An excursion on Lake Titicaca becomes a memorable highlight of every visit to the Andes. Lake Titicaca is nothing short of spectacular. The highest (3,810 m) navigable body of water in the world is located on the Bolivian altiplano and nestled between the two cordilleras of the Andes. The lake is approximately 175 km in length and 75 km wide. At its deepest point, the water is 283 m. Technically, the lake is divided into two sections; the largest part is called Chuchito and the smaller portion HuayÃ±amarka. Considered to be sacred by the Incas, Lake Titicacaâ€™s islands and shoreline are dotted with significant archeological ruins.
In terms of routes, there are two primary choices. First, outbound travelers can board a vessel at Huatajata or Copacabana, visit the Islas del Sol y Luna, and then embark for Puno, Peru. Tourists remaining in Bolivia can take a round trip to the islands and then return to Huatajata or Copacabana.
Major tour agencies such as Transturin and Crillon provide hydrofoil, catamaran, and cruise ship services on the Lake. The packages offered by these agencies include ground transportation from La Paz, an overnight stay in one of the areas finer hotels, and lake transportation of your choice. Both Crillon and Magri Turismo offer overnight stays at the ecolodges on the Isla del Sol, the only type of accommodation on the islands with electricity, hot water, and a proper restaurants.
On through trips to Peru, the boats usually stop at the Isla del Sol for a lunch break. On round trips, the stop at the Isla del Sol is substantially longer, enough time for short hike. Most excursions do not include the Isla de la Luna, so if you are interested in that island, make clear your intentions at the time you book the tour.
For independent travelers, it is possible to rent a lancha, a small passenger boat in Copacabana. Rates are by the hour or day. This is the most economical way to see various sites around the lake. Through negotiations with the captain, visitors can customize their excursion to fit their individual needs.
Huatajata is an hour and a half from La Paz. To Copacabana, the trip takes approximately two and a half hours.
Travel Tips: Booking a lancha. While the lanchas are safe and comfortable vessels for the most part, they are also painfully slow. Travel time between Copacabana and the islands is approximately an hour on a hydrofoil or catamaran but more than double that on even the fastest lancha. To reduce travel time, some captains will offer to use two engines instead of one, at nearly double the price. Another problem with the lanchas, gas fumes and lack of dependability. The upside of course is the reasonable price and the advantage of having exclusive control over the boat-
Hiking. Once boats arrive at the Isla del Sol, there is a long (one hour) and steep (300 m) climb to the nearest ruins, cultural complexes, restaurants, and accommodations. Hiking at these altitudes is strenuous. Travelers must be in good health and in good shape.
Facilities. There are no facilities at the Isla de la Luna, a half hour boat ride from the Isla del Sol. Absolutely no potable water, no food, and no lodging! Backpackers can camp almost anywhere as long as they keep their distance from the few private properties on the island. After arriving at a primitive docking, passengers make a short, five-minute, but very steep walk to the Temple of the Virgins, the only significant pre-Colombian ruins on the island. The temple, also called Acllahuasi, IÃ±ak Uyu, and Templo de la Ã‘ustas, has been partially reconstructed and is quite impressive.
Charity. The highway between La Paz and Copacabana is lined with Aymara children asking for a handout. It is not cold hearted to ignore them. Most families in the area, while poor, do have enough to eat. The children are better off in school (where they often receive a free lunch), rather than wasting time on the rod preparing for life of as a beggar. Realize that a contribution to a public service or community development organization (e.g., Amigos de Bolivia y Peru at www.amigosdeboliviayperu.org, the association of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers from the Andes) is a more productive way to thank the Bolivian people for visiting their country.
An all inclusive, overnight tour with Lake Titicaca specialists Crillon or Transturin tours costs about $125 per person per day. In the case of the upscale Crillon agency, the tour includes a stay at the five-star Inca Utama Hotel and Spa in Huatajata and hydrofoil transportation on the lake. Crillon also runs an ecolodge and restaurant on the Isla del Sol called Posada del Inca. Also included is a visit to Crillonâ€™s Eco-Village, an authentic, traditional Aymara community.
Transturin usually boards its guests at the Hotel Rosario del Lago (first class) or the more basic but adequate Utama Hotel in Copacabana. Transturin oversees the Inti Wata cultural complex on the Isla del Sol. Lake transportation is provided on mid-sized catamarans.
Interestingly, an overnight tour is cheaper than a single day tour without accommodation. The latter cost around $150. According to the tour companies, the extra expense is associated with arranging private transportation on a customized schedule.
Magri Turismo, offers a tour to the area that permits the traveler to overnight at La Estancia Ecolodge on the Isla del Sol. Rates begin at $365 for a single traveler and drop to $131 each for a group of four persons.
Bypassing the tour agencies, independent travelers can securer transportation from La Paz to Copacabana for as little as $5 on a bus, obtain a lancha to the islands for $12, and book lodging in a Copacabana hotel for $20 or a hostel for less than $10 per night. Standard rates for meals in the area run $2.50 for an American breakfast, $3.00 for a fixed menu Bolivian lunch, and $8 for a full course Continental / European dinner entrÃ©e.