South America Living

Isla del Sol, Bolivia Travel Information

The Inca Staircase That Begins at the Loading Dock Area on Southside - 210 Steps to Start Your 40 Minute Trek to the Top!

Isla del Sol – Island of the Sun in English – is the most popular day or overnight trip from Copacabana and why many travel to the area in the first place.    View Photos

The island is considered a sacred site in Bolivia and has around 3500 full-time inhabitants. During the year various events are held such as music festivals that attract participants from all over South America.

Just 1 to 1 1/2 hours (hydrofoil-style boats are faster) from Copacabana the island is divided into two main tourist areas: Isla del Sol Sud (southside) and Isla del Sol Norte (northside). The southside is where most visitors go and has an assortment of affordable hostals, hotels, restaurants and pizzerias.

After you trek for 40 minutes or so meandering through the hillside you arrive at the top of the island with all-encompassing views of the area and marina on the other side below. The sunsets are dazzling.

Note: When you arrive on the southside they charge an entrance fee of 5 bolivianos. There is no fee to visit the northside. Also, you may be charged by locals when trekking through one area of the island to another.

Isla del Sol is believed to be where the sun god Viracocha conceived the first Inca man and woman. The ‘Inca Staircase’ pictured above is one of many ancient remnants of the early settlers of the island – primarily of Aymara ancestry. Just off the loading dock on the southside is also the ‘Inca Fountain’, with three pipes representing three sacred animal deities: a Condor (heaven), a Puma (earth) and a Serpent (the underworld). There are pre-Incan ruins on the island as well as an ancient Incan sacrificial altar that was used to kill animals and humans in an effort to appease the Gods.

There are a few restaurants and hostals at the waterfront on the southside but very little to see or do other than the Inca Fountain. If you can’t handle a short hike uphill to where all the action is there is always the northside to visit. Isla del Sol Norte is much more tranquil with less activity at night, cheaper accomodation and fewer restaurants.

When the sun goes down most enjoy a leisurely meal at one of the few restaurants open or buy a paper cone of ‘salchipapas’ (french fries with sliced fried hot dog) from one of the street vendors and head back to their hotel room. There are no street lights so roaming around the small town or surrounding area isn’t very easy to accomplish.

After the boats drop-off passengers on the southside it is a 1/2 hour more to reach the northside. You can walk from the south to north side, which takes approximately 3 hours. There are no cars on the island – just donkeys, llamas and alpacas for transport.

There is electricity on the island – and an Internet cafe on the southside – but many establishments are not hooked-up to it. Being served dinner by a waiter wearing a headlamp (see photo page) is one of Bolivia’s more unique dining experiences!

Protected Ecological Area on Southside of the Island with Many Native Flowers and Plants on Display

Photographs by Molly McHugh, all rights reserved.

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