I’d heard and read many good things about Isla del Sol, and at the very last minute I made an improvised visit for a couple of nights. I love improvising; some of my most special experiences have been those which have been on a whim and completely unplanned. I do it when it’s possible!
Leaving La Paz, I took a bus to Copacabana at the edge of Lake Titicaca (the highest navigable mass of water in the world), followed by a ferry across to the island. This would be my last stopping off point before I crossed from Bolivia into Peru, and it turned out to be very much a highlight of my three months abroad.
The following description of the island is from Wikipedia, just to save me paraphrasing:
Geographically, the terrain is harsh; it is a rocky, hilly island with many eucalyptus trees. There are no motor vehicles or paved roads on the island. The main economic activity of the approximately 800 families on the island is farming, with fishing and tourism augmenting the subsistence economy. Of the several villages, Yumani and Ch’allapampa are the largest.
There are over 80 ruins on the island. Most of these date to the Inca period circa the 15th century AD. Archaeologists have discovered evidence that people lived on the island as far back as the third millennium BC. . . . In the religion of the Incas, it was believed that the sun god was born here.
That last sentence is important as you certainly do feel the presence of the sun all day long. I alighted the ferry in the early afternoon and started my trek up from the beach in search of a hotel room. As the island is remote, and my decision to visit was last-minute, I didn’t have anywhere reserved like I normally do. That steep climb up the hill towards the village of Yumani was particularly punishing – it was hot and, in addition to having a fully loaded backpack, I was still weaker than usual due to the high altitude.
I was in a picky mood that day and fussy about what kind of lodgings I would accept. I wanted something just right – a friendly owner, a pretty view, and something cosy. First, I went looking for one of the recommended places in the Lonely Planet guidebook, but it took ages to find, and when I finally did I was informed that the whole place had been booked by a private party. So I continued to plod from terrace to terrace, up and down, looking for somewhere else ‘nice’. I found a couple more places that I approved of, but in each case there was nobody around. I can really be my worst enemy sometimes; there were plenty of reasonable options on the hillside and a bit of flexibility here would have been better for me given my exhaustion!
I eventually secured a dusty bedroom where I took a long and restorative nap. The place was a simple two-storey hotel set around a courtyard garden with a central outdoor staircase up to the first floor. Speaking with the native Aymaran owner was my first extensive contact with a person of indigenous heritage and I found her to be confusingly indirect in her manner. For example, when I initially asked if I could have one of the upstairs rooms, she told me that they were all taken and presented me with one next to her own quarters. Although this sounded reasonable at the time, I later on realised I was the only guest in the entire place. There was also a bit of fiddly negotiation about when I could use the shower. Fresh water is brought to the island by boat and then carried up the hillside by llamas or donkeys, so the inhabitants are right to be careful about water usage, of course.
After breakfast I set off for a long walk to the far end of the island and back to see the aforementioned Inca ruins. The restaurant owner where I took breakfast made me some lunch in a take-away container which was a bit saucy and unfortunately partly leaked out into my day pack while I was walking. Still, it was a worthy sacrifice for being able to fill up enroute – I didn’t take my chances as to there being many restaurants along the way.
The following images of my hike are in chronological order:
The following morning I got up to watch the sunrise from my hotel’s upstairs terrace, which was just spectacular. I felt I was witnessing something important given the sun’s spiritual significance on the island, and as a self-confessed night owl I was pleased with myself for being able to get up so early.
After breakfast — in the same restaurant because I am a man of habit — I went for an energetic hike to the tip of the near end of the island. I didn’t have long before I needed to catch the ferry back to the mainland, so I made the most of my time.
PD: As I write, this trip was well over a year ago now. I remain determined to finish documenting the story of my travels and with three weeks in Peru to go we are nearly there. It will be a great record for the future and selecting which photos to publish is good fun. Plus, it’s just nice to finish what you start, isn’t it?