Bolivia Destinations South America

Lake Titicaca: Isla del Sol

When I arrived at Isla del Sol, I wasn’t quite prepared for the 206 steps up an ancient Incan staircase – scaling 200 metres in all – to reach the island’s southern village, Yumani.

With a heavy backpack, 200+ steps is a challenge at the best of times. But couple that with climbing at an altitude of almost 4,000 metres, and this girl from the seaside was in struggletown.

I could suck in all the air I wanted, but no oxygen reached my lungs. Luckily, my travel companion from Samaipata became my obliging pack mule, carrying the majority of the gear while I sported one tiny light bag. Even then, it was a relief to finally reach our accommodation.

Coming from La Paz, this quiet island was quite the contrast, a haven of tranquillity and beauty situated on the shores of the highest navigable lake in the world, Lake Titicaca.

At an altitude of 3,812 metres and with a maximum depth of 284m, Lake Titicaca is dotted with islands and has such water and captivating scenery that one can be forgiven for believing they were in the Mediterranean.

I mean, check it out:

view of lake titicaca

Lago Titicaca isn’t just a natural beauty. This is a place of huge historical importance. It’s practically the Garden of Eden for Incan mythology.

Yep folks. Lake Titicaca features as the point of creation for the Incan world. Here’s how it works:

In Incan mythology, the god Viracocha arose from the lake to create the sun, stars and the first people, including the first Incan Emperor Manco Capac and his sister-wife Mama Ocllo.

And the Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) is the jewel atop the crown, home to the Incan sun god Inti. So it’s a pretty damn special spot in Bolivia, with some of the most important Incan archaeological sites in South America.

The island’s main southern village, Yumani, was a charming little town inhabited by llamas, goats, alpacas and donkeys.

Without any roads or vehicles, the most predominant sound was the pitiful and rather embarrassing hee-hawing of the donkeys.

Children seemed to be the workers in the village, and wherever we went they were the industrious business owners of street stalls, restaurants and animal herding.

donkey on lake titicaca

It’s a wonderful spot to rest for a few days and catch your breath (… how ironic) before plunging back into the hectic backpacking world.

… Or you can take the three hour hike from one tip of the island to the other and catch a boat back again. And that’s exactly what my friend and I proceeded to do.

The Sacred Route of the Eternity of the Sun

It was an ambitious journey, given my pathetic attempt to scale the 200 m to Yumani. But it was irresistably beautiful. The scenery showed off the deep blue waters of the lake and the barren grassy hills of the island.

We followed the Ruta Sagrada de la Eternidad del Sol (The Sacred Route of the Eternity of the Sun) up one hill and down again. Each time I reach a peak and thought we couldn’t possible scale any higher, I was met with a more steeply inclined path ahead.

As always, it was well worth it. At the northern tip of the island, we found Chinkana, a labyrinthine Incan palace, which we were able to explore without a crowd of people intruding on our photos.

The palace was a maze, with low corridors and dead ends, but set upon a slope overlooking a beautiful turquoise bay, it was magnificent.

I was a little dismayed, to say the least, to learn we had missed our return boat by a few hours and were facing the prospect of walking back to the southern point of the island.

But after the first three steep inclinations, the going was steady and we were able to complete the journey in an hour and a half.

We celebrated with some beers overlooking the majesty of Lake Titicaca as the sun set behind the mountains beyond.

beer on isla del sol

Find more inspiration

Pretty stunning, huh? But there’s plenty more where this came from. Read up on what else there is to do in and around Lake Titicaca, including:

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