Isla del Sol is a perfect place for an awesome trip when you are visiting Bolivia. Imagine a beautiful and traditional island with no light pollution. Located at an altitude of around 4.000 m where you can hear only donkeys and busy locals working on their lands during the day. Isla del Sol was definitely a highlight while visiting Bolivia. This is where I borrowed traditional Bolivian clothing. And even though it was cold, we really enjoyed it and when coming to Bolivia you will definitely love beautiful and authentic Isla del Sol.
In this article, we will tell you all you need to know about beautiful Isla del Sol in Bolivia, how to get there, what to do, where to stay and also about the ongoing conflict between different parts of the island. While most of the people come to Bolivia to see Salar de Uyuni, we urge you to visit Isla del Sol, you won’t regret it.
ABOUT ISLA DEL SOL IN BOLIVIA
Isla del Sol is the largest island on Lake Titicaca in Bolivia. Peru and Bolivia both have access to this lake. Thus, you can see Peru if you look in the right direction. How amazing is it to see both countries overlooking beautiful Lake Titicaca.
Check out this great book: “The Last Days of the Incas” by Kim MacQuarrie if you want to learn more about the Incas and how their empire collapsed.
Why is it called Isla del Sol? An old Inca legend says that the bearded god Viracocha (who was surely not Spanish) who created the universe, emerged from those very waters and created the sun. Therefore, Isla del Sol is the place, according to Incas, where the sun was born.
HOW TO GET TO ISLA DEL SOL FROM LA PAZ
If you arrived at the capital of Bolivia, La Paz, you will find regular buses to Copacabana. Copacabana is the closest town to Isla del Sol. Go to the central bus terminal in La Paz and you will be bombarded by “salespeople”. If you consider using Uber in Bolivia learn more here. You will have no trouble finding a bus. The critical part is to find the fastest one. Some buses will stop everywhere and some will be express buses aka “gringo buses” that cost a bit more but take you quicker to Copacabana. The transportation in Bolivia is not bad and we found our journey to Isla del Sol to be really okay. We recommend you to not take any minibusses. They are usually not safe and uncomfortable.
The journey to get to Copacabana from La Paz takes about 4 hours. For the first 2 hours, you will be on the bus and then you will switch to a ferry for a couple of minutes to cross the Strait of Tiquina. You need to pay 2 Bolivianos (BOB) for the ticket. The last kilometers you will continue in the same bus.
DON’T TAKE A DAY TOUR TO ISLA DEL SOL
From Copacabana, you can take day tours to Isla del Sol, but we don’t advise you to do that as these tours will rush you and give you little time to explore. Keep in mind that we are at around 4.000 m. The air is thin and you might walk slower than you think. The tour operators will make sure to stress you out and you probably won’t have one happy minute on the island.
Heading to Salar De Uyuni? Make sure to read our full guide on the salt flats in Bolivia.
STAY OVERNIGHT ON ISLA DEL SOL
Instead, get a boat ticket (50 BOB one-way) in Copacabana (simply walk down Avenida 6 de Agosto to find some salesperson) and stay at least one night on the island. Thus, you’ll have the chance to watch sunset and sunrise. Which is truly magical. Once you land on Isla del Sol prepare to pay your arrival tax (10 BOB) and get ready to explore this unique island.
THINGS TO KNOW WHEN VISITING ISLA DEL SOL
IT GETS VERY COLD
The weather in Bolivia can be harsh and Isla del Sol is no exception. At night and early morning, it can get really cold. So if you look for accommodation, make sure it has at least a heater.
DURING THE DAY IT GETS SUNNY AND WARMER
As Isla del Sol is the island of the sun you will have plenty of sun. In fact, during the day it is quite warm in winter. The skies are usually clear which makes it icy at night but pleasant during the day. Don’t forget to put on sun screen (use GIGI10 for 10% off) on your face and body. Remember you are still at 4.000 m and much closer to the sun than usual (right?).
BRING ENOUGH CASH
There are no ATMs on Isla del Sol. Restaurants, hotels and shops are unlikely to take credit cards. You will also need to pay your return ticket in cash so make sure you load up in Copacabana before you head to Isla del Sol.
THERE IS NO “MODERN” TRANSPORTATION
Donkeys are the only means of transport up here. There are no cars or paved roads which makes this place very peaceful. You will only need to battle with rough footpaths and steep stairs while having a beautiful view on Lake Titicaca. It costs about 30-50 BOB to hire a donkey. Bolivia is a very traditional country with many indigenous people (the highest percentage of indigenous people relative to the total population in all of South America) and that’s why we loved it so much on Isla del Sol.
The island is 3.800 m above sea level at the base and upon the top at 4.000 m. You might think that 200 m difference in elevation is nothing but trust me, it’s very hard to walk up to the hill. Going up with heavy backpacks makes it a real challenge. Ok, I almost died. I didn’t expect that the altitude will have such an impact on me. So before you start climbing, either take a good amount of coca leaves or take an altitude sickness pill and if you don’t want to take any risks find a local with a donkey to carry your luggage. I didn’t do any of that and I really had trouble breathing. If Nico wouldn’t have helped me, I’m convinced I could not have done it. Besides, it took us over 45 minutes to walk up less than 1 km.
STARGAZING AND THE MILKY WAY
Since the island is sparsely populated, remote and has only little electric light during the night you will have a great chance to see the Milky Way and enjoy starry skies. It was the first time I properly saw the Milky Way and it was definitely an unforgettable experience. Bolivia has many places where you can see the Milky Way, including Salar de Uyuni, but Isla del Sol was absolutely worth going just to see starry skies.
HAVE THE ISLAND TO YOURSELF
Before around 10 am and after around 4 pm you will have the island almost to yourself. Those are the arrival and departure times of the day tours. So make sure to stay at least for one night to experience true peace.
ONGOING CONFLICT ON THE ISLAND
It’s hard to believe that this small island with only around 800 families has an internal conflict. This is the reason why you hardly will see the whole island. However, it is still worth to go to Isla del Sol. We will be explaining all about the conflict a bit further down, so keep reading.
WHAT CAN YOU DO ON ISLA DEL SOL?
Hiking, hiking, hiking. Just joking you don’t need to walk a lot to enjoy one of the most astonishing views you will ever see. Once you are in Yumani pick a restaurant, have lunch and simply soak in the view.
The locals also have many domesticated animals like donkeys, lamas and alpacas on the fields. I spent a lot of time chasing them and playing with them and naturally, I took a million pictures as well.
Escaleras del Inca – this old Inca stairway is the landing point at the southern part of the island and this is where the staircase starts to the biggest settlement of the island: Yumani. It’s a beautiful walk where you will pass many terraced gardens, local shops, restaurants, and hotels.
Yumani– probably the place where you will stay. We loved this part, there are a couple of restaurants and cute hotels. Perfect for 2 days.
Pilko Kaina – a complex of ruins in the southern part of the island. You can get there easily from Yumani. Here you can visit the Palacio del Inca which was built by Incan Emperor Tupac-Yupanq.
The viewpoint Mirador de Palla Kasa – a panoramic view over Lake Titicaca with a 360 degrees view of the lake. You can also see the snowy Andes (Cordillera Real) in the distance.
Walk around beautiful Inca terraces – simply walk around the ancient terraces. Those agricultural terraces were built to farm the otherwise steep and rocky terrain.
Sunset and sunrise – because the island is so high it is guaranteed that you will see one of the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets in your life. So prepare your camera.
WHAT YOU CAN’T DO ON ISLA DEL SOL (FOR NOW)
The island has, in general, a very peaceful atmosphere and you feel that people are different here especially in comparison to the people in La Paz BUT Isla del Sol has a dark “secret” that makes it hard (or rather unwise) to access everything it has to offer…
Because of the conflict mentioned earlier, you can’t go to the northern and central part of the island and sadly you cannot trek to Challa, through the Challapampa village. That means you can’t explore the Challapampa Museum either. The same holds true for the Museo de Oro as it is located in the northern part. No Chincana ruins neither.
AN ONGOING CONFLICT BETWEEN DIFFERENT PARTS OF ISLA DEL SOL
We heard about the conflict between the north and the central sections and that one cannot access several parts of the island. The blog posts were pretty old so we went to check for ourselves. We were coming down the hill following the path until we saw a little house with a small red flag flapping in the wind. Nico joked: “Haha I guess that’s the “border” between the central part and the south.” We came down and 3 men approached us (peacefully and without guns).
And guess what. WE COULDN’T PASS. They showed us the map with the closed sections. They also tried to explain to us (in Spanish) why the conflict is an ongoing issue. We visited in June 2018 and at this point, the conflict lasted for about one and half years.
If you decide to go, please let us know if there are some news about the dispute on Isla del Sol in the comments so we can update the article for other travelers.
WHY IS THERE A CONFLICT BETWEEN NORTH AND CENTER (AND THE SOUTH?)?
If you are planning to hike from Yumani to Challa (in the north), I have to disappoint you. It won’t be possible. You can’t cross via the village Challapampat. Some people say that there is a conflict between north and south. Actually we found out that the problem is the center of the island. Or rather between the North and Central section of the island. And somehow the South decided to shut down the “border.” It all sounds like a Bolivian version of Game of Thrones.
WHAT IS THE CONFLICT ABOUT?
Think about it for a second. What is almost every problem in this world connected to?
Yes, exactly, to MONEY (AND GREED)!
Once upon a time when everything was great and there was peace and tourists could go to wherever they wanted the locals couldn’t get enough of the “plata”. As I mentioned before everyone who visits the island has to pay the so-called arrival tax which is supposed to go to all the families supporting them and their businesses.
Apparently the North didn’t share the arrival tax fairly with the central part. When the central part found out, of course, they got really upset. Unfortunately, they went over the top and decided to burn down some of the houses in the northern part out of revenge. The fires were never admitted by the central part and the Southern part intervened and “solved” the dispute like this: if the central part won’t admit their acts, the central and northern parts are closed down.
Another rumor says that some groups of locals closed down the border as another group intended to build new accommodation nearby an important Inca ruin that is sacred and would be desecrated by tourism.
It’s sad that the people on the same island have a conflict between each other which is very bad for them and for their businesses. Well, except for the South I guess. They get it all now. The tax and all the profits of food, souvenirs, and accommodation. Maybe they schemed that one up (House Lannister anyone?). Who knows. I wonder what happened to all these local hotels and restaurants in the central and northern parts.
We do not have the full picture so we just have to accept the current situation and hope that it will be resolved soon.
IS IT STILL WORTHWHILE TO “JUST” VISIT THE SOUTHERN PART OF ISLA DEL SOL?
Absolutely! If you don’t have much time, come for 1 night. Walk around the cute village Yumani and enjoy the absolutely wonderful view. Besides, who knows maybe the conflict is resolved until you visit anyways.
WHERE TO STAY ON ISLA DEL SOL?
As expected there are not many hotels on Isla del Sol. However, we decided to stay for 2 nights and we found a few hotels in Yumani. Don’t expect any luxus. Accommodation on the island is very basic and all of them are overpriced for what you get. Many of them are missing heating, electricity and WiFi.
We stayed in a basic but nice hotel on the hill in Yumani. It’s called Hostal Intikala. There are two reasons why you should stay here. First, every room has a little heater. It’s barely sufficient and you have to ask for it but you’ll get one. You also get a lot of blankets and a hot shower. If you are not an Inuit or a local, you will need all those things during the winter months. Second, the views from the rooms are incredible. It’s the perfect place to enjoy sunrise and sunset. Just reach the highest point of the building and you’ll understand what I mean. We paid $40 per night.
We hope that you will have a great time in Bolivia and that you will visit Isla del Sol. I am sure you will enjoy it as much as we did.
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