Copacabana | On the Shores of Lake Titicaca

Copacabana Bolivia viewpoint

Some places on the backpacker’s trail are meant just for passing through.

This is the case with Copacabana, the town on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca. It mainly serves as a jump off point to visit the extraordinary Isla del Sol or to cross the boarder into Peru, or in our case both!

Everybody always has the Brazilian namesake in mind, not knowing they “borrowed” the name from their south american neighbor. Although the beach can’t compare and you certainly won’t be seeing bikinis and coconuts in the altiplano altitudes, this place definitely deserves much more attention then it gets.

Surprisingly this crazy, unappealing border town is a superstar for the locals. The basilica on the main square houses the statue of Virgen de Copacabana and if rumors can be trusted, numerous miracles have taken place here.
The number of devotees is correspondingly high during religious festivities making the town burst out of its seams.

Copacabana Bolivia; boats on lake Titicaca.
Pedal boats on the beach.

Christening in Copacbana Bolivia.
Locals celabrate their christening!

We don’t have a photo of the the main square given that the happenings in front of the basilica distracted us to the point of forgetting to actually set a foot inside. With too much eye candy around it’s just hard to focus on the handful of attractions Copacabana has to offer.

Car Blessings in Copacabana

The miraculous tendencies of Copacabana somehow manage to attract people from all over the country, as well as neigboring Peru to come and get their car protected and ready for the reckless driving situation on the continent.

All kinds of vehicles await their turn! Normal cars, 4x4s, buses, all lovingly decorated and ready to receive the priest’s blessing. We’re standing around, observing, not knowing where to look first. So many impressions, so much photo material.
It’s captivating, fun and borderline crazy!

Copacabana car blessing, holy water bucket.
The priest says a prayer and continues going around the vehicle with a bucket of holy water marked “blessing of vehicles”. The families follow him throwing flowers while whispering their own prayers. They bring sparkling vine and/or aguardiente to spray the car for good luck, sealing the deal. Towards the end they take a picture together and the car is good to go.
Copacabana car blessing, people praying.
Copacabana car blessing, people congratuling.
Pigeon on decorated car; Copacabana car blessing.
Priest blesses little girl; Copacabana car blessing.
We once saw a bus in La Paz with a banner “blessed in Copacabana” and didn’t realize what it meant until we were actually witnessing the ritual. Imagine how bad the driving is in Bolivia when people resort to blessing their cars. If only it would make any difference.

Lake Titicaca

The beach doesn’t look inviting, but after a month of overland travel in rugged Bolivia the sight of that enormous body of water is mesmerizing. Rickety wooden docks line up the waterfront from where you’ll be taking a boat if you visit Isla del Sol – the island of the sun. Pedal boats endure the sunrays waiting to be taken for a ride, but no one seems interested.
It’s carnival time in Bolivia and kids mess around on the shore after school, trying to dip each other in the chilly waters.

Copacabana Bolivia and Cerro Calvario
The beach with Cerro Calvario in the background.

Sunset at Cerro Calvario

A short but relatively strenuous hike up Calvario hill reveals amazing views over Copacabana and Lake Titicaca. It was erected as part of a pilgrimage, passing all the stops of the crucifixion on the way to the top.Crosses on top of Cerro Calvario, Copacabana

Even if you’re not religious the altitude may force you to take a break or two along the way.
Bolivians and tourists alike enjoy the splendid sunsets and we highly recommend making your way up – it’s worth it!

View from Cerro Calvario in Copacabana Bolivia
View from Cerro Calvario
Isla del Sol seen from Copacabana, Bolivia
Isla del Sol on the horizon.

Final thoughts

Having a slight incline towards the unattractive, authentic places of this world, Copacabana sure felt like the place to be.

I wish we had more time to enjoy and discover the surrounding villages.
The hike to Yampupata village should be rewarding with impressive views of the lake and surroundings.

We were so impressed by those car blessings, we could’ve easily burnt through the memory cards, the finger constantly on the shutter. Alone for that spectacle it would’ve been worth staying an additional day or two :).


More Info


Where to sleep in Copacabana

Emperador on Calle Murillo close to the main road. 35 BOB for a private room, with private bathroom.
Small, very basic kitchen. Wi-Fi was good for Bolivian standards, but we were almost alone.

Also check out:

  • Hostel Arco Iris on Avenida 6 de Agosto.
  • Hostal Sonia near Calle Murillo / main road intersection.
  • Hostal Luna on Calle J.P. Mejia.

Where to eat in Copacabana

  • Pan America’s bakery – probably the best pizza we had in Bolivia.
    Not the cheapest, but very good quality and the owners are genuinely friendly.
  • Fish eateries at the water front. Prices were around 20-25 BOB.
  • Market eatery – entrance on calle Avaroa.You can find some choripapa (sausage with fries) around the plaza, some anticucho (grilled meat and innards on a skewer) near the market, but overall we felt there weren’t many good street food choices.

How to get to Copacabana from La Paz

Buses and colectivos leave from the cemetery. Get there by catching a colectivo marked cementerio.
Colectivos are faster and slightly more expensive. You will have to get off the vehicle and cross the Tiquina straight by boat. Bring all your valuables with you and stick to your fellow travelers so the bus doesn’t accidentally leave without you.

  • colectivo to cementerio: 2 BOB
  • colectivo La Paz to Copacabana: 25 BOB
  • ferry across Tiquina straight: 2,5 BOB

    TOTAL COST: 29,5 BOB

How to get from Copacabana to Peru

If you’re not planning on making a stop in Puno we highly recommend the direct night bus to Cusco.
It will stop and wait for you at the border.

Trasportes Titicaca

  • leaves at 6:30 pm and arrives in Cusco at around 4:30am on the next day
  • buy tickets at the office on the corner Av 6 de Agosto with Av 16 de Julio (bus leaves from the same spot)
  • book in advance, the seats tend to fill up
  • we highly recommend you book cama seats for more comfort
  • 100-120 BOB depending on your haggling skills

TIP: if you have leftover Bolivianos you can exchange them at the border.
We did it in Copacabana beforehand and the exchange rate was the same.


Hopefully we inspired you to give this quirky town a chance!
Have you been to Copacabana, Bolivia? What was your impression?

Safe travels,

H&M

 

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