Isla del Sol, the Island of the Sun, is the most famous island on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca. With breathtaking views and over 80 ancient ruins, visitors might just find themselves believing, as the Incas did, that the island is sacred.
Although archaeologists know that the island has been continuously inhabited since at least 2200 B.C., most of the island’s ruins date back to the time of the Inca Empire. Some do date a little further back, to the time of the Tiwanaku Kingdom. The Inca believed the island to be the birthplace of their sun deity, and its Rock of the Puma was an important pilgrimage site for them.
The island is rocky and rural; agricultural terraces mark the many hillsides and eucalyptus trees cover the island. There are no cars or paved roads (although you can rent a donkey!), so the several small villages on the island are connected by dirt and stone paths and the feel is very tranquil. About 800 families live on the island, sustaining themselves through farming, fishing and tourism.
Tour companies in Copacabana, Bolivia offer full-day and half-day excursions to Sun Island, but those who’d prefer to go without a guide can take one of the boats which leave the port of Copacabana, Bolivia at 8:30am and 1:30pm. (Opt for the full-day tour if you can, because with a half-day tour the great majority of your time will be spent on the boat!)
It takes two hours to reach Challapampa on the northern side of the island, and an hour and a half to reach Yumani on the southern side of the island. Most boats will drop you off at the former and depart from the latter, and both villages have places where you can spend the night.
If you don’t plan on spending much time on the island, the best use of your time is to walk from Challapampa to Yumani, which takes about three hours. Some villages charge for entrance, so there are toll points along the route, which in total will come to 30Bs. Boats begin leaving Yumani for Copacabana at around 3:30 pm, with the last boats leaving at around 4pm.
You’ll want to bring enough cash for tolls, forbuying food and water, and for using bathrooms. Like in Copacabana, your meal options are main limited to fresh trout, though you can find a tourist restaurant or two that offers pizzas and burgers. Most small restaurants offer set menus that include a soup, often based on potatoes and Andean grains and trout. Yumani has the best food options. (If you’re worried about finding something to your taste, you can buy a boxed lunch in Copacabana before the excursion.)
If you are taking a full-day tour of Sun Island, you’ll spend a couple of hours at the Gold Museum in Cha’llapampa, admiring the Incan treasures unearthed from Lake Titicaca. Afterwards, you’ll go on a round-trip hike to the Rock of the Puma (Titi Qala), which predates the Incas but became one of their most important pilgrimage destinations after they conquered the island. The puma shape of the rock isn’t actually all that easy to see until it’s pointed out to you. Nearby, you’ll see the Inca Table, a low stone platform thought to have been used for human sacrifices, and the Footsepts of the Sun, which are a set of natural impressions in the rock.
Then, you’ll begin the hike to Yumani, which is known for its stone Inca steps, which if you’re not accustomed to the high altitude can be tiring. For this reason, it’s best to leave your large backpack with a hostel in Copacabana if possible. The steps descend down to the shore of Yumani and a fountain that the Spanish of course christened the Fountain of Youth. Slightly further south is the Temple of Pilcocaina.
If you have time during your visit to the island, consider going for a swim in the lake, and don’t miss the sunset and sunrise over the lake- with the Andean cordillera in the distance, it’s an awesome sight!
Pirwa Travel offers a tour that includes a city tour of Copacabana and a 2-day tour of Sun Island– let us show you everything there is to see by Lake Titicaca!