If you thought you needed to go to Machu Picchu to see the Inca civilization on its terms, you’re off by a few hundred miles and some centuries to boot! However, the birthplace of one of the world’s most fabled societies is farther southeast, on Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) – the largest of the 41 islands located on what may be the world’s most stunning body of water, Lake Titicaca. This lake was considered sacred by the Inca, and after one look at its indescribably blue waters, it’s easy to see why. Situated at nearly 10,500 ft (3,200 m) above sea level, the lake is so clear it is said that the original inhabitants believed that they could see the entrance to another world at the bottom. Small wonder most travelers don’t make it to the island when the scenery around is this beautiful.
Forget machu picchu?
There’s no doubt that Machu Picchu holds its own as a premier tourist stop. Possibly South America’s most promoted destination, it has held the top spot for travelers eager to see the majesty of the Inca for several years.
The journey to Machu Picchu is not pleasant, and the entrance fee has risen to US$44. Add to this the round-trip train fare to the village at the foot of the mountain (the most common means of transport from Cusco), the bus fare from here to the site, plus the food and water you’ll need during the day. So you’re well above US$150 before you’ve even set foot inside Machu Picchu. . .that is if you fall within the number of people allowed in daily.
The flood of tourists making this pilgrimage has made it essential to book your stay months ahead. December through to March has fewer visitors, so your wait will be shorter in these months. Regardless, mornings always see fewer tourists at any time of the year.
Getting There and Around
The ideal way to reach Isla del Sol is to drive on the paved road from La Paz to Copacabana, on Lake Titicaca’s shores, and complete the trip by ferry. However, it’s better to rent a car than take a bus, as many side trips are worth taking.
Where to Eat
La Orilla (tel. +591 862 2267) in Copacabana serves both local and international food, along with the country’s best trout.
Where to Stay
There are no formal overnight facilities on Isla de Sol. Instead, stay at Copacabana’s ecologically sensitive Hotel Rosario del Lago (www.hotelrosario.com/lago). The hotel can arrange visits to the island.
When to Go
The best time to visit is during the southern hemisphere’s winter, Jun–Aug, when there is maximum sun and minimal rain.
Budget per Day for Two
Isla del Sol and its surroundings are pretty inexpensive. US$140 is more than enough to cover costs and leave change.
Beneath the depths of the lake lie more mysteries: a recently discovered and still-unexplored temple (the natives don’t want to disturb the lake) and, some say, the remnants of the lost Atlantis civilization. The whole story of these people may never be known, but no other place on earth provides such a vivid insight into the origins of the great Inca as the atmospheric Isla del Sol.