rough and tumble of everyday Bolivian life outweigh the tourist-centric vibes of the lakefront. In the center of it all is the hugely impressive Basilica of Our Lady of Copacabana.
It’s not the beauty of the Cathedral that is the attraction here however, it is the unusual custom of blessing car’s that makes a trip to the area memorable. The people of Copacabana (and further beyond), get their cars blessed outside the church as it is believed that the Virgin of Copacabana can extend the life of humans and cars alike.
The cars pile up outside the church waiting for the priest to come with the holy water. The car owners decorate their vehicle in flowers, hats and all sorts of paraphernalia while the priest is thought to pour alcohol on the car, as an offering to Pachamama.
A truly strange experience made even stranger by the fact that we stumbled upon this by accident!
Eat at Restaurant Gourmet Ali
Regular readers of the blog will know that we don’t often recommend restaurants. This is mainly because as we were on a budget we didn’t exactly eat at the finest establishments. With Bolivia having a rather suspect reputation for food hygiene we were a little more careful however, and that led us to Restaurant Ali.
Located on the main tourist strip, this is a family-run restaurant where everything is made fresh, so be prepared to wait a bit. But the wait is worth it – the food is amazing!! We had to go back twice. Try the local specialty with a twist – Trout Lasagna.
Sunset at the Lake
Many people would recommend watching the sunset at Cerro Calvario but we chose another option. We watched the sunset at the lake. With some cheap beers in hand, we went down to the dock and watched the sun go down. For sure the view is not as nice as on top of the hill (and the “beach” is not as nice as the view makes it look) but we still had a great time appreciating “Pachamama” from the lake.