Lake Titicaca is among the many beautiful wonders of Bolivia. This high-altitude lake actually sits on the border of Bolivia and Peru, making it possible to visit various parts of it from both countries. Isla Del Sol lies off the shores of the Bolivian side, and is known as the mythical birthplace of the sun.
Between the hustle and bustle of Cusco and La Paz, the serenity of the island was very refreshing. As you explore Isla Del Sol, you’ll get a great taste of local Bolivian life. Women in colorful traditional dress stroll the streets carrying goods for sale, men lead livestock from their land to the lake for water, and donkeys and llamas graze on the hillside. If you find yourself near Lake Titicaca on the Bolivian side, Isla Del Sol is a must see.
Getting There and Away
Boats leave daily from Copacabana at 8:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. and return at 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. You can walk down towards the beach in Copacabana and easily find many boat operators offering rides to the island. You can purchase a round trip ticket for 40-45 Bolivianos if you plan to just spend the day there. A one way ticket costs 25-30 Bolivianos. We bought our ticket the day of without any issue.
There are tour companies in La Paz that can organize single and multi-day tours to Lake Titicaca and Isla Del Sol. However, we feel that it is cheaper, simpler, and a more efficient use of time to stay in Copacabana, especially if you are opting for the single-day tour.
*Important:* When booking your ticket, make sure to clarify what side of the island you are arriving and departing from. The boat drivers are not so clear on this, so it never hurts to double check. When we went, there was an intense feud between the north side (Cha’llapampa) and the south (Yumani), so we were restricted to travel on the south side.
Staying on Isla Del Sol
Isla Del Sol can be experienced as a day trip from Copacabana, or you can choose to spend the night on the island. We explored the island in a day and think that a one or two nights should be plenty of time to explore it at your leisure.
There are Airbnbs and hotels/hostels on both the north and south ends of the island, though we were told that they are more plentiful in Yumani (the south). Options are obviously more limited on the island than in a big city, so it may be good to book in advance if you want to stay the night during the high season.
There are some high-end options, such as Ecolodge La Estancia, that offer hot showers, tasty meals, and beautiful rooms, but the majority of the accommodation is a bit more modest. Showers and rooms may be cold at times and there may be no Wi-Fi, but it’s all part of the experience. A couple decent options include Hostal Palacio del Inca and Hostal Utama. Some of the more budget-friendly options may not be listed online, so if you are flexible, it is possible to show up and book accommodation in the same day.
There are also some homes listed on Airbnb. Keep in mind which side of the island you want to stay on in regards to your ticket departure. If you really want to rough it and have the equipment, there are spots we passed on the south side of the island to camp.
If you plan to stay on the island and want to bring your luggage from the mainland, it is possible to hire a donkey at the port to help make the steep climb from the shores.
Whether you are staying on the island or just visiting for the day, there are a good handful of options for a bite to eat. Down near the main port in Yumani, there are a couple restaurants and souvenir vendors that provide a good spot to spend some time if you have it before catching your boat.
There are also restaurants higher up on the island, offering awesome views over the lake and Andes in the distance. The various options include traditional Bolivian cuisine, pizza, trout, pastas, empanadas, and more. Check out Las Velas, Inti Jalanta, and Restaurant Pachamama.
Seeing the Island
The main thing to do on Isla Del Sol is walk the island to enjoy the views and ruins. While the ruins are no Machu Picchu or Pisac, it’s hard not to be impressed with the combination of ancient structures and jaw-dropping views.
There are ruins on both the north and south sides, but we were only able to explore the south due to the closure of Cha’llapampa. We started in Yumani, making the steep climb from the port to the backbone of the island.
When we got higher up on the island, we continued hiking further south, reaching the southernmost point of the island. In the distance we could see a peninsula and lighthouse of the Cha’llapampa community, the snowcapped Andes, and blue waters stretching from the serene beaches below to the horizon.
After relaxing for a while, we retraced our steps and headed north. Normally, you can hike from the south side of the island to the north by way of the Ruta Sagrada de la Eternidad del Sol. This trail is somewhat of a loop that connects both sides of the island. When we were there, there were local officials positioned at the normal toll station preventing passage to the north.
We were bummed that we couldn’t explore the north, but we made the best of our time around Yumani. Next, we went to a lookout post that offered more lake vistas and views of communities below. We basked in the sun and ate our packed lunch before meandering down to the port to catch our boat back home.
Extra Tips for Visiting Isla Del Sol
Isla Del Sol is home to many people living in various communities. While there are numerous paths open for exploration, be respectful of both private and public property, including the many ruins. Also respect the rules of the community. Pay the small toll where it is due instead of trekking around it, and if there is a closure, obey it.
The feud between the north and south was generally nonviolent and it was still safe to visit Isla Del Sol. However, there have been kidnappings and some aggression shown to those who decided to wander beyond the boundaries of the south side.
As we briefly mentioned, there are a few spots that require a small toll beyond the price you paid for your boat ticket, so bring some smaller change.
Tolls to cross between the north and south are two to five Bolivianos, depending where you are entering. Upon docking in Yumani, we paid the five Bolivianos for the south side. There are also fees to specific the ruins on the north side and for the museum there as well. Hold on to all tickets because, they may be good elsewhere or you may need to present them if you are returning to a side of the island you have already paid to visit.
On both sides of the island, expect to pay two to four Bolivianos to use the public bathrooms.
Weather and Conditions
Isla Del Sol sits at almost 4,100 meters (13,450 feet) at its highest point. Nights here during any time of the year can get chilly, so if you are spending the night, bring layers. In the colder months, double check that your hostel has heating and/or warm blankets.
During the dry season, which spans from May to September, is generally a bit cooler, so a jacket during the day is nice to have, especially for the boat ride. Winds can be very high on this exposed island and storms can roll in quickly, so bring a rain jacket just in case.
The Boat Ride
Boats can get pretty full leaving Copacabana, so be sure to show up a little early if you have a preference in regards to upper deck (outdoor) seating or lower deck (covered) seating. The upper deck was chilly, but it offers better views and may be the better option if you experience motion sickness. The ride is slow and bumpy, so take a motion sickness pill before the ride if you need it.
It is your sole responsibility to ensure that you arrive for the departure of your boat. If you are not aboard the boat at the time of departure, the boat will leave without you and you will not get a refund for your ticket.
Though the hiking on the island isn’t particularly strenuous, the high altitude and initial steep ascent can have anybody feeling a little winded while climbing to the island’s ridge. If you are not used to spending time at high altitude, it can be a good idea to take a day or two to acclimate in Copacabana.
Unless you are planning to stick around the port, the climb up the steep stairs to reach the top of the island is inevitable as there are no cars on the island. We found this to be an awesome part of Isla Del Sol’s charm, keeping it peaceful, quiet, and laid back.
Are you planning to explore other parts of Lake Titicaca? If so, where?