The Other Copacabana Is The Ultimate Bolivian Pit Stop
At the (other) Copa, Copacabana.
What if we said you could find a beachside town more than 3600m above sea level? And that it shared a name with one of the world’s most famous waterfronts? Overlooking the glittering blue waters of Lake Titicaca, Copacabana is the perfect escape from a South American odyssey.
Just a four-hour bus trip from Bolivia’s capital La Paz, the small town is a popular pit stop for travellers arriving from Peru and Machu Picchu. But, for lovers of ancient history, eye-popping landscapes, lake-to-table feeds, and taking it real easy, it’s heaven on earth.
Chase (the Island of) the Sun
You don’t go to Copacabana without visiting Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun). Believed to be the birthplace of the Inca Sun God, the spectacular chunk of earth is steeped in legend, brimming with white-sand beaches, and features some of the most dramatic scenery South America has to offer.
If you’ve got the time, an overnight stay is financially doable and totally worth it. To make the most of your trip, jump on the 90-minute ferry departing Copacabana at 8:30am. Tickets will set you back around $5 (30BOB) each way, with boats returning to the mainland at 4pm.
Right now, the northern side of the island is inaccessible to tourists, but the views and vibes from the south still make the trip worthwhile. Keep an eye out for updates, because the four-hour hike along the island’s spine is out of this world when it’s open.
Come out of your shell
There are heaps of cheap places to stay in town, but do yourself a massive favour and book into Hostal Las Olas – a group of bizarrely shaped suites halfway up the Copacabana hillside. From a distance, they look like a collection of giant shells. On closer inspection, you’ll find that one of them actually is.
There’s also a burnt-red teepee, high-ceilinged turtle dome, three-story sea tower, and plenty of other architecturally inspiring digs.
But that’s just the exteriors. Inside, most of these eco-friendly gems come with a kitchen, hammock, cosy fireplace, living area, cute sea décor, and outrageous views of the lake below. Oh, and don’t be surprised if you spot an alpaca or two roaming around your patio.
Hostal Las Olas is utter luxury for Bolivia. Still, single suites start at $49 ($39USD) a night, and you can get a double for just $62 ($49USD). When you think about all those questionable dorms you’ve stayed in so far – it’s an absolute steal.
Take a hike
When you’re sick of seeing those gorgeous sunsets from your patio, take an afternoon hike up Cerro Calvario (Calvary Hill). Located on the edge of town at the end of Calle Destecamento 211, the half-hour climb is made more strenuous by the high altitude. But it’s the view from the top that will truly take your breath away.
On the way up, you’ll pass by the 14 Stations of the Cross – a row of monuments that pilgrims visit for prayer and penance.
If you’re up for more of a challenge, head north out of town, towards the sleepy village of Yampupata. The 20km hike is well and truly off the beaten path, passing by empty Inca ruins and rural lakeside towns.
Fill your gills with trout
For dinner, skip the tourist joints in town and head to the waterfront instead. Lining the shores, you’ll find a colourful row of stalls all specialising in trout – freshly caught from the lake they line.
For just $4.50 (25BOB), you can tuck into a large fish, rice, salad and a side of fries. If you’re craving some spice, go for broke on the trucha a la diabla or, for something more soothing, try the trout coated in garlic or tomato sauce.
Each stall looks pretty much the same as its neighbour, so pick the one that’s busy with locals or has options that take your fancy. And it goes without saying – all dishes go down a treat with a Bolivian Paceña beer.
Faith and festivals
Surrounded by a local market in the centre of town, it’s hard not to miss the stark-white Basilica of Our Lady of Copacabana. The Spanish colonial cathedral is decorated in Portuguese-style blue tiles, and houses a statue of the Virgen de la Candelaria – the patron saint of Bolivia. Carved in the 15th century, the statue has gained a solid rep for performing miracles. So, if you’re in need of healing, you know where to go.
If you’re feeling the faith, time your visit to Copacabana in early February and experience the Fiesta de la Virgen de Candelaria. Here, you’ll see pilgrims from all corners of Bolivia and Peru come to feast, drink, dance, and even dodge the odd bull along Yampupata road.
(Lead image: Christopher Crouzet / Flickr)