Unfortunately things have changed on Isla del Sol in recent years, and there is currently an ongoing dispute between the communities on the island. Over the years there have been a few violent confrontations between the communities (eg. a restaurant being burnt down….) and this has lead to parts of the island being closed to tourists for safety reasons. To cut a long story short, there are three different communities on the island, and they disagree about how tourism should work, and how any tourism money should be divided amongst the communities. The dispute has been going on for many years, with the recent restrictions being in place for just under 2 years. Yes, not much sign of a resolution at this point…
So, in the ‘olden days’, you could hike from one end of the island to the other – but nowadays only the south part of the island is open to tourists. This is unfortunate as the most impressive ruins are supposedly on the north side, and it was common to take a boat to the north side, visit the ruins, and hike down to the south side.
Anyways, nowadays the boats only go to the south side of the island, where there are some ruins and a village. Because visiting this part of the island only takes half a day, the boats now also stop at another island (Isla de la Luna) so you can visit both islands and make a day of it. It doesn’t seem to matter if you book a tour or take a ‘ferry’ – all of the boats do the same route. We took a ‘ferry’, but then the guy on the boat said that a guide was mandatory now to visit the ruins (supposedly because of safety reasons because of the dispute) (a Korean tourist was murdered in January when she went to the wrong part of the island by mistake… so maybe they have a point 🙁 )
You can still stay on the island, in the southern part – but seeing as most of the island was off limits, we decided to opt for a day trip.
So… off we went! The boats depart at 8.30am, and we didn’t have a good start as there were tons of people on our boat, and most of the seating was inside – there was only room for about 10 people on top of the boat in the outdoor area, so we got stuck inside without much of a view 🙁
The boat travels at the slowest speed you can actually imagine (apparently this saves fuel….!) (It took over two hours to travel the 16km), but eventually we arrived at Isla de la Luna – our first stop. We had one hour to explore this island.
The island itself is pretty quiet and only has around 80 people living on it. There are some Inca ruins to have a quick look at, and then you can walk up a steep trail to the top of the island for a great view over Lake Titicaca. The top of the island is at around 3950m above sea level – yes, still on the altiplano!
The ruins are of a temple for ‘virgins of the sun‘ – these were women who all lived together, and became wives for very important Incas, and the REALLY GREAT most perfect ones, were used for human sacrifices…! Yes, probably better to be ‘not so great’ in Inca times if you wanted to stay alive…
The hour went pretty quickly, and soon we were back on the boat. This time we were prepared and we barged our way on to the top of the boat 🙂 (It was a bit easier this time, as there were fewer people – some had gotten off the boat at Isla de Sol, where we made a brief drop on the way for people who didn’t want to visit Isla de la Luna)
Next stop…. Isla del Sol….
We landed on Isla del Sol, near some ruins, where we had a 3km guided walk to the village of Yumani – the main settlement on the south of the island. The walk had great scenery, and we got a lot of information about the island and the lake from the tour guide (and also about the conflict on the island).
Lake Titicaca is around 8300 square kilometres in size, and is at an altitude of 3812m above sea level – supposedly the world’s highest navigable lake. So compared to the salt lake Salar de Uyuni – it’s a bit smaller in size, but higher in altitude (It’s still VERY BIG – three times the size of Luxembourg!) (I appreciate that you may not know how big Luxembourg is 🙂 – but a lake that is three times the size of a whole country has to be big – right?) (OK, it’s the 18th largest lake in the ENTIRE world, and the largest lake in South America….)
Isla del Sol has no cars, and so is incredibly peaceful – it’s just villages and terraced farmland (and tourists…)
After around an hour or so, we arrived at Yumani village, which was really peaceful and pleasant. Although it’s the most ‘touristy’ part of the island with some lodges and restaurants, I wouldn’t exactly call it ‘over-developed’….
Being ‘prepared’ kind of people 🙂 and also cheapskates on a budget… we had brought sandwiches with us – so the main (only…) task we had in Yumani was to find somewhere to eat them.
The village is not exactly big, so it didn’t take very long – the strategy being to just follow any track that went upwards. This was a great success, as we were soon on top of a ridge with views across the lake and the back of the island. A perfect spot for lunch! 🙂
After lunch, we went for a small wander around, and then we needed to head downhill towards the wharf to get the boat back to Copacabana.
Near the main area where the boats come and go are the famous ‘Inca steps’. They are famous on the island anyway…. 🙂 The steps were built by the Incas, and there are around 240 of them. Most people have to climb up them when they arrive on the island – but if you go the way that we did, then you only have to go down them. (but clearly, we still had to ascend to the same height – but on a path, not steps…)
On the return boat ride, we headed for the top of the boat again for the journey back to Copacabana. This boat was quite quiet too, and it was a bit cold and windy out on the lake – which meant that a lot of people preferred to be inside the boat – but not dead tough people like us 🙂 🙂
The boat ride back was pretty enjoyable – Lake Titicaca is a REALLY beautiful place to be out on the water. It did get VERY cold though…. but we figured the pain was worth it for the views 🙂