Isla del Sol
Key information: Isla del Sol
- Isolated Andean island community, 3812m above sea level on lake Titicaca.
- An abundance over 180 in all of Inca ruins: it was sacred to them, the remains of a city now sunk beneath the lake.
- A way of life unchanged in generations, other than some depressing tourist fleecing. There are no cars or paved roads on the island, so walking is the only way to get around.
- Fabulous scenery, huge views of the Andes across the lake.
- Potentially magical place marred by rip-offery and grumpy, open-palmed bureaucracy.
- Walkopedia rating85
- Natural interest12
- Human interest14
- Negative points5
- Total rating85
- Note: Neg: Altitude, and the local grabbiness
- Length: 8km
- Maximum Altitude: a bit over 3,800m
- Level of Difficulty: Moderate
La Isla del Sol, near the southern end of Bolivian Lake Titicaca, is, according to Inca legend, the birthplace of their first king, Manco Capac: offspring of the sun and the moon. Evidence though, of human habitation here, goes back to 22,000BC. In the modern world this rocky, steep and scrubby terrain is home to some 800 families whose traditional Andean subsistence-farming lifestyle bar the influx of sketchy tourist income in recent years has remained relatively intact for generations.
There are no cars here, or paved roads, and electricity only reached the tiny towns within the last decade. Instead, excellent rock-and-earth paths, clearly marked by the knee-high walls which protect them from the elements, lead across the hills between the settlements in north and south. After a visit to the Gold museum (a treasure-house of Inca relics) in the northern town of Cha'llapampa where the boat from Copacabana docks, detour up to Cerro Tikani a couple of hundred metres above lake level (but remember the initial altitude). Take in the Puma Rock (birthplace of Manco Capac, or, in alternate myth, the place where the Sun hid during the great flood) and a sacrificial table in the ruins of the Temple of the Sun en route, to find a stunning view over the lake. Then take the undulating path, more than likely being overtaken by equally ancient herdswomen more used to the altitude, to Yumani in the south.
The entire walk offers ever-changing, spectacular views over this unique and challenging landscape; the wave-like striations of ancient agricultural terraces which follow the shape of the hills like sculpture; the freezing depths of Titicaca and the snow-capped peaks of the unforgiving Andes in the distance. At Yumani, are more Inca remains: 240 steps (that were 1000 until the water level rose) leading down to the lake, beside a stream that the Conquistadors believed, until mortality proved it otherwise, to be the fountain of youth and, a little further south, the Temple of Pilcocaina; the only surviving remains of the huge, pre-Incan city of Tiahuanco, now buried beneath the waters of Titicaca.
The walk is roughly 8km, but allowing for altitude and ups-and-downs, allow 3 hours plus, whatever the locals tell you; overnight in Yaima and retrace your steps the next day, or take the much shorter private boat trip back to Copacabana (which you might have to negotiate on site).
Beware of the altitude, plan/prepare properly.
NOTE: there is a lot of extremely negative comment to be found on the Isla del Sol experience: rip-off boat tours, monolingual guides, hellish bureaucratic demands at every turn (repeated permit demands and denial that permits are valid, requiring new purchases, as you pass along the trail), extremely uncomfortable accommodation, closed restaurants, aggressive child beggars, lack of directions/maps etc. Life in the Andes is harsh, which is clearly reflected in the local manners, and reliance on tourist dollars has made this worse. People have also expressed disappointment in the quality of the archaeology. We would suggest that this is a trip to take if youre in the area, rather than one to make specifically.
Other accounts: share your experiences
Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.
Peru and Bolivia: Trekking Guide- Hilary Bradt / Bradt Travel Guides Ltd: seventh edition of this classic guide includes sketch-maps and local information.
Trekking In Bolivia: A Traveler's Guide– Yossi Brain / Cordee: general trekking information on the country and surrounding area.
Lonely Planet: Bolivia- Lonely Planet:standard-fare travel guide includes detail on how to get to the Isla.
The Conquest of The Incas – John Hemming/Pan: how the Conquistadors destroyed an entire civilization in less than a decade
General maps of Bolivia: Reise Know-How Verlag’s waterproof, tearproof one:http://www.stanfords.co.uk/stock/bolivia-117662/
Stanfords: www.stanfords.co.uk.The best (and the most user-friendly) online source of maps (and is also good for guidebooks).
Best times to walk/weather
Best times to walk
The altitude makes this a relatively cold place at all times of year. Temperatures vary between 1 and 15 degrees. From February to November, it’s mostly dry and sunny; most rainfall in midsummer, December and January. Come prepared for bitterly cold nights at all times.
Those on organised expeditions are likely to be transported from/to La Paz. These will mostly be general Titicaca tours rather than specifically aimed at the Isla del Sol.
To get to the island, go first to Copacabana – bus from the Cementerio district, four hours, approximately $2. Copacabana is almost exclusively a tourist town, with lots of accommodation and a good reputation for food, particularly local trout. Tours and boats leave from the Copacabana beach, going to Cha'llapampa and Yumani; you can get a round-trip, but it’s probably best, given the difficulty of finding your original boat-owner, to buy a one-way, even if embarking from your point of arrival island-side. Cost approximately $1, trip 1.5 hrs upwards.
Permits are needed to do this walk. Oh, boy, are they. Your first permits can be obtained from the kiosk in Cha'llapampa and cost roughly $4, including entry to the museum and theoretical hiking permits. You will find, however, that frequent checkpoints will relieve you of more money as you go, absolutely denying that the permits you’ve already bought are valid. Take plenty of small notes, as change is rarely forthcoming.
There are two routes along the island. The easiest, in terms of finding it, runs along the spine of the island’s hill-chain. It’s easy to follow, though heavily populated with people intent on relieving you of cash. The coastal path, running along the shoulder of the hills, may seem less demanding in such a rarified altitude, but frequently disappears, requiring doubling-back and detours, and might well be a false economy.
Possible problems, health, other warnings
- Altitude: Acclimatize appropriately, come prepared to cope, be ready to evacuate people in extreme cases.
- Mountain weather: Severe cold and wind are possible at any time of year. Come prepared. Nights here are inevitably freezing.
- Strong sun. Altitude makes for extremely burny sun, despite cold temperatures. Bring adequate protection.
- Heights: can be dangerous; not for those who have difficulties with heights.
- This is remote country: food and other supplies will not be readily available once you’re away from Copacabana, and restaurants are unpredictable. Recommend taking some scratch supplies as backup.
- Health risks: this is a relatively undeveloped country, and you will not get prompt medical help of a standard available elsewhere if you become ill. Come prepared, including getting all appropriate inoculations/medications.
- Bandits/kidnappers are known to have operated in this area, especially on the La Paz-Copacabana route. This is not a huge risk, but sensible precautions should be taken. Take care with taxis.
See also the websites in our useful links page for more detailed, and up-to-date, information.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk. Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
Make sure you have appropriate insurance.
Guided or independent?
You can do this walk independently.
Guided tours, including a trip to the Isla de la Luna, can be joined at Copacabana: but these generally don’t allow time for more than the most rudimentary walking.
By the time you get here, you will be accustomed to the rudimentary nature of a lot of Bolivia’s accommodation. Many families maintain a room for tourist guests; ask around in Yumani or Cha'llapampa. There are hostels in both towns; again, ask around and be prepared to rough it.
Other information and tips
Make sure you have a lot of small change/notes. You’ll need them to distribute among small, generally unfriendly, children.
Useful websites and information
- Good site with specific and general Bolivia information: http://www.travel-bolivia.com/isla-del-sol.html
- A taste of the negative: http://www.travelblog.org/South-America/Bolivia/La-Paz-Department/Isla-del-Sol/blog-402507.html
- Some jolly video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q4zQH3DsTug&NR=1
Other things to do in the area
There are a number of walks to be done in the Titicaca area: guiding often a good idea; see the recommended guidebooks.
Titicaca is an amazing place, well worth spending time on. Most activities are water-based, surprisingly enough. There are several island communities – and particularly extraordinary are the 42 floating, moveable, totara-reed islands inhabited by several hundred Uros Indians.
Shopping, if you must
Plenty of tat, Inca-related and otherwise, to be bought. Particularly recommend local handmade textiles, which will allow you to carry the smell of llama with you for years to come. We are not a shopping website. But anything bought from local people must be of some help to this desperately poor area. So, wallets out!
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.
Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
share your experiences
Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).
Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.
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