Inca legend says that Viracocha, the bearded god who created the universe, emerged from the waters of Lake Titicaca and created the sun at this location.
The son and daughter of Inti were sent out of one of the caves on the island with a golden staff. Manco Cápac took this staff across the water and found Cusco between the mountains. He decided to start his Inca empire there. This of course is according to legend. In reality, Cápac probably lived in the region of Cusco instead.
As of 2019, the central and northern portions of the island remain closed to tourists due to an ongoing dispute between the communities of Cha'llapampa, located at the north end of the island, and Cha’lla, located in the center. No tourist boats are permitted to come ashore in Cha'llapampa and overland visitors are turned back at the 1 checkpoint. As a result, many of the interesting sites such as the Gold Museum, Rock of the Puma, Inca Table, and Footsteps of the Sun are inaccessible.
The dispute originated in early 2017 when tourism huts were built near an archaeological site on the north end of the island. After concerns their proximity jeopardized the preservation of the site were ignored, inhabitants of Cha'llapampa destroyed the buildings. Cha’lla responded by blockading access to Cha'llapampa by both land and water.
The dispute has been, at times, violent, resulting in injuries among local residents and burned boats. In 2018, foreign tourists attempting to dock in Cha'llapampa were attacked and detained until the Navy intervened and returned them to Copacabana.
There are several service boats running from Copacabana to the Isla del Sol. Boats stop in the southern part near Yumani and then continue to the northern part in Challapampa.
Another boat schedule, probably due to the conflict, is a stop at the Isla de la Luna for 1 hr and a consequent stop at the Isla del Sol near Yumani for 2 hr. The boat ride all together is 7 hr.
There are also numerous tour companies organizing full and half-day excursions, you can make a reservations in one of the numerous agencies in Copacabana. It is recommend to leave your large backpack in a hostel in Copacabana as getting up the Inca steps in Yumani is hard work at a high altitude. The half-day tour is not worth it due to the time you spend on the boat. Also, since only 3 hr of the full-day tour are on solid ground and 4 hr are on the boat, you might instead opt for staying at least one day on the island.
You can get the best rates for the day tour with the boat company (Bs. 20) right before they leave at 08:30. However, it is complicated to find out which boat goes and where is the company. Even guys selling ticket near the pier are just travel agent seeking a commission selling the day tours for Bs. 25-35, like all the booking offices in town. It is probably best to consult the guy that checks the ticket when the people enter the boats—he belongs to the boat company and will give you the best price. Do not let yourself be stress, there is always space on the boat and they will fit as many people as possible onto the boat. Mind the "Andes Amazonia" boat, which seems to be the slowest one around, meaning less time on the island for you. Alternatively, try the "Inti Kala" boat.
You can also charter a boat between Yumani and Yampupata. Bs. 100, non-negotiable (the boatmen are watching each other) at the pier, for up to 7 persons. Lower prices can be had in the village: ask at your hostal. A short stop at Pilko Kaina can be arranged.
Fees and permitsEdit
Each passenger entering the island has to pay Bs. 10 when leaving the boat.
There are no motor vehicles on Isla del Sol. It might be possible to rent a donkey.
Unless you're spending the night on the island, your itinerary will be basically determined by the boat tour you arrived on. Frankly, the half-day tour is barely worthwhile as it consists only of a brief stop at the southern end and most of your time will be spent on the boat.
A full-day tour will take two hours to get from Copacabana to Cha'llapampa, two and a half hours to see the museum and make a round trip hike to the Rock of the Puma, three hours to take the boat to Isla de la Luna and back to the Inca Steps at the town of Yumani, and two hours for the ride back to Copacabana. You can also choose to hike from the Rock of the Puma back to Yumani (three hours) and catch the boat from there. (Decide on this when buying tickets, as the boat fare to Isla de la Luna adds just a bit to the cost.)
- Cha'llapampa, the town on the northern end of the island, is where the boat lets you off. The Gold Museum (Museo de Oro) displays Inca treasures which were discovered underwater off the island in the last decade. The Bs. 5 admission also lets you see the Rock of the Puma. Other than that, the town has a small beach and some dirt roads.
- The sights on the northern tip are ancient Inca sacred sites. The Rock of the Puma, or Titi Kharka, after which the lake is named, is a large formation that will probably look nothing like a puma until the guide points it out. Your reaction will likely either be "Ah, there it is!" or "That's it?!" A short distance from the rock is the Inca Table, a low platform fashioned of stone. You may just be imagining a red tint on it, but it was supposedly used for human sacrifices. The Footsteps of the Sun nearby are a set of natural (or supernatural?) impressions in rock.
- From Yumani on the southern part of the island, the Inca Steps descend down to the water. At the bottom is the Fountain of Youth. (Oh, those gullible conquistadors!) The channel of water flowing down the hill should convince you that drinking from it is much more likely to shorten your life than extend it.
- The Temple of Pilcocaina is a little further south, and is an optional stop for the boat tour. Bs. 5 admission.
Again, Yumani has the best offerings. Challapampa could be good for lunch if you are coming with the morning boat and staying overnight on the island. Many places in Copacabana will sell you a lunch box, convinient for daytrippers. The few shops around have limited stocks -fruits are mostly bananas and apples. Many eateries charge about Bs. 30 for a dinner.
- Las Velas (The Candles), Yumani, Isla del Sol, Bolivia (Follow the signs through the Eucalyptus trees at the top of the Inca Stairs), ☎ . Hard to find but worth the walk. Serves trout, filet mignon and the excellent vegetarian pizza. The food doesn't get made until it's ordered, so have a few drinks while you wait. There is no electricity so the place is candle lit in the evening. Amazing sunsets from here as well. The owner will walk you back to the main area of Yumani by flashlight if needed. Bs. 30-50 pp (without drinks).
Yumani is growing fast and already has a lot of tourist facilities. There are some basic alojamientos in Challapampa and Challa. Challapampa in the northern part is much easier to get to, the village is on the beach and the to accommodation are cheaper. The cheapest hospedajes start at about US$2 per night. At those prices expect basic conditions, everything is pretty clean and decent though. Camping should be possible in Challapampa.
Most basic lodgings now charge Bs. 25-30 pp with shared bath and breakfast extra.
- Hostal Templo del Sol. (Yumani) It's in an uninviting building at the top of the town, but it has excellent views of the lake and the Cordillera Real. Rooms are basic. The shared bathroom has an electrical heated shower. The price is Bs. 15 per person.
- Hostal Puerta del Sol, Yumani, Isla del Sol, La Paz, Bolivia (walk up the inca stairs until you reach the very top), ☎ . This place has an amazing view and great sunsets on the Peru side of Lake Titicaca, but make sure you bring your own lock for your room as there has been reports of stolen items from locked rooms using the locks the hostel provides. Bs. 30 pp.
Isla del Sol might be a nice destination, if you have never seen an island in a lake, like in Greece. However, considering the amount of tourists shoved in here every day, the locals demanding Bs. 10 from each and watching the tourist arrive, as well as the numerous pizzerias on the island leave doubts about the authenticity of this place. Yes, it is quiet and nice. But is it really worth the trip? Maybe Copacabana, its hills and its trails are already sufficient enough to get a feeling for the area and lay back.
- Isla de la Luna is easiest visited from Yumani, by renting a boat. However, regular tours and boats also go to the island.