The highest navigable lake in the world!
Located at an altitude of 3800 m (12,500 ft) in the Andes, Lake Titicaca with its archipelago of around 40 islands serves as the border between Peru and Bolivia. Considered sacred by the ancient Inca civilization, Lake Titicaca now serves as a popular tourist destination for both Bolivia and Peru with the latter being more commercialized. The shimmering deep blue lake, crowned the largest South American lake, is considered the birthplace of the Sun in ancient Andean beliefs. This post is about my bus journey along the shores of this majestic body of water, stopping over at Puno and Copacabana and crossing the international border between Peru and Bolivia by foot. (Yeah! We walked across the border).
After a good nap in the comfy double-decker Bolivia Hop bus, we reached Puno at 5:30 am on the 22nd of November. After an abysmal breakfast, we walked towards the harbor and and took a boat to the floating islands of Lake Titicaca. These 70 man made islands are home to the Uros tribe, that predate even the Incas. Made of totora reed, the floating islands and the Caballitos de totora (boats) serve as a major tourist attraction. The boat took us to one of the islands and my first impression, “way too touristy and commercialized”. Each island is home to a few families and they re-enact their lifestyle and offer rides on the reed boats. Even though I wasn’t impressed, tourism has become their livelihood nowadays, may be even more than fishing. We spent about an hour there and the seal for Lake Titicaca on my passport was smudged (Talk about bad luck). We then took the boat back to the harbor and boarded the bus.
A while later, we arrived at the Peru – Bolivia border. Not the fancy kinda border I was expecting. Our guide Roger stayed back in Peruvian side along with the comfy bus (Oh no!). After getting my exit stamp, our group walked towards the unattractive archway that separates the two countries. It doesn’t even feel as if you entered another country. There is a small immigration office with just a single officer ahead and the procedure was easy and quick as I had my visa. If you’re an american, even though you can get a visa on arrival, let me warn you, you might get into trouble. Except a couple of Americans without visa in our group, everyone cleared the immigration quickly and had to wait for about 30 minutes in out new small and rickety bus. An hour in that wobbly bus, we reached Copacabana, the largest city by the shores of Lake Titicaca.
Tranquility and solace! That’s Copacabana. There were hardly any tourists and the whole place looked like a laid back sleepy town located by the glistening azure lake. I just fell in love with the place at first sight. In my opinion, there is a difference of heaven and earth between this place and Puno. After grabbing a quick Llama sandwich (yummy), we took a 1:15 hour boat ride to Isla del Sol. Considered the birthplace of the Sun god by Incas, Isla del Sol is one of the largest islands on lake Titicaca and is home to over hundreds of ruins. A 30 minute easy hike (really taxiing due to altitude) to a high point on the island offered breathtaking views of the lake and the snow caped Bolivian Andes. There were few resorts and small buildings under construction on the island, showing early signs of commercialization. I really liked the serene atmosphere in the island and I’d say its a good location if you’re a writer and wanna stay a while for inspiration. (I’d love to do that, but alas!). After spending 4 hours at Copacabana, we were ready for the final leg of the day – to La Paz.
Luckily for us, our rickety bus had 1 seat lesser than required and Frank managed to convince the manager to get us another ride. I’d like to commend the exceptional service by Bolivia Hop (I’ll rate them 5 stars), as they offered the 4 of us our own 14-seater with a driver. It was quite a pleasant ride and we managed to catch a glimpse of the sunset on lake Titicaca and it was beguiling. About an hour later, we reached a point where we had to take a ferry. The bus and the van got on a ferry while we got on a small boat reeking of kerosene. The waves in the lake were quite rough following the sunset. About 45 mins later, we got back in our van and left for La Paz. At 9:30 pm, as we came around the mountains we got the first glimpse of the lights of La Paz and it was mesmerizing. There’s hardly any skyline, but the hills surrounding city and the valley were filled with yellow lights creating a natural skyline and looked amazing. We reached Loki Hostel at around 10 and after check in joined the UV light party at the rooftop cafe. The next day we spent around La Paz. I’ll write about La Paz in my last post in this series after my post about Salar de Uyuni.