Thursday, June 30, 2016

[COPACABANA] Isla del Sol

Crossing the border is simple, really. The Peru Hop bus will drop you off at the Peruvian border where you can go to the toilet and change your remaining Nuevo Sols before heading towards the Peruvian immigration center to get your exit stamp. The Bolivia Hop guide from the other side then leads you on a five-minute walk uphill for your Bolivian entry stamp. This part might cause delays if there are Americans in your group, as they require visas to get in. After that, you transfer to your new bus, a smaller one.

The bus is smaller because you are required to cross Titicaca by boat to get to the other side. This involves getting off the bus and hopping on a boat then waiting on the other side for your boat, which will also cross the lake via a bigger raft. This will take around 20-30 minutes and it can get really cold so make sure you don’t leave your warm clothes on the bus. Once you get on the bus again, they will distribute popcorn and water before playing a movie. In our case, it was Zoolander 2. It’s snooze time after that.

But before all the lake crossing and shit, you have a mandatory stop at Copacabana at around 1 PM. You will then have an hour to grab lunch before hopping on the boat for your Isla del Sol tour which is an additional USD 10 regardless if you book it online or on the bus. The boat leaves at 2 PM and docks on the island at around 3:15 PM. You have until 4:30 PM to explore before the boat sails back to Copacabana, where the bus leaves for La Paz at exactly 6 PM.

So, is the island tour worth it then? I’d say yes. Everyone says that the Bolivian side of the lake is way more awesome than the Peruvian side. The downside, I think, is that if you take the two tours on the same day, you might not have enough energy and enthusiasm left for Isla del Sol, especially because you have to do some mandatory hiking for it, unlike Uros Islands where you just dock on the island, meet and greet the locals, and that’s about it. Isla del Sol is more physically demanding, really.

The island is inhabited, albeit sparsely populated. The locals live in small stone houses and employ the hard work of their donkeys to carry them or their stuff uphill. You don’t have a donkey. You must do the climb on your own. They let you off on one side of the island, after which you are to go uphill. The guide draws some sort of made-up map on the sand before you leave. It’s not that difficult to remember, actually. When in doubt, just follow the crowd.

What can you see on the island? I think the views FROM the island are more breathtaking than the island itself. If you have been to Batanes or any other secluded island location, then you probably already know the vibe. One distinct characteristic of this sun island is that you see a smaller one from afar and it is full of pine trees. You can also see mountains at the background, presumable the Andes, with some slopes covered in snow. It is cold, but a sweater is enough because it’s sunny and you’ll be hiking anyway.

You really don’t have a lot of time to explore, especially if you are slow like me. I am still a bit sick so I took my time and even got left behind by the group. Those bastards were all in a hurry as if they had a meeting or something. I did manage to find my way but I was among the last ones to reach the boat on the other side. But then again, this is not the Amazing Race, now is it? There are many locals on the island herding llamas, sheep, and goats. When they shout, “propina” at you, that means they are asking for tips.

The standard rate when you ask them how much is BOB 5 (~PHP 35) but since I had no change, I had to give BOB 10 (~PHP 70), and I was asked twice. Those locals are used to this kind of setup because the island receives a steady flow of tourists daily. They know how to play the game. What happens if you don’t oblige? I wouldn’t know, but you are always free to find out for yourself. And then tell us about it, yes? It was annoying at first but I thought, hey, that’s not a lot, and they probably need it more than I do anyway.

I only realized how slow the boat trip was on our way back. I slept on our way to the island and just woke up when we were about to dock. The best advice I can give you is to sleep on it, even more so on the way back when you are tired from all the hike. You can spend a night on the island itself or at Copacabana. In my case, I went straight to La Paz that evening. A day tour of both Uros and Isla del Sol and going straight to La Paz the same day is doable but really exhausting. Plan accordingly.

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