Archive for September, 2009

Isla del Sol

isla del sol

Isla del Sol, or the Island of the Sun, is reached by a slow two hour boat ride from Copacabana in Bolivia.  One of the most frequently visited islands in Lake Titicaca, Isla del Sol is the legendary Inca creation site and the birthplace of the sun in Inca mythology.  With a population of around 5000 people the island is dotted with small indigenous villages.  Located at the island’s northern end are the Inca ruins of Chincana. The ruins can be reached by hiking a network of paths that snake along the mountainside overlooking the lake.  The trek to Chincana was the highlight of our visit to the island.


hay trucha







The local specialty in cities and towns surrounding Lake Titicaca is farmed trucha criolla, one of the world’s largest trout.  It is served everywhere and you can have it cooked to order just about any way you like.  In Copacabana a complete meal including soup, trout and fresh fruit juice costs around 10 Bolivianos, or less than $2, and it’s delicious!

Islas Flotantes


Off the coast of Lake Titicaca the Islas Flotantes, or Floating Islands, of the Uros people are built using layers of the buoyant totora reeds that grow abundantly in the lake.  The reeds are constantly replenished from the top down as they rot away and the ground is always soft and springy.  These days the islands have become shockingly commercialized and a tour to visit them is little more than an opportunity to purchase crafts from the islanders.

Lake Titicaca


Lake Titicaca is the largest lake in South America.  Stretching for more than 230km in length and 97km in width, it stradles both Peru and Bolivia.  Situated at an elevation of 3820m it is also said to be the highest navigable lake in the world.  The water is a stunning shade of sapphire that glistens in the high-altitude sunlight.  Set against the stark plains of the altiplano with traditional Aymaran villages dotting the coastline and the snow-topped peaks of the Cordillera Real rising up in the background, the limitless horizons and beautiful landscapes of Lake Titicaca are magical.

on to Bolivia


Having discovered that the real reason Carlos was initially refused entry to Peru was an attempt to extract a bribe in exchange for ushering him across the border left us nervously anticipating this next crossing.  Though at that time neither of us had any idea and we spent the day jumping back and forth between the consulate and the border before they finally gave up on us and let us across.  I had also heard rumors about Bolivian border officials confiscating “fake dollars” from travelers.  That being said, we were wondering if we would encounter any unusual problems crossing from Peru into Bolivia.  We didn’t.  Everything went smoothly and we were on our way to Copacabana in just under a half hour.  

American citizens require visas to enter Bolivia and at $135 they’re not cheap.  Fortunately, I had already obtained mine at the Bolivian consulate in Cusco.  Crossing into Bolivia I was one of five Americans on our bus and the only one to make it across the border.  The others had waited to obtain their visas and apparently didn’t have all the documentation the immigration officials were demanding.  Ironically, when I arrived at the consulate in Cusco I was prepared with all of the required documentation and without looking at any of it they took my $135 in U.S. bills, stuck a sticker in my passport and that was it.  Apparently the charge for the visa is considered a reciprocity fee and Bolivian citizens are charged the same amount for a visa to visit the U.S.

Machu Picchu


Our visit to Machu Picchu was amazing, even better than we had expected.  After spending the night in Aguas Calientes we were up bright and early to catch the first 5:30am bus up the mountainside to the site – and already we weren’t alone.  After waiting in line to enter the site and again at the base of Waynapicchu we were ready to start exploring.  The highlight of our visit was climbing Waynapicchu, the tallest peak overlooking the ruins.  We made it to the top in just over an hour and the views were amazing. 

machu picchuWe were fortunate to have arrived at the ruins early in the morning.  Only 400 people are permitted to climb Waynapicchu each day and most people who arrive via one of the treks or by same-day train arrive too late in the day to sign up.  The climb alone is enough to make it worth spending a night in Aguas Calientes and waking up before sunrise. 

Best of all we loved everything about our visit to Machu Picchu.

Aguas Calientes and the journey to Machu Picchu


After departing Cusco we traveled by bus to Ollantaytambo.  Ollantaytambo is the farthest point en route to Machu Picchu that is reachable by road, after which travelers to the lost city of the Incas must either hike the famous Inca trail, one of the less popular alternate treks or take the train.  Peru Rail is the only company that currently runs trains to Machu Picchu.  We opted for the cheapest ‘backpacker’ option, but at $62 RT it still seemed like a lot to pay for the two hour ride, plus they charged us another $10 to store our packs.  Peru Rail also runs a ‘local’ train that costs only a few dollars for the RT journey but foreigners aren’t allowed to ride it, only Peruvians.  When it was time to board we came to find out that the two are the exact same train, they just seperate the Peruvians and the foreigners into different cars.

Also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo, Aguas Calientes is the last stop before heading up the mountain to Machu Picchu.  We arrived around 9pm Saturday evening and purchased our ticket to visit Machu Picchu for the following day.  At around $41, foreigners pay double what locals pay for a ticket to the ruins, except that we were visiting on a Sunday and Sundays are free for locals.  All that remained to be purchased was our bus ticket to the site the following morning.  At around $7 the ticket for the 20 minute ride up the mountainside costs about the same as a six or seven hour bus ride anywhere else in Peru.  We had planned our visit to Machu Picchu in the most economical way possible, though it still ended up costing each of us more than $100 and we figured about 10 times what we might have paid had we been from Peru.