Lake Titicaca is the world’s largest, high altitude lake and it is easy to understand how the Incas give credit to Lake Titicaca for the creation of their entire civilisation. Located on the Southern Part of Lake Titicaca, Isla del Sol is considered by the Incas to be the birthplace of the Sun God. My best friend and I were on a tour of Bolivia and Peru with Intrepid for the final month of our time in South America. We visited this tranquil island on a day trip from Copacabana and the day we spent hiking and exploring it was a welcome relief after the craziness of La Paz!
We were only a week away from hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and as no one in our group had experience hiking at altitude, a visit to Isla del Sol seemed the perfect opportunity. The island is only an hour and half boat ride (approximately 40 bolivianos return) from Copacabana and has no paved roads or vehicles, so you are restricted to boats and walking. We took full advantage of the extensive network of walking trails on the island and spent a day hiking from the North to the South of Isla del Sol.
Isla del Sol has quite a unique landscape, one that has harsh, barren terrain that is juxtaposed with breathtaking views and bright, beautiful weather. The island is very rocky and hilly and is dotted with agricultural terraces and eucalyptus trees which we found quite interesting as they are native to and predominantly found in Australia! There is very limited shade on the island, so be sure to cover up, pack plenty of water & food and slather yourself in sunscreen as the sun is very strong on the island, and a few members of our group found themselves resembling lobsters that evening.
Hiking at altitude is a completely different experience to hiking at sea level and shouldn’t be taken lightly, as altitude sickness in serious cases can be deadly. It is important to acclimatise to the altitude, stay hydrated and not to physically push yourself too hard. I was at my peak fitness when I was travelling in South America but when hiking at altitude I, along with the majority of my group struggled quite a bit. Whilst hiking on Isla del Sol we made sure to stay hydrated, drank plenty of coca tea (which helps you adjust to the altitude) and simply took our time whilst hiking and rested whenever we needed to.
From Cha’llapampa where our boat docked we immediately headed up a few hundred metres above the water level of Lake Titicaca, walking through small villages and past countless hills covered in agricultural terraces. There are over 80 ruins on the island, most of which date back to Incan times and you will see some of these during your hike. Of particular historical interest were a sacrificial table which is located among the ruins of the Temple of the Sun, the Puma Rock and the 240 stairs at Yumani in the South that lead down to the Lake. It is believed there was initially 1,000 steps but the majority are now under water as the level of the lake has risen over time. The ruins were interesting but are certainly not the most majestic you will see on your travels through South America and in particular, Peru.
The hike is approximately 8km and it took us about 3-4 hours, allowing for plenty of photo stops and breaks to combat the altitude. It is essential you carry some cash on you when visiting Isla del Sol as you will be charged to hike around the island, 10 Bolivians in the North, 5 Bolivianos in the South and an additional 15 Bolivians to undertake the walk from North to South. Ultimately this amounts to just over £3 so there is no point getting fed up with the bureaucracy of the islanders who have clearly seen the cash opportunity from the tourists who flock to Isla del Sol every year.
The highlight of hiking Isla del Sol was the spectacular views we encountered throughout our hike. I have wonderful memories of bright blue skies, sunshine and the dazzling blue waters of Lake Titicaca engrained in my mind.
We arrived at the South end of Isla del Sol with enough time to relax, enjoy the view and tuck into a well deserved ice cream before catching the boat around 4pm back to Copacabana. South America is a land of unique, ever changing landscapes and the unique island of Isla del Sol is truly worthy of a visit and if you are physically able, we recommend hiking from North to South to see all the island has to offer. If you have time to explore further, there are also a number of hostels, hotels and guesthouses on the island.