One of the largest, highest, deepest lakes in the world, Lake Titicaca straddles the border of Peru and Bolivia and both sides of the lake attract visitors in the thousands each month. It’s a ‘must do’ on any South America itinerary and is not only a spectacular sight (those sunsets!) but certain activities and islands on the lake are only accessible from one country or the other. So when time is tight and you can only fit in a visit to either Peru or Bolivia, which do you pick? As someone fortunate enough to have the time to visit Lake Titicaca from both sides, I’m going to break it down for you.
Copacabana – Bolivia:
In Bolivia you have the lake side town of Copacabana. It’s slow paced and chill, where Bolivian women fry lake trout while dressed in petticoats and bowler hats. It has a distinctive ‘backpacker vibe’ with plenty of hostels and cheap eats for anyone on a budget. There aren’t any organised tours to get out on the lake like there are on the Peruvian side, so spending time at Lake Titicaca is all about making your own entertainment. I highly recommend climbing Cerro Calvario for an incredible view (just a half hour climb but a challenge at high altitude).
Isla del sol:
Isla del sol is an island on Lake Titicaca with gorgeous hiking trails. It’s rustic and there are beaches, so a very cool getaway from the main hub. Take the 8.30am ferry from the main port at Copacabana – trip takes two hours.
Puno – Peru:
The city of Puno is big and ugly, but more geared towards package tourism, so if you want to take an organised and easy tour of Lake Titicaca, then Puno’s for you. Restaurant options and quality are greatly superior to the Bolivian side, and there are luxury accommodation on this side that’s lacking on the Bolivian side. On the Peruvian side of the lake you can visit the floating Uros Islands through a tour. These are islands made of dried totora reeds strong enough to support homes and spongy to walk on. While the islands themselves are fascinating to see, the whole tour feels commercialised with the island communities dressing in traditional clothing solely for the benefit of tourist dollars.
If you sign up for a tour of the floating Uros Islands then a trip to Taquile Island will be included and a much more enjoyable venture than Uros. The textile crafts produced by the 2000 island inhabitants are unique, but the views from Taquile alone are worth the trip.
I found costs on both side of the lake to be pretty even for food, accommodation and activities (spending about US$40 a day for all), but you should take into account visa costs of crossing the border.
Catching the bus between Copacabana and Puno:
Want to visit cross the border from Peru into Bolivia and see both sides of Lake Titicaca? Buy a bus ticket at a local travel agent in either town (book a day in advance). The bus will stop at the border to let you off. Just get your passport exit stamp from the country you’ve just come from then walk the hundred metres or so to the entry country’s immigration office. Then you fill out the form the immigration officials are handing out with your information, get your passport entry stamped and pay any visa fees (depending on your nationality). Your bus will have driven across the border and be waiting for you to hop back into your seat. Easy peasy. Just remember to memorise the colour and logo of your bus, because there are usually several fairly similar looking bus companies doing the same route.
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