Straddling Bolivia and Peru, Lake Titicaca is the largest lake in South America and famed for being ‘the birthplace of the Incas’. The charming, picturesque town of Copacabana is nestled on the Bolivia side of Lake Titicaca, and – in our humble opinion – it offers the most beautiful perspective of the lake. After spending a few days exploring the town’s highlights and setting out onto the deep blue waters, we’ve compiled this guide to help you get the most out of your visit.
For inspiration in planning your route through the country, check out our Bolivia itinerary and travel guide.
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Copacabana, Bolivia: a quick introduction
Copacabana was our entry point to Bolivia after spending a month in Peru, and we soon fell in love with the place. For a town with a population of just 6,000, it has so much going on. Whether you’re after a quiet getaway to relax by the lake or an activity-packed adventure, there is something here for you.
The town is part of the classic ‘gringo trail’ route through Peru and Bolivia, roughly half-way between the Peruvian lakeside city of Puno and and Bolivian capital La Paz.
Perched on the south-eastern shore of the lake, Copacabana is a popular base for ferry trips to Isla Del Sol and Isla de la Luna, islands on Titicaca with a richness of Inca history and ruins. The town has plenty of religious and historic significance of its own too, as the home to a Moorish pilgrimage site.
How to get to Copacabana
Copacabana is a small town and doesn’t have an airport, and so travelling by bus is the best option whether you’re coming from Peru or elsewhere in Bolivia. Wherever you are travelling from, Busbud is a great service for finding the lowest-cost bus services. It’s particularly good for services across South America, and we used it throughout our time in Bolivia.
Getting around Copacabana is easy once you’re there – it’s a small place and pretty much everything is within walking distance. If you arrive with heavy bags, you can take a taxi or a pedicab.
The White Anchor, on the lakefront at the bottom of Avenida 6 de Agosto, is a convenient central landmark for navigating around the town (you can’t miss it).
Puno to Copacabana
For many visitors, Copacabana is the first stop in Bolivia after crossing the border from Peru. This was our route too, and we used the hop-on, hop-off bus service Bolivia Hop (sister company of Peru Hop). We booked our journey a few days before our visit while we were in Cusco.
This isn’t the cheapest option, but it’s really helpful to have the flexibility, and it enabled us to extend our stay without any hassle. Another bonus of using Bolivia Hop is a hassle-free border crossing. Their team assisted us at customs with the process, and this made sure we avoided any of the border scams targeted at backpackers.
For budget options, check Busbud to find the best routes and fares.
La Paz to Copacabana
The journey from Bolivia’s capital is a fairly straightforward one. Buses leave regularly from the main terminal, or alternatively you can take a collectivo, which leave every hour from the cemetery.
Part-way through the journey you need to make a short ferry crossing, for which there is a small fee (it was 2 bolivianos when we did the crossing, which is less than 30 cents in US).
Check out Wikitravel for more information.
Organised trips to Copacabana from La Paz
If you’re short of time, there are several organised tours available to Copacabana and Lake Titicaca from La Paz. Although a more expensive option than self-guiding, this also removes the hassle of making your own arrangements.
The following tours are available to book in advance and include free cancellation up to 24 hours before the tour starts.
Day trips to Lake Titicaca
- Titicaca, Copacabana and Isla del Sol day trip from La Paz
- Full day tour to Copacabana and Lake Titicaca
- Lake Titicaca and Isla Del Sol private tour from La Paz
Two-day, one night trips to Lake Titicaca
Where to stay in Copacabana, Bolivia
Copacabana is well set up to welcome its annual flow of tourists from all over the world, and so there are a wide range of options for accommodation, whatever your budget.
Our top recommendation
We had one of our best-ever hostel stays at Hostal Piedra Andina during our trip. In reality it’s more like a hotel or guest house than a hostel, and is incredible value for the price. We lucked out with a top-floor room featuring a private balcony including a picture-perfect view across the lake! The free breakfast is also superb, and one of the best we had while travelling in South America. A delicious, self-serve morning banquet of ham, cheese, pancakes, eggs, avocado, fruit and coffee.
This place is a ten-minute walk or so from the main part of town, a bit of a schlep uphill with big rucksacks but totally worth it for the quality of the accommodation.
More options for every budget
The following are our top picks for accommodation in Copacabana for your visit to Lake Titicaca in Bolivia. The town is not an expensive place to stay in general, so even the most luxurious options won’t blow a big hole in your pocket.
- Budget: Hostal Florencia, Hostal La Casa del Sol, Hotel Utama
- Mid-range: Hotel La Cupula, Hostal Alvasar
- Fancy: Hostal Las Olas, Hotel Lago Azul
Things to do in Copacabana
Take a day trip to Isla Del Sol and Isla de la Luna
There are more than 40 islands spread across Lake Titicaca, the largest of which is Isla del Sol, some 15 kilometres from the shores of Copacabana. No visit to the Bolivia side would be complete without a trip out to the island.
Home to indigenous communities and featuring an array of over 180 Inca ruin sites, Isla del Sol is the perfect place to absorb the region’s culture and history while enjoying spectacular panoramas. It translates to ‘island of the sun’, and for good reason – be sure to bring some sunscreen with you!
Upon arriving in Copacabana you are likely to be bombarded by vendors selling day trips to Isla del Sol. It’s also possible to book in advance with Bolivia Hop, and our hostel sold them too. As usual, we found the best strategy was to hold fire and shop around.
The ferry journey takes about an hour and a half each way, with a short transfer between the two islands in the middle. On our trip we first went to Isla de la Luna, where a one-hour stop allowed enough time to explore the ruins and hike to the top of the hill for a great view.
Isla del Sol is steeped in Incan history. Legend has it that the first of the Inca kings, Manco Cápac, emerged from a rock on the island. When we visited, a conflict between the north and south sides of the island meant that the north side was not accessible.
Our ferry dropped us on the south side by the Palace of the Inca. After exploring the impressive ruin site, we hiked along the island’s spine to the port of Yumani. In a secluded beach area we grabbed some salchipapas and watched buskers perform before the ferry took us back to Copacabana.
Some people choose to stay overnight on the island to spend more time exploring the hiking trails or just relaxing. If this is your jam, Yumani has a handful of hostels and hotels to choose from, such as the highly-rated Hostal Palacio del Inca.
Enjoy fresh fish and beers on the lakefront
It would be a shame to visit the deep blue waters of Lake Titicaca and not sample some of the delicious fresh fish from its waters. It’s served in restaurants all over the town, but the best way is to hit the pop-up stalls along the beach.
These eateries begin to spring up in the early evening, and the best time is during sunset. If you have some time to kill before dinner, try one of the rooftop bars near the White Anchor for a couple of beers first.
While you can find the local fresh fish cheaper in the market halls of the backstreets, the lakefront establishments are still very reasonable and come with an unbeatable scenic waterside setting. It’s a good idea to walk up and down the front before choosing your spot to eat – the owners will compete for your custom, and you can barter for a good price.
Enjoy one of the world’s greatest sunsets
The beauty of Copacabana is that it faces due west over Lake Titicaca, making it a perfect spot for watching the sun set over the water.
If you’re eating on the lakefront, check the sunset time and coordinate your meal accordingly. Few of our travel nights have been as romantic as our Lake Titicaca sunset dinner. If you’re lucky enough to have a hotel or hostel room with a lake view, then make the best use of that too.
See the views from the top of Cerro Calvario
The main highlights around the town of Copacabana are all fairly close together, so it’s easy to see everything within a few hours at a leisurely pace.
To the north, you can’t miss Cerro Calvario, a hill that rises straight up from the lake’s edge and towers over the town. The hike to the top is not a long one – half an hour or so – but it’s pretty steep. With the altitude factor adding to the toil, it’s best to take it slowly with plenty of breather stops. You can break it up by perusing the various local craft stalls that line the path up the hill.
This was the perfect start to a day in Copacabana for us. As we reached the top, locals were lighting candles at the 14 Stations of the Cross monuments. We also saw quite a few people cracking beers open in the sunshine at the early hour of 10am! This time of day was brilliant for a fully-sunlit view of the town, lake and surrounding mountains. Alternatively, by all accounts it’s well worth going up for sunset as well.
Visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Copacabana
Looking down over the town from the top of the hill, the immaculate white structure of a cathedral stands out among the town’s gridded streets. This is the Basilica of Our Lady of Copacabana, which contains a shrine of the image of the Virgen de Copacabana, the subject of Moorish pilgrimages to the town. The statue has a special sacred status, and when robbers plundered the site in 2013, it caused local outrage.
We were lucky to catch a sunny day for our visit, and the cathedral’s white walls looked stunning against the brilliant blue sky.
Check out the street markets
If you make your way across to Avenida 6 de Agosto on the far side of Plaza 2 de Febrero just before mid-day, the street markets will just be livening up. It gets pretty cramped and chaotic, as locals flock here from miles around to shop for supplies, and vendors vie for tourists’ custom.
It’s a lot of fun looking around the art and craft stalls, sampling some dried fruits and other local delicacies. Don’t be afraid to try your hand at haggling – it’s expected, and part of the local culture.
Grab lunch on Avenida 6 de Agosto
Heading back towards the lakefront from the markets, the strip of Avenida 6 de Agosto that leads down to the unmistakable White Anchor monument is the busiest spot for places to eat. This main stretch of road is lined with restaurants of many international cuisines. We treated ourselves to a Mexican lunch at one of the many spots offering lunchtime deals.
Have some fun on the lake
In the afternoon sunshine, the bay of Copacabana fills up with swan pedalos, kayaks and spherical contraptions that resemble human hamster balls. We thought the latter would be a bit intensive on a full stomach, so we headed to a jetty where a local family was renting out swan pedalos.
Like any activity in the town – or anywhere in Bolivia for that matter – there is no set price for hire. After some friendly haggling with the family, we agreed on 25 bolivianos for an hour. With hindsight, half an hour would’ve been plenty enough time, but we stayed out for the duration to get our money’s worth and enjoy a different perspective of our favourite little lakeside town.
Treat yourself to a meal at La Orilla
We were given a great local restaurant tip by the lovely family that runs Hostal Piedra Andina. La Orilla is a maritime-themed restaurant in the heart of town that serves a range of international cuisine, as well as some of that delicious fresh fish! The food and service are outstanding, with affordable prices – the perfect end to a Copacabana day.
See some unforgettable night skies
The combination of the rural location, low air pollution and positioning near the Andean mountains means that the area around Copacabana is rife for stunning starry skies.
If you travel on from Copacabana to La Paz on an evening bus (or arrive that way) and it’s a clear sky, you can expect to see a spectacular starscape when making the ferry crossing over the Strait of Tiquina. This is the first place that Lisa and I ever saw the Milky Way – one of those moments we will never forget.
2-day itinerary for Copacabana and Lake Titicaca, Bolivia
This is our suggested itinerary for spending 48 hours in Copacabana and exploring Lake Titicaca:
Day one: boat trip to the islands
Book onto a ferry trip to the islands and spend the day exploring Isla Del Sol and Isla de le Luna. Arrive back in Copacabana in time for sunset, and enjoy some fresh fish on the beach with a beer.
Day two: exploring the town
Get up early, eat breakfast and walk up to Cerro Calvario for the views across the town and lake. Back at the bottom, pay a visit to the Basilica of Our Lady of Copacabana before hitting the markets for some local shopping. Grab a budget lunch in Mercado Copacabana.
Take the afternoon at a leisurely pace. Hire a pedalo on the lake and get out onto the water. Stop for a photo with the Inca statues on the beach, and grab a rooftop beer near the White Anchor. Cap off your trip with a delicious meal at La Orilla.
Copacabana and Lake Titicaca map of attractions
On the map below you can see the attractions and accommodations in Copacabana highlighted in this guide:
Have you stayed in Copacabana or explored the Bolivia side of Lake Titicaca? Share your experiences in the comments below.
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