Overnight in the Island of the Sun
The Island of the Sun, or the Isla del Sol, in Spanish, is an other-worldly island, surrounded by the tranquil waters of Lake Titicaca. Lake Titicaca forms parts of the border between Peru and Bolivia, but the Island of the Sun is much closer to the Bolivian shores of this vast body of water. Most people arrive from either La Paz or Cusco in the little town of Copacabana, (not to be confused with the Brazilian beach), which nestles next to the lake, and use that as their jumping off point for discovering this mystical island.
Most people tend to arrive in Copacabana in the afternoon and negotiate a price for their boat trip over to the island the next day. Once you’ve bargained sufficiently, enjoy a slightly over-priced cocktail at one of the many bars overlooking the lake and watch the sun go down. Next morning you’ll be up bright and early to catch your boat. If you ask at your hostel in Copacabana, they’ll happily let you store your bags there whilst you overnight on the island with just a day pack. You’ll be doing a fair amount of walking, so travel as lightly as possible.
There are three settlements on the Island of the Sun, and the northern village and southern village are where boats will pick you up and drop you off. The northern village is the closest to most of the points of interest on the island. When you get off your boat you’ll be rounded up by a local tour guide, a member of the community. These guides only speak Spanish (their native language is Quechua!) but there will normally be someone in the group who can act as a translator for the non-Spanish speakers. In my case, it fell to me to relay the information in English!
Before heading off, we quickly popped along the shore in search of somewhere to lay our heads that night. For just a few dollars we found a private room with lake views, rustic, but perfect for our one night on the island. You also have to pay an entrance fee to the northern section of the island, charged by the local community.
You pay a quick visit to the mini-museum in the village then head off to the island’s main attraction, the sacred rock which one drew pilgrims from the four corners of the vast Incan empire. On the way you pass through the village, where families still live off the land, and donkeys and pigs are tethered outside houses. It’s incredibly quaint, picturesque and straight out of a movie set. Once you reach the sacred stone, your guide explains the history of the spot. There are also the remains of a temple complex and a sacrificial table. Once the tour’s over and you’ve handed over your tip, you can hike up to the highest spot on the island, from where you have panoramic views over the lake and down over the ruins below.
Some people, who have chosen to do the island in a day, head straight off towards the south of the island, from where their boat will collect them, but those who are staying can mill around the site for as long as they please. Head back to the village for some food, and then find a spot on the beach and watch island life unfold. As the sun goes down, locals might start a football game, and you’ll see people going to fetch their donkeys from their grazing spots. Kick back on the beach and enjoy the slow pace and the beautiful sunset, as the sky turns pink and the stars start to emerge.
One thing not to be missed on the island is the night sky. It can get extremely cold at night here, so wrap up warm for a spot of stargazing. There aren’t many restaurants on the island, although more are being built, but you can find good, basic food in the village. Be sure to take a torch out with you, as streetlights are not a feature of this vehicle-less island.
After fuelling up on breakfast, and preferably buying a few snacks for the walk, you’ll head off south from the village. The walk should take a couple of hours. Make sure you wear good shoes as it’s steep in places. The path takes you towards the village in the centre of the island, where you will again be charged a nominal amount for the pleasure of visiting. It then winds upwards and over to the western shore, where you will pay to enter the southern section. Expect a demanding climb, but incredible reviews to reward you, and a real insight into the daily lives of the traditional communities who still call the island home.
The village in the south is a bit more developed in the north, with more of a tourist infrastructure, which is reflected in the slightly higher price of the food. You wind your way down through colourful houses, some of which have llamas tethered outside, eventually coming to the sheltered harbour, where your return boat will leave from in the early afternoon.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll fall in love with this incredible island the second you set foot on it. There’s magic in the air, and the slow pace of life is infectious. It will be with a reluctant heart that you climb aboard the boat back to Copacabana, from where you can catch a bus on to Cusco or La Paz.