The most advertised thing to do in Copacabana is to go visit the islands of the Sun and Moon, or Isla del Sol and Isla de La Luna. Pretty much every single guidebook and blog described the islands as the highlight of any vacation to Bolivia or Peru, so that was what we were most looking forward to. The books could not have been more wrong.
Isla del Sol is the larger of the two islands at about 6 miles in length. It contains 80 ruins from several civilizations ranging from 2,200 BC to about 500 years ago. The Incan culture was the most recent group of people, and the 800 families who live there now are their descendants.
What we wanted to do was take a boat to one end of the island and hike to the other end visiting ruins all day and enjoying the views. When we started asking around about tickets we were told by several people that there was “a war” on the island and tourists were no longer allowed to visit the northern half. Apparently two clans of residents on the island were in disagreement about the effects of tourism. We were told we could be threatened by going past a certain point. Because the half the island of the island that had most of the ruins was closed to visitors we opted instead to take a tour that included a shorter visit to both islands.
We arrived and loaded onto the boat and things immediately started going downhill. The boat was crowded, as I expected, but it was raining and the seats were wet. In order to, I assume, save gas, the boats were travelling SIX miles an hour, making the journey last an hour and a half to get to the nearby island. After travelling about 20 minutes the boat stopped. I feared it had broken down but instead some much faster boats raced up and unloaded another dozen or so passengers onto our boat. Then it meandered on it’s way. The boat ride was so unnecessarily long and miserable we were in a foul mood when we finally arrived at the Isla del Sol. We decided to forget about visiting Isla de La Luna and use the extra time to see more of Isla del Sol.
There was a lot of pocket gouging on the tour as well. After buying your ticket, you still have to pay an “entry” fee once you arrive on the island if you want to go anywhere other than the boat dock. Then you will probably want to use the bathroom, which you also have to pay for.
The island is very touristy, but pretty with terraced fields of flowers and groves of eucalyptus. After climbing hundreds of feet of stairs you pass by endless tourist shops and restaurants. Nothing was of much interest so we headed South down the spine of the island and slowly made our way all the way back down to the lake shore where we visited the ruin Pillkukayna. Weirdly, a doctor showed up with oxygen tanks and a small child guarded the shore in case people came on privately hired boats to try and visit the ruins without paying that island entry fee.
The sun eventually came out, we ate lunch and left the island. After the long ride back we still had a few hours of daylight so we decided to go check out some mainland ruins we saw a sign for the previous day.
Talking about our trip in retrospect, Ben’s drive into El Alto and down into La Paz was the worst day of the trip for him. For me it was the trip to Isla del Sol. I wasn’t ajusting to the altitude properly and i became sick, probably from eating some bad eggs we’d bought at an unsanitary market. I started the day on little sleep from how cold our room was, and then threw up my breakfast before i was even done eating it. The extended boat journey did not help my nausea. So i was not the best travel partner while we climbed endless stairs on the island and wandered through wet fields in drizzly weather.
Glad to be back, I wasn’t too excited about leaving to do something else once the trip the island was over with. But, I was feeling better after lunch and the sun had seriously warmed up the mainland, so I agreed to go to one more site, based simply on a mysterious sign we’d noticed along the road the day before. That was the best decision I made all day.
The ruins are called Cerro Kopakati and there is virtually no information about them on the internet. A long walk along farmed fields leads to an ancient looking path near the base of a stone hill. Hidden among scattered trees are pre-Incan carved stone ruins, but with no information, or even guiding signs, we were unable to locate the petroglyphs. I haven’t seen any pictures of the petroglyphs either so I have no idea if they are worthwhile. What was worthwhile was the quiet walk through the most pleasant rural scenery we saw during our entire trip. We felt like it would have been worth it to skip the island tours entirely and simply wander around the countryside checking out some of the more obscure ruins in the area.