Week 22 – La Paz and Copacabana, Bolivia, and Puno and Cusco, Peru
Hey everybody! We’re writing this from what is possibly my favourite city so far this holiday, Cusco. Since my last blog post we’ve crossed the border from Bolivia into Peru for country number 11.
We arrived in La Paz at around 6am, having travelled from Uyuni on a night bus. We’d deliberately chosen a hostel close to the bus station, so it only took us around five minutes to get there. It was a nice surprise to find that our room was already prepared for us, so we could immediately check in and get a bit more sleep.
Having had a pretty non-stop week, we decided that this would be a chilled out day. I felt slightly guilty about that seeing as we were only in La Paz for one day, but we were both pretty exhausted so it was definitely necessary. How lucky am I right now, that I need a holiday from holidaying?!
In the afternoon we went out to find lunch and to explore a bit. Like Quito, La Paz had restaurants offering a ‘menu del dia’, but here it was only 11 Bolivianos, which is the equivalent to £1.10. The prices in different countries vary so much, it’s crazy. We went to see the ‘witches market’, which essentially was a street of souvenir shops. It may have been more busy on any day other than Easter Sunday! We did see one shop selling their famous good luck charm – a dried llama foetus. Presumably it’s good luck for the purchaser, rather than the llama.
In recognition of the fact that it was Easter, we found ourselves some easter eggs and a chocolate rabbit to celebrate. We passed through an Easter market where they were selling lots of crosses and other crafts made of palm leaves. They were much more elaborate than the Palm Sunday crosses we get in England. I also decided to try a strange brown drink with an unspecified fruit in the bottom of the cup. It was ok, but much too sweet for me. I also realised retrospectively that they probably weren’t using filtered water, so after a few sips I abandoned it. Looking it up since I think it was a drink called Mocochinchi, where a peeled dried peach is boiled with sugar and cinnamon and then the drink is served cold. It’s quite common in Bolivia so I’m glad that I at least tried it!
After getting an early night, we woke up early this morning to catch a bus to Copacabana. This was our first journey with a company called Bolivia Hop (it becomes Peru Hop once you’ve crossed the border). We have a hop-on-hop-off ticket with them and are going to be using them to travel through the rest of Bolivia and then all the way through Peru.
The bus journey took a couple of hours, and towards the end started to reveal gorgeous scenery. Copacabana is a town on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world (3,812m above sea level), and the largest lake in South America (8,372 square kilometres (3,232 square miles), with a maximum depth of 281m).
We drove around part of the perimeter of the lake for around an hour until we reached an area called the Tiquina straight. We all got off the bus and got onto a small boat to be taken across the lake to the other side. Our bus came separately on a vehicle ferry. It looked slightly precarious – we wondered how many buses there were at the bottom of the lake!
Once on the other side, we got back onto the bus and continued the drive to Copacabana. As we got closer we stopped at a gorgeous viewpoint, where we could see the town with the lake behind. It was beautiful.
We’re staying at a hotel called La Cúpula, which is really nice. They have a large garden overlooking the lake, with hammocks, tables and even alpacas which you can feed. There isn’t a whole lot to do in this area but that’s ok because we’re using Copacabana as a relaxing destination for a few days before our crazy Peru itinerary.
This morning we went to explore the town. It’s fairly small but has a nice plaza and a hugely impressive looking church. The outside had a massive courtyard, and inside the roof was painted in beautiful contrasting colours. We also went into some of the souvenir shops that lined the streets. I bought a llama jumper (I think it’s just made from normal wool but it has a llama pattern), and Ben bought a hat made from alpaca wool.
In the afternoon we took advantage of the garden and spent the time relaxing in hammocks. Despite the sun it was a bit chilly, I guess because of the altitude. Thankfully my llama jumper kept me nice and warm.
In the evening, we decided to walk up Cerro Calvario, the hill behind our hostel. Cerro Calvario means Cavalry Hill, and is used by locals as a pilgrimage, with crosses stationed along the way as prayer stops. At the top, there is a beautiful view over Copacabana and Lake Titicaca. We timed our journey so that we’d reach the top for sunset. It was fairly steep, and although it wasn’t very far it was quite tiring, probably because of the altitude.
We weren’t the only ones to have this idea, and there were lots of tourists at the top, all sat in groups and watching for the sunset. The colours of the sunset were quite muted but it was really beautiful, particularly as it reflected in the lake.
Today we caught a boat over to the Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun). The Incas had multiple creation myths. In one of the main ones, they believed that Isla del Sol was the home of Inti, their Sun God. They also believed that Inti was the father of the very first Incas, Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo, who founded Cusco and the Incan Empire. The island has a number of Incan ruins. Today, it is home to a farming community.
We got off the boat on one side of the Island, and the boat promptly departed to meet us at the town of Yumani on the other side. We had an hour to walk along the trail to the port. The first part of the walk was quite a steep climb up the hill. We passed a stone building which we didn’t pay a great deal of attention to, but which turned out to be a small temple. Oops! Still, the walk was lovely, with views over Lake Titicaca and of the island’s graduated farming fields. It took us around 40 minutes to complete.
The boat ride back to the mainland was beautiful – I love being on the water! We had another very relaxing evening with dinner in our hotel restaurant, which has a gorgeous view over the lake.
Today was our last day in Bolivia. Although we had to check out, the hotel let us hang around until our evening bus. We spent our morning in the garden, booking the last few bits of our holiday. Ben is delighted that we don’t have any more hostels or flights left to book – our admin days aren’t very fun.
We decided to make the most of the hotel’s offer of free food for the alpacas, and went out to feed them. There were two adults and a really cute baby alpaca who had huge eyes. The baby was a little shy at first but soon overcame this and followed his mother’s example.
In the evening, we met our Bolivia Hop bus and were driven for around 10 minutes to the Bolivia/Peru border. We were stamped across the border and were surprised to find that we’d gone back another hour! Time zones feel even weirder when you cross them in a bus rather than an aeroplane. We boarded another bus and were driven around to the town of Puno, on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca. We were dropped off at our hostel where we got the nice surprise of a free upgrade from a dormitory room to a private room. Lucky us!
Today was our first full day in Peru, and our only day in Puno before moving on to Cusco. In the morning we went to explore the town. It had a pretty plaza and a large church. It also had a lot of souvenir shops. I bought a hat made from ‘baby alpaca wool’, meaning the wool from the first time that an alpaca is shorn. Apparently it’s softer than subsequent shearings.
In the afternoon we were picked up and driven down to the lakeside to catch a boat to the famous floating islands of Lake Titicaca. We had organised this trip through the same Bolivia Hop company that were running the buses, which was great as it meant we could book in advance and make the most of our very short time in Puno. The islands are known as the Uros Islands and are home to an indigenous community called the Uru. The community have lived on these handmade islands for hundreds of years, historically due to defensive reasons – the islands could be moved if a threat arose. Our guide told us that currently the community numbers around 2000, living on around 80 islands.
We were taken to an island and disembarked to meet the families that lived there. Each island houses around 6-10 families, and has its own President. With our guide acting as a translator (Uru people speak an indigenous language called Aymara), the President taught us how the islands are made. They are constructed out of totora reeds. First, dense blocks of roots are cut into blocks and attached together with wooden stakes and rope. These root blocks are at least 1-2 metres thick. Then multiple layers of reeds are laid on top to form the island. The islands are anchored to the bottom of the lake with more wooden stakes and rope. The islands require maintenance, and new reed layers are regularly added.
We were shown around the homes on the island, which were very basic. They were wooden with a thick reed base, and were one room structures. Each island had solar panels to provide electricity. Their primary sources of income are fishing, weaving and now tourism. We were told that some of the larger islands house primary schools and shops, and even a hostel on one island. Each island has its own boat and they visit Puno regularly – all of the children go to secondary school in Puno town.
After being shown around the island, we were taken by boat to visit one of the other islands briefly. The boat was huge and made out of reeds, designed with two cat-figureheads. It was driven by wedging a motorboat into a gap at the back of it. I’m so impressed that they managed to steer it!
The other island was slightly larger and had a shop and a small restaurant. They were offering to stamp passports as a souvenir which was a fun idea!
In the evening we were picked up by Peru Hop for our night bus to Cusco. We were given blankets and settled in to try to get some sleep!
We’re going to be in Cusco for a week before we embark on our trek of the Inca Trail, so next week’s blog will come to you from there. I’m very excited for some Incan history!