When I was planning my 4,5 week trip around Peru, Chile and Bolivia, I knew I wanted to visit Lake Titicaca. It was high on my list of 7 reasons to visit South America, but I didn’t have my mind set on which side to visit. Would I visit the Peruvian or Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca? It turned out I managed to visit both the Peruvian ad the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca. This is my story how I visited both sides of Lake Titicaca in Bolivia and Peru!
The Lake Titicaca is known as the highest navigable lake in the world. At an altitude of 3,812 m /12,507 ft. it sure is located high in the Andes. The lake measures 190 km in length, 80 km in width and is maximum 284 m deep. This makes it the biggest lake in South America.
But these are just numbers of modern day. The lake is one of the oldest ancient lakes on the planet and many cultures originated at the shores of lake. Local people find deep spiritual meaning in Lake Titicaca, both in Peru and Bolivia.
Bolivian Side of Lake Titicaca
After a very short stay in La Paz, where I took the cable cart around town, I went to the bus station to catch a bus to the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca. There are options for local transport but as I was still not 100% well, so I took a tourist bus. I paid 30 BOB for the bus from La Paz to Copacabana, on the shores of the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca.
After a nice 5h bus ride, we were greeted by the first views of Lake Titicaca. Glistering blue water in the fierce burning sun. Our bus was transported over the water and we took a smaller boat across the strait. An hour later, we arrived in tourist town Copacabana. By now, I felt giddy and excited. In my head the tune of “Copa-copa-cabaaaaannaaaa” and a smile on my face.
What to do in Copacabana?
Copacabana on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca is a real tourist town. It has some indigenous people but most people are there for the tourists and the tours. Some people hate it, but I loved it. I installed myself on a rooftop terrace, overlooking the lake. Ate a sandwich, had a drink (or two) and just dreamed away.
I strolled around town, looking for the post office, and found the main square with the church of Copacabana. As you might know by now, I love visiting churches when I travel, so I was pleasantly surprised with this colourful stunner of a church. I was a little late, the ceremony for the blessing of the vehicles has just finished, so many cars drove off with colourful flowers to their grill.
Isla del Sol
But the main reason people go to Copacabana on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca is to visit Isla del Sol. Only an 1 hour boat ride from Copacabana, this is the must do when you visit the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca.
Many people take a boat to the north side of the Island of the Sun and then either hike to the south side of Isla del Sol, or take a boat there. You can visit the Inca ruins, hike and stay overnight.
For more stories on hiking Isla del Sol, check the blog of Mitali over at Ecophiles who wrote about hiking the sacred Isla del Sol, and Bryony from Travelsandmore who wrote about the Island Isla del Sol.
Peruvian Side of Lake Titicaca
I only had little time to visit Lake Titicaca and didn’t dare to hike anymore after my adventure in the Colca Canyon. Therefore I headed back to Peru again. I found a local tourist agency that included a tour to the Uros Islands from Puno with their bus journey across the border. This would be an excellent way to visit both sides of Lake Titicaca and I didn’t have to choose between the Bolivian or Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca.
Puno is a huge city, nested on the banks of Lake Titicaca on the Peruvian side and capital of the Puno region. I didn’t have much time to explore the city because I arrived at the bus station of Puno and hopped straight into my transport to the harbour to visit the Uros Islands. After I returned, I did walk into town to get some food and had the best tacos of my life!
But first it was time to visit the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca. It was 4 o’clock and the boat was already waiting for me. In hindsight, I wouldn’t recommend this tour, because it gets dark (and cold!) rather quickly from 5.30 pm and you only have very little time to visit the islands. But we set out while it was still light and we meandered across the delta of reed and water, leaving Puno behind.
We visited a family on one of the reed islands. Walking on the floating islands was the weirdest feeling I ever had! The island was bouncing up and down while I was ankle deep into the reed. I know I am a bit heavy, but I prayed the reed would hold me!
The family explained how the reed islands and houses are built and maintained. After this we took a quick ride around in their swan like reed boat. Once we returned they offered us all kinds of things for sale.
Are the Uros Islands a tourist trap?
I can only answer this question with: YES! Should you ignore them because of it? I’m not sure. It was an unique experience to walk on the islands. To see the small houses and see what the Uros people can build with the reed. Yes, it was very touristic, the people didn’t feel genuine and really dressed up to look authentic. They were all smiles and giggles, but as soon as I said I didn’t have enough money to buy anything, they turned their back on me and walked away. But I can’t blame them.
I did have fun getting a special stamp for my passport on one of the other floating reed islands. We visited a bar but we didn’t have enough time to explore more. It was getting dark and really cold, so we returned to Puno.
There are other islands out there, like Amantani and Tequile. You can even stay the night at a host family and this sounds like a more real experience. I have heard great things about that, read this funny story by Cassie about meeting her Amantani Mama.
How to travel from Bolivia to Peru via Lake Titicaca?
I didn’t feel like too much hassle and took a tourist bus across the border. We set out from Copacabana in a luxury tour bus and drove for 1 hour on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca. We disembarked at the border, got in line and got our passports stamped.
Then, we walked a few meters, through a gate and got in line at the Peruvian border control. Another set of stamps and we waited outside for all the people on the bus to get through customs. We all got back on the bus and “welcome to Peru“. Now the bus drove alongside the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca. Our journey ended in Puno after roughly 3.5 hours (waiting at the border included). I paid 25 BOB for the bus ride.
Visit the Peruvian or Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca?
I wanted to visit Lake Titicaca and I did. I managed to visit Copacabana on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca and Puno on the Peruvian side. So which one did I prefer? Which one should you choose?
Costs to visit Lake Titicaca
For me, as a Dutch citizen, I only require a visa to visit Bolivia and Peru. The visa is free for Dutchies, so this wasn’t a deciding factor for me. However, American citizens pay a hefty visa fee to enter Bolivia, ($135) so this might be a deal breaker if you’re traveling through South America on a budget. If you plan on visiting Bolivia regardless of the visa costs (and you should!! You do not want to miss the Salar the Uyuni), the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca should definitely be on your itinerary.
Things to do
Bolivia has Copacabana and Isla del Sol, Peru has Puno and the Uros Islands and other island communities. How to choose?
Hiking on Lake Titicaca
If you like hiking, then Isla del Sol on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca is a no brainer for you. Go to Bolivia, go to Copacabana and embark on a boat to Isla del Sol. Hike from north to south and stay overnight on the island.
Relaxing at Lake Titicaca
If you like lazy cocktail time, hippie vibes, relaxing in the sun and just chillin’ away, then Copacabana is a good fit for you! Not as modern and hip as its Brazilian sister, Copacabana in Bolivia is still a great place to hang out, recharge your batteries and soak up some warmth and sunshine while enjoying the views of the lake.
Have little time to visit Lake Titicaca?
If you have little time, visiting the floating islands of the Uros people from Puno on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca might be a good fit for you. Tours set out and return under 3 hours and you get a feel of the culture and the tradition of the reed islands.
Conclusion on both sides of Lake Titicaca
As you might have noticed, I think the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca has more to offer for the person who travels to South America. I enjoyed the laid back atmosphere and the sun and I loved Isla del Sol. I didn’t hike it but I’m 100% convinced it will be an unique experience.
However, I was very happy to also be able to visit Lake Titicaca from the Peruvian side. It was fun to see the reed islands and meet some Uros people. This way, I got to form my own opinion about how much of a tourist trap the place is (very!) and got that cool stamp in my passport. I didn’t like the shortness of the tour and the way the people presented their selves, but I did meet some amazing people and had fun! What more do you want?
Are you travelling to Lake Titicaca soon? Will you visit the Bolivian or Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca? Did you travel to Lake Titicaca and only visited one side? Why did you choose one over the other? I’d love to hear your experiences!