After doing a daytrip to Isla del sol, the only conclusion I can come to is that it is the biggest tourist trip I've encountered in South America.
Guide books may tell you there is an English speaking guide awaiting tourists at the south end of the island, he in fact does not speak any English.
We paid for the guide because the paths over the island have check points where you must present your ticket to pass through.
By the time the tour had finished we had run out of time to walk back to the boat at the south end of the island, my suspicious mind tells me this was more than just a coincidence.
We were just about to begrudgingly start the two and a half hour walk back to the north end of the island when we were informed we had to pay the tour guide again. Apparently the first payment was for access to a small, poor excuse for a museum and the right to walk around the island.
We paid the guide and started the long walk to the north end of the island. After about an hour and a half we arrived a yet another check point only to learn we had to pay yet again to walk on the paths. No one had been informed of this prior to starting the walk and we were well past the point of no return so we paid and continued walking.
Just before reaching the village at the north end of the island we encountered yet another check point where we had to pay to enter the village.
There was no information about whether to head to the bay on the right or go over the hill to the bay on the left to catch the boat back to Copacabana. We guessed correctly and went to the left, not knowing if we would arrive in time to catch the boat, we were relieved to find it was still there and would not have to pay extortionate rates for a private charter back to Copacabana.
I must say I found the island very uninspiring. The boat was very uncomfortable and the return trip was unbelievably slow. The boat was running on one of it's two engines for over half of the journey and was running at slightly above idle. I think I could have swam faster. We were actually 15 minutes late getting back.
If knew what I was getting myself in for I would have skipped Copacabana and Isla del sol and gone straight to Puno.
Think twice before coming to Isla del sol.
This is just an one room museum but it is definitely worth a stop. There are displays of many Incan artifacts. The 5 BOB museum entrance fee also covers the Chincana ruins. Be sure to save your ticket. A guy will ask for it at Chincana (and Pilko Kaina too) or you will have to pay again. There are also bathrooms next to the museum (the last you will see for a while). They are supposed to be free but the lady that cleans them will probably charge you 1 BOB. Among other things, the room has stone boxes from Marka Pampa, an underwater site only recently discovered (1992), that were still sealed when found 8 meters down. The solid gold artifacts that were once in the museum evidently were recently (2005?) stolen.
Isla del Sol and its little sister Isla de la Luna are located in the Bolivian part of the Titikaka Lake, and you can easily reach them by boat from Copacabana. Isla del Sol is bigger and it holds a population of 3.000 native people.
Main attractions are the ¨Escalera del Inca¨and the Fountain of Youth, from which the legends says that anybody drinking its water remains forever young.
Lovely paradise in the peaceful Titikaka Lake.
In Inca legend, the sun and moon were born and walked from the Titi Khar'ka (Rock of the Puma) to light the world. It is the large red rock outcrop in the center of the picture. Take a look at my Isla del Sol local custom tips to see an alternate legend.
The Chincana ruins are characterized by Incan trapezoidal doorways and niches. They are built around a spring on the west face of a hill. The mountains in the background are in Peru. It is thought to have been a grainery for sacred maize and the home of the mamaconas (Virgins of the Sun), who took care of the shrine at the Rock of the Puma. See also a separate travelogue. The construction reminded me of parts of Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. Maybe the Inca culture spread further than we think. Within the maze there was another stone similar to Piedra Sagrada. There was also a spring whose water is supposed to give one strength and energy.
The Mesa Ceremonica is near the upper part of the Rock of the Puma (in the background of the picture) on Isla del Sol. It may have been used for animal or human sacrifices. This picture is looking north toward the Rock of the Puma. The Cara de Virachoca (Face of Virachoca) is in the center. The niches for the sun (Refugio del Sol) and moon (Refugio de la Luna) are toward the east end.
There are foot shaped prints in the trail where the sun walked on its way from the Rock of the Puma to light the world. Actually the dark colored rock in the backgound is my "new" Rock of the Puma and the footprints do come from that direction!
Along the trail from Challapampa to Chincana, you may stop Piedra Sagrada, which sits in a small field. Its use is still unknown, but it reminded me of the Intihuatana stone at Machu Picchu. You can see the snow-capped Cordillera Real and Challapampa in the background of the picture. You will have walked from there. Piedra Sagrada is about halfway on the one mile hike from Challapampa to Chincana. It is a little off the trail and seems to be in someone's backyard but the guides do stop there. Notice the difference from Apr 06 (end of "rainy" season) and Nov 04 (dry season).
Isla del Sol does not have much of archaeological heritage to boast. Despite the massive marketing campaigns, the experience on the ground proves that the myths are good to listen to but the eyes remain empty. During the “transfer” from Copacabana, the boat (or one of the boats) stops at a place where the ticket man boards. All symptoms are that this is a regional capital and one of the little museums is there. This is understandable but the fellow passengers were not let off there to take advantage of the tickets they had just bought. On arrival at the last part of call, at the northern tip of the island, there was confusion as where to go. While some people were waiting for a guide, others rushed forward and ended up at a museum gate. The semiconscious boys let them in but in a minute or two, came back to demand money because the tickets shown were for the museum in the “capital”. Well, too bad, it was not on the itinerary of the boat, so there was no way of visiting it. While the confusion lasted, the two rooms filled with mostly pottery, were breezed through. The most significant artefact, from the “Bolivian Atlantis” was right there staring at you with its golden grin. It could not produce much excitement though.
Near the southern tip of Isla del Sol are Fuente del Inca and Escalera del Inca, i.e., the Fountain of the Inca and the Stairway of the Inca. The fountain is located at the top of the stairway. It is a natural spring that the Incas and Spanish believed was a fountain of youth. It pours out in three small streams, which the Incas called...Ama sua, Ama kella, Ama llulla (Don't be lazy, Don't be a liar, Don't be a thief). The Aymara's still use this saying. The spring is also an important local water source. See also a separate travelogue.
Sun Island has its sister island: Isla de la Luna (Moon Island).
It is smaller and is located about 30 minutes away. There are no regular boats between the 2 islands, but some of the boats doing the Copacabana-Sun Island stop in Moon island.
And some organized tours do the complete islands daytrip too, ask in Copacabana... though there is really not much to see there, no hostels, so bring the tent if you plan to stay overnight!
This natural water source in the middle of the Inca Stairs was belived to be the Fountain of Youth by early Spaniards arrived here. I didn't really drink its waters, but strategically located in the middle of and endless stair, it was indeed very refreshing and pleasant.
This is one of the main attractions in Yumani. Is the place where the boat makes its south stop, and you gotta climb it to get to the village, so you will "suffer" its more than 200 steps. It's located in an idillic green valley though, very pleasant to just sit and rest.
Pilko Kaina is a small Inca ruin at the southeastern tip of Isla del Sol. It was built by Tupac Yupanqui but is now missing its top two levels. It too is characterized by trapezoidal doors and niches. Its original purpose is still unknown but, given its location, it may have been the gateway to the island. It is most easily accessible by boat. Your ticket from the museum in Challapampa will also be good here.
As you arrive to the port city of Copacabana take a ferry to the island of Isla del Sol. After you arrive to the island breath in deeeply and try to climb the village and huts on the top of the island where you can spend a night in pretty spartan conditions.
If you manage to get there you will have a chance for a magnificent views of the Lake Titicaca and surrounding mountains of both Bolivia and Peru.