Exploring Bolivia's Isla del Sol on Lake Titicaca
As most guidebooks advise, taking a one-day trip to sacred Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) is rewarding, but spending a few days there is an outstanding experience.
After spending a couple of days on Copacabana, you'll be ready to pay 15 Bolivianos to take a two-hour boat to Isla del Sol. Beware that the summer is the rainy season in this part of the world; it usually rains early in the morning or early in the night. If you take the 8:30 am boat to Isla del Sol from Copacabana, you will arrive at the first southern port around 10:30 am.
If you choose to stay one or more nights here, this is the place where you will (and should) look for a hostel. If you are planning on leaving the same day, you will have only one hour to explore the Yumani pueblo or settlement before your boat departs. On the northern end of the island, you will have only one and a half hours to see the Incan ruins and nearby settlements which isn't enough time to see everything.
I've stayed at and can recommend the Hostal Wilka Wata. For 25 Bolivianos, you get a double bed with shared bath. The rooms face the imposing snowy peaks of the Cordillera Real, the small Isla de la Luna (Island of the Moon), the Strait of Yampupata and the majestic Lake Titicaca. The view itself is worth much more than 25 Bolivianos.
Eating at Yumani is no big deal. The pueblo has a very touristic infrastructure, and you won't have to worry about starving.
As soon as you leave the dock, you will be asked to pay 5 Bolivianos to enter Yumani. In front of you, there is a big hill, a tienda selling water and snacks and, to your right, La Escalera del Inca (the Inca stairs). A 300-step climb will take you to Yumani. On the way to the settlement, look for a fountain with three streams of water representing the Incan motto, "Don't steal, don't lie and don't be lazy."
As I arrived early, I thought it would be a good idea to hike toward the northern end of the island. Climbing the steep streets of Yumani leads to the top of the Cerro Japapi (4,024 meters) and the end of the settlement. Following the path outside town, you will be surrounded by rocks and a beautiful view of the lake to your left. After 15 minutes or so, you will reach a ticket booth. Here you must pay 15 Bolivianos to hike to the north of the island. Don't think twice; it's worth it!
Hiking from South to North
Take your time. Remember that you are at 3,800 meters. At this altitude, it can get really cold and windy. On a cloudless day, though, you will be shocked by how magical this walk can be with the endless Lake Titicaca framed by snowy peaks to your right (the Bolivian side of the lake) and natural emerald-colored bays.
The walk will take two hours (there is only one snack point on the way) and will lead you to a complex of ruins. The first is the Mesa Ceremonica (Ceremonial Table). Next to it, is the second ruin, the Rock of the Puma, or Titi Khar'ka, the origin of the lake's name. Just a few steps away is the third ruin, Chicana. It's hard to know what is more impressive--the ruins themselves or the 360-degree view of Lake Titicaca. No camera can capture such a wondrous feeling.
On the way back, instead of going all the way around, take a left after the Ceremonial Table and walk to the Sacred Stone and El Templo del Sol, east of the trail. From here, get back on the trail and follow the path to Cha'llapampa Beach. It's a wise choice to eat something here, as you will have to walk all the way back to Yumani.
You can return to the northern part of the island by a different trail than the one you took to come here. This one will take you through the settlements of Cha'llampa and Cha'lla and will give you a very diverse view of life on Isla del Sol. In these small communities, you will see that people make their living farming or herding sheep. After another two hours or so of walking, you will arrive in Yumani exhausted and looking for a place to eat and relax.
Getting Back to Copacabana
The boat ride back to Copacabana will cost 30 Bolivianos. A community boat departs at 9:30 am, 10:30 am and 1:30 pm. You can also catch an agency boat from the same beach where you arrived the first day. These boats leave at 4:30 pm and 5:30 pm.