Isla del Sol, Bolivia’s “Island of the Sun” was one of our most unexpected surprises during our four-month Andes adventure. Venturing to Isla del Sol in the middle of Lake Titicaca was a complete afterthought. We had initially not planned to stop by the secluded island at all. Yet as we continued our southbound journey towards the Bolivia border, northbound travelers we crossed paths with all unanimously recommended a stay on Isla del Sol, Bolivia.
We took notice. Ultimately we were so thankful to have heeded their advice and we’re now here to continue passing along this recommendation.
Roaming around Isla del Sol turned out to be one of our favorite experiences in Bolivia. Yet it was not without its share of unexpected setbacks, such as the entire middle and northern part of the island being closed to tourism due to an ongoing conflict. Despite the majority of the island being cordoned off, we still found it to be totally worth staying for a night, rather than a day trip. In this post we’ll elaborate on our opinion of why to stay the night, explain about this North vs South island dispute, and give you some Isla del Sol travel tips to help plan your island getaway.
What’s So Great About Isla del Sol Bolivia?
There’s just something about Isla del Sol. This island is a tranquil little escape from the hustle and bustle of South America. Isla del Sol itself boasts a stunning landscape that juts up in dramatic fashion out from Lake Titicaca.
Typical of island life, everything seems laidback here and moves at a delightfully slower pace. Add to that some great hiking trails, incredible lookout points, Incan ruins, free-roaming livestock, interesting places to stay, a hidden “gourmet” restaurant, and loads of local culture & tradition. This combination makes for a fascinating and unique place in the world.
If that all weren’t enough, Lake Titicaca is considered to be the highest navigable lake in the entire world. It’s also South America’s largest lake. And Isla del Sol is the biggest island within this enormous high altitude lake. That’s a lot of superlatives for one place!
Isla del Sol is also rooted in Incan history. The Incas believed that Isla del Sol was the birthplace of the Sun God. After spending a few days here you’ll certainly see where the island has gotten it’s name from. At about 4,000 meters in altitude (nearly 2.5 miles high), the sun shines quite intensely. You’ll catch rays in all directions too as the sun reflects upwards from the surrounding lake. Any sun worshipers out there will surely appreciate this affect, but everyone else will want to be sure to cover up or face getting burned.
This video we shot should help to give you some idea of what makes Isla del Sol special, but really it doesn’t even begin to do the island justice. Isla del Sol is one of those places that needs to be experienced in person. Although that’s just our opinion, and I don’t want to overhype the island. We say just head over to this mystical island and decide for yourself.
6 Reasons Why To Stay Overnight on Isla Del Sol
1) To See The Sunset
This island is named after the sun and it’s quite the spectacle to watch that big orange ball descend down into Lake Titicaca. But although the sunset occurs in the west, there are arguably even better views to the east. On clear days, the late afternoon sun beams down and illuminates the Cordillera Real mountains (part of the Andes) on the mainland, which are often not visible from Isla del Sol in the morning. But in the late afternoon, they begin to emerge and glow. When it nears sunset time, you may find it difficult to decide which direction to gaze.
Whichever way you choose, there are many beautiful places all across the island to watch the sunset. We recommend anywhere perched atop the island’s ridge. There are some great miradors (look-out points) to take in the sunset. Pack a Paceña (beer) from any of the little shops to truly unwind. Or there are also a handful of westward-facing restaurants atop the ridge line where you can watch the “show” while eating dinner or sipping a bottle of Bolivian wine.
The last Isla del Sol to Copacabana ferry departs the island at 4:00 pm, so the only way you’ll be able to catch the sunset here is to stay overnight. Sunset time on Isla del Sol are between 6:00 and 7:15 pm, depending on the time of year. You can check the exact sunset time by date here.
2) More Time To Experience Isla del Sol …Slowly
You can certainly visit most of Isla del Sol’s highlights on a day trip, particularly if only visiting the South portion of the island. But still, you’ll be rushing around Isla del Sol while huffing and puffing your way across the island’s often-steep, high altitude terrain.
Taking a day trip to Isla del Sol will give you about 5 hours total to explore the island and be back to the ferry docks in time for your afternoon departure. You can easily cover most of the southern part of the island in that amount of time. But if you’re planning to get your fill of hiking, you’ll need to move quickly, which goes entirely against what makes this island so special.
You likely won’t have time to take a leisurely long lunch. You may not have a moment to stop and practice your Spanish by having a chat with a friendly local. You won’t have time to explore deeper and get to know the island. Isla del Sol just isn’t the type of place you want to rush through. But perhaps most importantly, you simply won’t have time to truly relax during a day trip, which brings me to our next point.
3) Unplug & Unwind
There are no cars on Isla del Sol. You walk to get wherever you are going. Wifi is a rarity. We were unable to get a data signal on our mobile phone. And it was great!
Sometimes it’s nice to escape from modern conveniences. Isla del Sol provides the perfect environment for a digital detox. This island is such a tranquil place to get away from everything, leaving all your worries behind.
It’s not possible to fully experience the serenity of this special place during a rushed day trip to Isla del Sol. You must stay for a night (or two) to really slip away into relaxation mode. Bring a book, disconnect, and drift away into this peaceful island paradise.
4) Come For the Sun, Stay For the Stars
On a clear night, the skies above Isla del Sol tend to light up. There are no big street lamps here and hence there is virtually no light pollution way out here in the middle of Lake Titicaca. As a result, you may be treated to an astrological performance in the form of stars, planets, and maybe even a shooting star or two. Enjoy!
5) Get A Room With A View
Many of the Isla del Sol hotels and hostels are fairly basic but there is just something special about sleeping on this serene island. Maybe it was experiencing the simple way of life. The dogs, donkeys, and llamas that wandered around outside our window always put smiles on our faces.
Yet perhaps it was the view you wake up to in the morning that really wins people over. Most hotels and hostels on Isla del Sol are positioned to offer sweeping vistas of Lake Titicaca and the island itself.
6) Enjoy The Island To Yourself
It seems that many people visit Isla del Sol as part of a day trip from Copacabana. As such, there’s a noticeable swell of visitors between 10:30 and 4:00. But when trekking around the island in the morning and late afternoon hours, you may feel like you’re the only person around. The serenity is a beautiful thing.
Know About The North vs South Conflict on Isla del Sol
During our time of visit to Isla del Sol in early April 2017, there was a major conflict between the Northern and Southern portions of the island. As a result, the entire North (and middle) portion of the island was completely closed to tourism. Ferries were not proceeding on their normal routes to the Northern part of Isla del Sol because of this conflict. There was absolutely no way to reach the Northern communities of Cha’llapampa or Cha’lla.
With no ferries running to the North, we attempted to trek there through the middle of Isla del Sol. We were blocked by locals who would not allow us pass. It was a peaceful and non-threatening exchange, but they were very firm in not letting us to go through.
Below is an Isla del Sol map showing approximately where the cut-off point is (indicated in red) and the furthest point North you’re permitted to hike (the black X).
So what is this North vs. South conflict all about? We’re not entirely sure as we have heard many different rumors about the cause of this conflict. Someone on the island had explained to us that it had something to do with tourism development occurring too close to some sacred Incan ruins which caused the dispute. Other hearsay was that the North was getting all the tourism money and the center wasn’t getting any, so they decided to set fire to the Northern part of the island – yikes! According to this rumor, it was the southern part of the island that cordoned off the remainder of the island until those who set the fires pay for the damages.
We were unable to validate whether any of this hearsay is true or not, but we can verify that there indeed is an ongoing conflict. At the time of writing this article (May 2017), we can also confirm that the North is, in fact, still closed. Apparently this could remain for years to come. We will update this post if/when we hear the North is open to tourism again. But until then, we recommend not to make any plans or reservations to visit the Northern portion of Isla del Sol.
So is Isla del Sol worth it, being confined to the Southern part of the island? Given the conflict, we were only able to explore around Yumani (South part of the island) and we still wholehearted feel that it is worth visiting. It’s absolutely beautiful and well worth an entire day and night.
If You Go to Isla del Sol Bolivia: Travel Tips
How To Get To Isla del Sol Bolivia
The only way to get to this island is by boat. The most common and easiest way to get to Isla del Sol is by ferry between Copacabana and Isla del Sol twice each day. Hence, you must first make your way to Copacabana on mainland Bolivia. For Northbound travelers, there are fairly frequent buses from La Paz to Copacabana. Southbound travelers can get to Copacabana by bus from Puno, Peru.
From Copacabana to Isla del Sol It’s only a 16-kilometer (10-mile ferry trip) but the boats are very slow so travel time on the ferry takes about two hours. The final half hour of the ferry to Isla del Sol is the most scenic, as you near the island and maneuver through some rock formations. Pro tip: Snag a seat on the port (left-hand) side of the boat for the best views as you get close to Isla del Sol.
Copacabana to Isla del Sol ferry times are 8:30 am and 1:30pm. Arrive to the docks about a half hour before the scheduled departure. The ferry ride costs 20 Bolivianos (~$3) each way. To ensure securing a seat, do buy a ticket in advance from one of the many travel agencies in Copacabana. But you may be fine simply turning up to the boat docks and buying a ticket there too. It’s the same price either way, so we recommend securing a ticket in advance just in case. It seems you can only purchase a one-way ferry ticket to Isla del Sol, so buy your return ticket to Copacabana once you arrive on the island.
Alternative route from Yampupata to Isla del Sol: You can hire a taxi or take a bus from Copacabana to Yampupata, which is closer to Isla del Sol. From Yampupata, you can hire a rowboat or motorboat to take you across to Isla del Sol. Ultimately this route will likely cost more, take longer, and involves a transfer at Yampupata.
Puno to Isla del Sol by boat: For those, like us, coming into Bolivia from Peru, it would seem logical on a map to be able to travel from Puno to Isla del Sol by boat. Unfortunately, such a route does not exist across Lake Titicaca. To get from Puno to Isla del Sol, you must first take a bus across the border to Copacabana, and then transfer to the morning or afternoon ferry to Isla del Sol.
Stay A Night Before or After In Copacabana So You Can Drop Your Bags
While Copacabana tends not to be a highlight on any Bolivia itinerary, we found it to be pleasant enough and certainly worth exploring for an afternoon. But Copacabana is an even more sensible stop simply for logistical reasons.
You must understand that once on Isla del Sol, most of the hotels are way up atop the island. The shortness of breathe of the 4,000-meter altitude adds to the challenge. You do NOT want to schlep all of your heavy gear up this steep grade with you. Thankfully most hotels in Copacabana will allow you to leave your luggage there if you are staying with them before or after your overnight trip to Isla del Sol.
So just pack a small overnight bag that contains the essentials. (More on what to pack, later in this post). Leave everything else in Copacabana, where you must return to anyways for your onward travel. Most hotels and hostels in Copacabana have complimentary left luggage storage specifically for this reason.
In Copacabana, we can personally recommend Hotel Wendy Mar which had very secure luggage storage. But not only that, it has what we believe is the best deal in town! They offer nice, big rooms that start at just $24 / night and even includes a good hot breakfast. When you get there, ask for a room on one of the higher floors and you’ll enjoy views of Lake Titicaca!
Top Things To Do On Isla del Sol Bolivia
Given the aforementioned conflict on the island, we were only able to explore the southern portion of Isla del Sol. Hence, the following recommendations of things to do on Isla del Sol are exclusively confined to the South.
1) Go Hiking:
Isla del Sol offers some great trekking and the views are phenomenal. Often times we felt like we were on a Greek island in the Mediterranean. The terrain, the blue waters, and the donkeys all added to this feeling.
Despite only being able to trek the southern part of Isla del Sol, there’s still about 10 kilometers of trails here that you can hike along. This 7-kilometer route will bring you to the South island’s best miradors. This circuit will likely take about three-four hours to complete if you account for some time to explore the ruins and pause to enjoy the miradors.
Note: At the Southern mirador, we saw many trekkers who incorrectly assumed this point was the end of the trail. Most people turn around. But you can most definitely continue on further down a series of less-defined trails. This is also one of the routes to access the Pilko Kaina ruins.
2) See the Pilko Kaina Ruins
These ancient Incan ruins may pale in comparison to some of the larger sites in South America. Yet the Pilko Kaina ruins make a nice diversion to poke into while already trekking around the southern tip of Isla del Sol.
Note: There is no admission fee for the ruins itself, but do be sure that you bring your entrance ticket from when you first arrived to the island .There is a guy manning Pilko Kaina that will ask to see that ticket, or else you’ll have to buy a new one.
3) Roam Around Yumani
Yumani is the main community in the southern part of Isla del Sol. You’ll see it right up the steep hill from the ferry docks. Yumani is where most of the locals live. It’s also where most of the restaurants and hostels are. If staying overnight, you’ll likely be sleeping somewhere in Yumani.
Be sure to take some time to get a little lost by wandering through the tiny island town.Visit some of the livestock. Have a chat with a local. We found most people here to be very friendly. Check out the church. Stop into a cafe and quench your thirst with a beverage.
4) Climb the Inca Stairs
There are two different ways to get from the ferry dock to Yumani: the donkey trail and the escalara de Inca (Incan stairs). We recommend the latter. This ancient stairway to Yumani ascends the island alongside gardens and a trickling fountain. Just look for the Sun God to find your way.
This may be the best thing to do in Isla del Sol. No further explanation necessary.
Where To Eat: Isla del Sol Restaurants
Restaurants with a View
There are a handful of restaurants and cafes scattered around the Yumani settlement and beyond. Most of these restaurants tended to have similar menus with common set menus being pollo a la plancha and fresh lake trout. Any of the meals are decent, but none are particularly noteworthy. The views on the other hand, are so awesome that you won’t even care what’s on your plate.
We recommend going to whatever place has an open table and a great view. You’ll find a string of restaurants lining the ridge on the trail just a little bit further uphill from the main Yumani community. All of the restaurants have indoor seating, but on a nice day in Isla del Sol, you’ve gotta dine al fresco!
Best in Bolivia: You Must Eat At Las Velas
One restaurant that we can specifically recommend on Isla del Sol is Las Velas. The experience of having dinner here is actually one more reason to stay overnight on Isla de Sol. Las Velas is completely hidden, located down a path that’s away from everything else. That’s part of what makes it special. There is no electricity here so that makes cooking techniques interesting. The kitchen is equipped with a wood burning oven and some propane-fueled devices. The name, Las Velas, appropriately translates to “the candles,” because you’ll be most definitely dining by candlelight here.
Because of the lack of electricity to cook your meal, be prepared to stick around for a while. Our meal took over an hour and a half to prepare. Also, you should know that Las Velas menu prices were nearly double what we found throughout the rest of the island. You are paying for quality here. Our fresh trout in a wine sauce came to 50 bolivianos. And while it may be pricey by Bolivian standards, this delicious $7 gourmet meal is an absolutely steal by international standards.
We can attest that a meal at Las Velas is worth both the wait and the price. It turned out to be our favorite meal in all of Bolivia.
To find Las Velas, look for some signs in Yumani that point you in the right direction. Las Velas is just off the trail that leads to the southern mirador.
Where To Stay: Isla del Sol Hostels & Hotels
There is a decent amount of basic accommodation scattered throughout Yumani, towards the upper reaches. While it is very likely that you can just show up to Isla del Sol and find a place, we suggest to book in advance. Isla del Sol hostels tend to vary in quality and the nicer ones that are listed online, do tend to get booked. It’s also much more convenient to already have a place reserved so you can drop your day pack and start exploring, rather than spending your time on the island locating and comparing hostels.
For value, location, and great views, we suggest Hostal del Sol, with rooms starting at $29 USD including a good breakfast. We personally stayed there and can tell you it was fairly basic, yet very comfortable, had hot water showers, electricity, a warm & comfy bed, nice views, and we would definitely recommend. We really enjoyed staying here amongst the llamas and donkeys that wander the property. You can find the best rates online for Hostal del Sol on hostelworld.com.
What To Pack For Isla del Sol
Again, we recommend to leave your main pack at a hostel or hotel in Copacabana and just bring an overnight bag with you to the island. Here’s are some suggestions on what to put in that bag:
- One change of clothes
- A warm jacket – It gets chilly at night
- Sunscreen – Seriously, don’t forget the sunscreen or else you will get burned. Amazon has great prices on BananaBoat, so stock up before your trip to Bolivia. Be sure to pack some lip balm with SPF too.
- Small flashlight – Unless there’s a bright full moon, it’s going to be super dark and you won’t be able to find your way back to your accommodation after dinner. Don’t forget to pack a flashlight. We use this Mini LED Flashlight, which we love as we found to be the most powerful flashlight for its small size and price.
- Toiletries – Pack whatever you need for a night.
- Bottled water – Stay hydrated.
- Camera / smartphone – Isla del Sol is a photographer’s paradise. You’ll certainly find some Instagramable shots.
- Poncho or rain gear
- Cash money – There is no ATM on the island and we didn’t see anywhere accepting credit card, so it’s important to stock up on cash before you arrive. We recommend to bring more cash than you are budgeting for. Prices are slightly higher here than on mainland, you may indulge in a few extra beers, and you’ll want to have some spare cash just in case. There are ATMs in Copacabana, so make a withdrawal before you catch the ferry. You can easily find an ATM on Av 6 de Agosto. On Isla del Sol, there are a few shops with currency exchange (casas de cambios), but you’ll like get a better rate on the mainland.
- Maybe a towel – The hostel we recommend, Hostal del Sol, does provide towels. But not all hostels on the island do, so if you’re not staying there, you may want to bring a towel to dry off after showering.
- Maybe a bathing suit – I can’t imagine going swimming in the frigid waters of Lake Titicaca, but some people do. If you like cold water, pack your swim suit.
Find more packing recommendations over at our: Ultimate Packing Checklist.
Roaming Around Isla del Sol Bolivia
We hope this Isla del Sol travel guide and blog post has helped a little to plan your trip. If you go, we really hope you enjoy your time on this mystical islands as much as we did.
Have you roamed around Isla del Sol? Let us know in the comments how your experience was. Also, we’re happy to answer any questions you might have about Bolivia’s Island of the Sun, so feel free to ask! Happy travels! 🙂