My Birthday in Copacabana Bolivia
Copacabana Bolivia at High Altitude
When I mention that I had spent my 25th birthday in Copacabana, everyone thought I had perhaps joined the beautiful bikini clad women full of feathers Samba-ing the night away. Little did they know, I was grasping for breath from high altitude and enjoying a quaint lake side life with the Bolivianos.
It was a long five hour bumpy bus ride from Puno across the Peru-Bolivian border along the shore of Lake Titicaca. The bus swayed in and out of the small country roads dodging pedestrians, chickens and donkeys alike. Toilet stops were mere road side adventures where the locals simply squatted. While the group of hygiene and behavior conscience foreigners searched for the less exposed areas to do our business.
Exploring Lake Titicaca
With a name that would suggest a much more exotic place on the coast of Brazil, this Copacabana is no less disappointing than its namesake city. Lake Titicaca is the largest navigable lake in the world and is listed as one of the Unforgettable Places to See Before You Die in Steve Davey’s book. It is understandable how one can fall in love with such a place. Still yet to be discovered by mass foreign tourism, this small Bolivian town can really capture a visitor’s heart with its charm and friendliness.
This was how it was, until we finally reached Copacabana, a small resort town on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca.
We chose to stay in a hostel just 100 meters from the water front. Calling it a beach is an overstatement, yet looking out into the vast waters of the lake and the distant horizon I forget easily that I am on a lake about 3800 meters above sea level.
Copacabana is the Bolivian gateway to the islands on Lake Titicaca and one of the most visited being Isla del Sol, the Island of the Sun. Incan mythology says this is the birth place of the sun god and where the first Incan people were born.
Getting to Copacabana
The island is reached by boat from the Copacabana beach and takes roughly two hours. The island is the largest on Lake Titicaca and is inhabited by a few indigenous communities. A network of walking tracks makes it easy to explore and a great day trip out of Copacabana. The sun is particularly bright at this altitude as I step my way through the island.
Not being a major tourist destination I was able to find a place to sit down. I enjoyed the serenity hovering all around the island. Besides one or two local women carrying their crafts and stock from the harbor to their houses, the only sound came from the llamas chewing on a patch of grass, staring blankly back at me. In the distant, beyond the sparkling waters of the lake, a row of snow capped peaks of what I can only assume are the Andes, appears on the horizon. The entire scene was mesmerizing I regret not having planned more time to spend on the island.
Back in Copacabana the usual hype of activities were going on. The town of is dominated by a grand Moorish cathedral. I climb upstairs to visit the famous Virgen de Copacabana, and light a candle among the thousands that burn and pray for the world and each individual in the Capilla de Velas, Candle Chapel.
Climbing to Cerro Calvario
During the day, I wandered in the streets of Copacabana. In the markets tried my hand at bargaining. I was also admiring, and purchasing the quality crafts and jewelry from the side streets. One of the highlight was trekking up to the Cerro Calvario hill north west of the town to an elevation of 3966 meters, a hard climb under the influence of high altitude. However, it is an experience well worth the effort. From the top, I had a great view over the lake and the town itself. I could watch the sun, painting the sky into a dark orange canvas, slowly dip into the horizon.
And this was how I spent my 25th birthday. As the sun disappeared from sight, my group of friends lit up candles and surrounded me with birthday songs and wishes. I couldn’t have wished for a better way.
Story by Amy McPherson
Amy McPherson is a freelance writer based in Sydney, Australia and she is obsessed with the world. Since spending a year studying broad in Germany more than ten years ago, Amy has not stopped wandering the world. From backpacking South East Asia to volunteering with communities in Peru, even her corporate career cannot stop her from her real passion. She met her husband in Peru and the pair has made traveling a priority in their relationship.
Amy keeps a travel blog at www.footprintsandmemories.com.