The other day, a friend asked me what is my favorite city in the world. This is indeed a hard question to answer, as there are many. People expect you to reply with something like Paris, the city of Love, or perhaps Rome, the Eternal City…well, these are the obvious answers, so he got surprised when I started my list with Copacabana in Bolivia.
I know most people never heard of Copacabana before and others might mistake it for the Copacabana neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro, so let me introduce the Bolivian Copacabana a little.
Copacabana is a small town located by the lake Titicaca and is the most important Bolivian city in the region. The city is known for being the starting point of any tour to the Isla del Sol, a famous island considered sacred by the Inca people, I will explain more about this later on in the text.
Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Copacabana is located at 3900 meters above sea level. So bear this in mind when planning your trip and we prepare to not feel your best, let’s say.
Visiting Copacabana, Bolivia: What to do in Copacabana, Bolivia
I started feeling altitude sickness as soon as I left Arequipa on my way to Puno (my first stop at high altitude) and it hit me hard right the way. At the bus stop in the city of Juliaca where we leave the bus behind and take the van to the city of Puno, I could already feel I was not ok.
Headaches, nausea, shortness of breathe and dizziness are all part of the package. Little can be done to make you feel better, except wait for your body to get used to it…and sip some Coca and Muña tea here and there, of course.
Copacabana was my next destination after Puno, and after spending three days acclimatizing to Puno, I started to feel better. So when I arrived in Copacabana, I was already feeling ok, for a short period of time, as things got worst when I got to La Paz.
Check this post if you want some tips on avoiding Altitude Sickness.
How to get to Copacabana
The best decision I made as they gave me full support during the whole trip. In these countries, especially in these smaller non-so-touristy cities, most people don’t speak English, so it is great to have a crew of local people who are able to convey the stories, costumes, and history of their country and people in a language you can understand.
Another good point is its flexibility. I was supposed to stay fewer days in Puno before heading to Copacabana, however, due to the Altitude Sickness, I was forced to spend more days resting and acclimatizing there, which compromised my trip to Copacabana and forced me to change its date, which was done without a problem, and took me less than 5 minutes.
If you prefer to do everything on your own, you do have the public bus option but bear in mind that their conditions might not be the best, they are very simple, nothing fancy, and when I say fancy I mean, don’t expect comfortable seats.
Honestly, I don’t know about the public bus timetable, price, or where you buy the tickets, but the buses stop in a very central area of Copacabana.
What to see in Copacabana
As I said, Copacabana is a small town, the main area, the most touristy area, is just six blocks long and can be easily visited in one day. However, the vibe of the city is so good it makes you feel like staying more.
It is super chill during the day, but at night, the pubs at the Titicaca lake shore come alive. They offer good food and drinks, they are a bit more expensive than the restaurants and pubs in other points of the town, but you pay for the view, and it is worth it, trust me.
The highlight of the city is indeed the beautiful view of Titicaca lake, for those who love taking photos, choose a spot and enjoy their time, as the Titicaca gives you beautiful shots all day long.
Unfortunately swimming in the lake is no recommend if not prohibited. It is tempting indeed, especially looking at the lake from a distance, but you won’t see a soul swimming there. Plus, if you took your time to get close enough, you will notice that sadly, it is not the cleanest lake in the world.
The number of boats and the little awareness of the people contributed to the pollution in the lake bank. Far from the town, on other parts of the river, on the other hand, plenty of fish swim around, especially the trouts, one of the favorites in the local diet.
During your stay in Copacabana, you will notice that it is easy to find in the restaurants of the town, dishes that contain fresh trout from the Titicaca.
Isla del Sol tour
On one of the piers of Titicaca lake, it is possible to take the tour boat to Isla del Sol. If you are traveling with Peru Hop, they have their own boat to take you there, you just need to book the tour during your bus trip on your way to Copacabana with the Bolivia Hop guide and they will give you all the information needed to take the tour.
The tour costs $10 and leaves Copacabana daily at 13:00 (usually right after your arrival in Copacabana) and the tour takes around 4 hours.
Isla del Sol is considered sacred by the Incas, as accordingly to their traditions, the Sun god (Inti), the most important Inca god, lived on the island and revealed himself to Manco Capac e Mama Ocllo, inspiring them to head north and unite the tribes, creating the Inca Empire.
Cerro El Calvario
If you are looking for a beautiful view of the city of Copacabana, this is the place to go. Cerro El Calvario is a hill located close to the arrival point in Copacabana (well, the town is small, so everything is indeed nearby).
Although not well signaled, the starting point to the Cerro El Calvario is easy to find, however, bear in mind that due to the altitude, it might be a difficult trail especially if you didn’t acclimatize. I suggest to don’t ascend the hill on your first day in the city, instead, wait until you feel better. Shortness of breath is real and you will definitely feel uncomfortable doing any exercise or effort.
On the top of the hill, you will find a line of monuments representing the via-crúcis or via sacra. There are 14 monuments each of them representing one of the scenes of Christ’s crucifixion, death, and resurrection.
The Cerro El Calvario is very often visited by Bolivians for religious reasons. But it is definitely not a religious spot only, as the beautiful view attracts lots of tourists.
The way to the top is not easy, it takes around 30 to 40 minutes and the first part of the climb is paved with small rocks, while the second part is a trail.
Basilica of Our Lady of Copacabana
Our Lady of Copacabana is the patron saint of Bolivia, and a big Basilia was erected in honor of her in the city center of Copacabana.
It was built in the 16th century and its size is impressive. The Basilica is a massive white building with a big courtyard located near the Plaza de Armas of Copacabana.
Inside you will find a beautiful well-decored altar and a 4-foot-tall statue of the Our Lady of Copacabana. The statue used to be decored with gold and silver adorns, but unfortunately, they were stolen in 2013 alongside a statue of baby Jesus. A curiosity about the statue of Our Lady of Copacabana is that a replica of the Virgin of Copacabana was brought to Rio de Janeiro, Brasil, and placed in a small chapel in the neighborhood known today as Copacabana, and that was how this famous neighborhood received its name.