Copacabana and La Paz: Gateway to Bolivia

Copacabana and La Paz:  Gateway to Bolivia

Copacabana

Bolivia wasn’t really on my radar when I originally began planning my trip.  However, Bolivia’s unique geography, coupled with its isolation from international development, made for one of the most fascinating visits on my already very fascinating trip through South America.  What you find in Bolivia is a culture unadulterated with the fast food chains and cheap commerce of the West.  It seems to have not changed much since Che Guevara wrote about it in his Motorcycle Diaries.* The restaurants are authentic if simple, and the people are very warm and friendly.

We took a bus from Puno in Peru and crossed the border into Bolivia outside Copacabana, a small town on the edge of Lake Titicaca.  Once we got to the town, our tour gave us the option of walking around the city or taking a short tour to the island Isla Del Sol.  We were still feeling the effects of the altitude, so we declined to go as the island involved much hiking.  However, in hindsight I really regret it because we heard from those who went that it was well-worth the visit.

La Paz

In Copacabana, we boarded a boat that took us across the lake, where we boarded another bus that took us to La Paz.  It was night time so unfortunately we couldn’t see the views, but if we had, I suspect they would have been breath-taking.

View of Lake Titicaca
View of Lake Titicaca as we approached
Lake Titcaca at sunset
Lake Titcaca at sunset, as we drove away

Pulling into La Paz around midnight, we were astounded that there was gridlock traffic at this hour – unbelievable!  It further reinforced our decision to not spend any time in La Paz – we’d read the Lonely Planet description of the city, and it sounded as if the author was trying to say as politely as possible that the city wasn’t worth the bother.  Thus, we’d booked an early flight to Uyuni the very next morning.

That said, we enjoyed the warmest hospitality that one night in La Paz.  Yessica, our Airbnb host, met us in downtown La Paz with her husband and 4-year old daughter at that ungodly hour and drove us the hour-long drive back to her house up on the clifftop that surrounds La Paz.  (Apparently locals normally use funiculars to get up and down the cliffs rather than brave the horrific traffic.)  In addition to transportation to her house, Yessica also arranged for a neighbour to take us to the airport at the also ungodly hour of 5am.  Thus, while we only spent a few hours in La Paz, we were completely taken by the kindness of the locals and would venture back again to spend a bit more time in the city.

Kelly’s Top Tips for Copacabana and La Paz:

  • Copacabana is probably worth one day at the most.
  • I’d highly recommend going to Isla Del Sol – there’s over 80 Inca ruins on the island, so plenty of interest for hiking around for at least half a day.
  • If you are American, crossing into Bolivia is not easy. You will have to pay $160 for your 90-day visa on arrival (as of the time of writing, 15/02/2018) and they may slow down the process for you.  It’s not to say it’s not worth going, just best to be mentally prepared for the hassle – and to make sure you have the cash on hand!
  • If you go through La Paz, note that it is at an even higher altitude than Cusco in Peru – 3,500 meters for the main town, and over 4000 meters on the cliff tops where the airport is / where we stayed! I felt the altitude the first night I was there, and later actually got sick (I’d discontinued my altitude pills in Cusco) so if you are sensitive, I highly recommend taking altitude pills for the duration of your stay.
  • If you want warm hospitality, look for Yessica in El Alto on Airbnb!
  • *Another thing I’d recommend, if you haven’t, is getting a copy of Che Guevara’s Motorcycle Diaries or watching the
  • excellent movie of the same title. Guevara’s observations on what he saw during his road trip around South America are still relevant today, and it is a beautiful story.  The book is full of pathos and humour.

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