Sacred Waters: Isla Del Sol – Travel Junkie Diary
There are islands and then there are islands. Isla Del Sol (Island of the sun), located in the Southern part of Lake Titicaca, Bolivia, isn’t any ordinary island. Amongst the rocky, hilly terrain are perfectly preserved Inca ruins. It is here, according to legend, that God Viracocha, creator of the universe, emerged from the waters of Lake Titicaca and created the sun. And this is no ordinary lake – at 3,200 square miles in size and up to 1,000 feet in depth, Titicaca is one of the largest, highest and deepest lakes in the world. I took an hour-long, very calm and scenic boat trip from Copacabana on the mainland, to explore this ancient holy site of the Inca. Surrounded by the azure Lago Titicaca with the imperious peaks of the Cordillera Real rising above the shore on the mainland to the east, there is no denying the island’s great natural beauty and tranquility. Life here is very simple – no noise, no motorized traffic, no rubbish on the streets, and, wait for it, no wifi! This is a place to (literally) switch off, and breathe. And the locals preferred mode of transport? Donkeys of course! With a population of around 5,000, Isla del Sol is dotted with several villages and two small towns – Challapampa in the north and Yumani on the south end. Some people choose to do a day trip from Copacabana and take the ferry to either the north or south of the island, and walk the length of the island in either direction. If you want to really ‘escape’ and take at least a few days here, I recommend staying at one of the many ‘hospedajes’ in either of the towns. You just turn up and ask for lodgings, reservations don’t exist here! I stayed in Yumani, also the site of the island’s famous Inca Steps, which descend down to the lake. 206 stone steps (believe me – you will feel every single one of them!), built by the Incas, lead up into the town and to a sacred fountain, made up of three separate springs and are said to be the fountain of youth. If you enjoy a spot of hiking and breathtaking views, you can walk the circumference of the island in a day, and be back in time to watch the sunset over the mythical Lake. There is very much an indigenous culture that exists on the island – expect to be meeted and greeted by young children with herds of donkeys and women (or cholitas) wearing the traditional belled skirts and ‘bombin’ bowler hats. It is possible to get a map of the walking route from the ferry dock at Copacabana, but the path is very navigable. On the north end of the Island of the Sun is the town of Challapampa and a series of ancient Inca sacred sights, the highlight of which is the fascinating Chinkana (labyrinth). A massive stone complex full of mazes, it was thought to be an ancient training centre for Inca priests. A natural spring begins here, runs under the island and appears again in the sacred fountain in Yumani. Heading back to Yumani in the North, there are plenty of opportunities to take a dip in the clear blue waters, explore forgotten villages and exchange greetings with the locals. Don’t expect wild entertainment in the evenings though! The most magical thing you can do (and it’s free) is star gaze. This is some of the clearest sky in the world. As for dinner, restaurants are still a pretty new concept here, but you can’t go wrong with some of freshly caught trucha (trout) at your lodgings. Just like thousands of pilgrims flocked to the shrines and temples on this very special island years ago, the spiritual and non-spiritual are now drawn by Isla del Sol’s tranquility and unique, un-spoilt beauty. Go now, before the secret gets out…
How to get There
American Airlines flies from Dubai to La Paz (the capital of Bolivia) via London and New York. Copacabana is four hour drive from La Paz.
Sarah Freeman‘s professional background is as a Magazine Art Director, working for the last five years in Dubai on high profile women’s consumer magazines, including Good Housekeeping. Alongside her creative job, she has dedicated a lot of time to photography. Food and landscapes are subjects I am particularly drawn to, “which is why I have just spent 7 months adventuring through Central and South America, documenting every step of the way on her blog!” Find her on Instagram too Here.