Things to Do in Copacabana That Aren’t Isle del Sol

Country Bolivia | Dates June 19-21 | Accommodation Hotel La Cupula

Copacabana Bolívia, not to be confused with Copacabana in Rio, is located on the shore of Lake Titicaca near the border of Peru. The main attraction is Isle del Sol, which has been described in some guidebooks as the best place in Bolivia (disagree). I decided to…gasp…skip the island and do some other stuff for a variety of reasons: I wanted to relax; I get seasick and didn’t feel like puking; ½ the island was closed (for over a year the tribes on the north and south are feuding about tourism); I was sick of being among hordes of tourists. Here are some other things to do in Copacabana.

Things to do in Copacabana: Relax at Copacabana Beach

South of downtown, marked by a huge white anchor, the beginning of the beach is bustling with a few rooftop bars and tourist restaurants. This is also the harbor with boats of all sorts, including those to Isle del Sol (2 departures daily, 8:30 and 1:30). To the left, a slew of local food stalls in a row, selling exactly the same meals including the local specialty trucha (trout), covered in white tarp with images of the dishes printed inside and labeled by number. People (not me, scared in aftermath of food poisoning) dine on red plastic chairs with tapestry tablecloths.

On the banks small swan boats in varying faded colors are for rent on the rocky beach. Other boots accessible from ramshackle docks also headed out regularly. The oddest thing were large inflatable cylinders that you can pay to go in and roll around out in the lake. There’s also a massive statue of some people (didn’t catch what it was). Nice place for a walk or to sit and relax by the water, especially to enjoy the unreal sunset. A walk south past the tourist area is beautiful and relaxing, too, with sparkling waters, shady gravel road (with little traffic) and views away from the swarms of tourists.

Things to do in Copacabana: Explore Downtown

Avenida 6 de Julio | Main street downtown which was highly touristy, with tourist restaurants and shops and people harassing you to enter their restaurant/bar with “special deals.”  Market | Off this drag was some more typical city streets, including a small market area nad an alley with women selling more bread than I’ve ever seen early each morning. Church + Plaza | There is also the massive church, Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Copacabana, which despite being bored to death of looking at churches I admit is quite impressive from the outside.

Things to do in Copacabana: Go for a Hike

There were several hikes around the town, which I opted to do rather than the island. Most people I talked to had skipped these, however – and missed out!

Horca del Inca | About 10 minutes off the main plaza, I followed the road to the secluded path which climbs the side of the mountain with stone stairs winding up. At the top, a rock formation that served as a sundial for the Incas, and aligns perfectly with the light on June 21 (summer solstice). It was supposed to cost 10Bs, but no one was at the ticket desk when I hiked up and I only passed one man the entire time, who said “buenos dias” to me and smiled aka did not collect money. The rocks were not really that cool (anticlimactic), but the view was INCREDIBLE and worth the walk and panting (altitude striking again). It took about 30 minutes maybe; half the time listed online and the map provided by my hostel.

On the way down I passed workers making clay bricks with wire sticking out, working in the road in blue jumpsuits. 2 USCs were walking in front of me so I lagged behind; soon one removed his pants and peed on the side of the road

Cemetery & Asientos del Inca | Stumbled on this, and by stumbled I mean it was on the photocopy map my hostel gave me, on my walk. Yellow church in small graveyard with a few of the “apartment graves,” which was pretty but maybe not a tourist attraction. I then followed the trail left to the Asientos del Inca, through a small dirt path in some grasses. It was lame; some rocks with squares cut out of them that I guess the Inca used as seats. It was secluded and hard to get out (finally found a gate to the left after panicking as a strange man was in there following me (he was not actually following – irrational)).

Capilla Del Senor De La Cruz | Another main building in town, and worth a quick look on the way to Cerro El Calvario. Building with an arch and cross, painted orange and white, set against the mountain.

Cerro El Calvario | Impossible to miss, this is the huge mountain to the side of Copacabana with some of the city’s buildings (like my awesome hotel) on the lower part of it. This hike was short, but strenuous due to the altitude and steep stone steps. Following the stations of the cross, 14 in this case, it went all the way up to the top with a row of cross domes, tourist stalls in blue tarps, then behind an amazing panorama view of the lake and surrounding land and islands. While I sat out back, a child trash picked and her dad yelled at her – “nina!”  It was pretty quick hike; although you got out of breath. I passed all the tourists that started near me, of course.

Baños del Inca | Hiking along the coast north, through some tiny villages waking up to livestock, smoke from fires, and the sun casting harsh showers on the still-freezing temperatures at 8am. With the lake to my left I walked briskly, past harvested quinoa fields, and locals herding sheep and driving bikes and motorbikes. I winded uphill through a small village Kusijata but sadly the museum with the Inca toilets was closed. No concern, I continued back to the coast, past the contrived-for-tourists floating islands (smaller than the Puno ones), and stumbled on an amazing alter built into the mountain. I then continued at a rapid pace up a steel hill and around the bend to get a view of the island and white beach (playa blanco) ahead. I wanted to keep going but had to head back to check out, half running to make it in time. All in all, probably 8 miles in 2+ hours.

Things to do in Copacabana: Eat Delicious Food

Restaurant Aransaya I had an amazing lunch here, a local spot with the menu familiar or 3-course menu for very cheap, in this case barely 3 USD and is enough food to last all day. I entered through the courtyard, and a child seated me (casual child labor was occurring all over Bolivia, but was especially prevalent in Copacabana for some reason; the legal age to work is 10, lowest in the world). I had a delicious quinoa soup, millions including rice, veggies and fries, and a fruit juice postre (dessert). So good I went back a second time.

Snack 6 de Julio | On the main tourist road, but up further and coming in at ⅓ the price of many of the tourist spots, I dined here. For 15bs I got the menu del dia again, this time with lomo (beef), soup, potatoes, and fruit and juice. Somewhat touristy, but good.

Street Popcorn | Maybe it’s not a meal, but they sell giant popcorn in bags all over Copacabana. It’s slightly sweet and absolutely delicious, and must be eaten.

Things to do in Copacabana: Hot Tub & Relax

Those who know me and who have been reading this blog know relaxing isn’t exactly my strength. But I will say my hotel, La Cupula, in Copacabana was so nice (best accommodation of whole trip), I actually spent some time resting on purpose. Reading in the hammocks in the sun, drinking wine in my room and looking at the night lights. Also being bit by a llama who came from behind suddenly, you know. I also went into the amazing hot tub at the coolest hotel right next to mine. The water was the hottest I’ve ever felt, and for 3 dollars I spent an hour in it alone, in the utter darkness and silence, looking up at a pristine night sky with so many clear stars visible. It was amazing.

Budget and Practicalities

Dining | As low as 15bs for the menu familiar if you look around – cheaper at the very top of the tourist street (away from water). Many tourist spots charging 30-40 for their versions of the menu that are less authentic. Food stalls pretty cheap, too. Every spot on the Avenue de Julio 6 offered happy hour, 2×1, for about 20-30bs.

Hiking | Free. If you have to pay entry to the Horca del Inca or Inca Banos, 10bs each.

Shopping | Tourist shops, standard pricing, you can negotiate a bit as usual. I found this out when I mistakenly purchased a ring for 2USD on a whim, which was not in budget and thank goodness I got free breakfast at my hotel the next day (that was not supposed to be included, so nice!) as I exceeded the budget and had no cash left.

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