Hiking Isla del Sol, Bolivia: Ruins, Beaches and Mountains
If you’re an illiterate person scrolling my site “just looking at the pictures”, you’d be forgiven for thinking this article is about a paradise island in the Mediterranean. There are white sand beaches, ancient ruins and contrasting shades of blue water – things you don’t necessarily expect from an island in a high altitude lake in Bolivia. We spent a couple of days exploring Isla del Sol, including an incredibly scenic walk from the northern tip to Yumani, the main port and town in the south of the island. Thinking of doing the same (or just feel like looking at some nice island photos)? Keep reading!
Challapampa to the Chincana ruins
After a short boat ride from Yumani, our base on Isla del Sol, we headed out along the coast towards the Chincana ruins. We walked along a white-sand beach and up a hill where the amazing views started to unfold. There was something to look at in every direction, from the massive snow-capped mountains in the distance to the slender isthmus that the village of Challapampa sits upon.
Deserted coves and rocky peninsulas
We eventually left the views of Challapampa behind and things started to get a lot more rural. Sheep stood in front of an amazing cove, where the deep blue depths of Lake Titicaca contrasted with the fluorescent shallow water closer to the beach. If this was a Greek Island you can bet there’d be a hotel to take advantage of that view. We kept walking along a rocky track until we eventually reached Isla del Sol’s most famous site, the Chincana ruins.
The Chincana ruins
These Inca ruins sit on a hill above a stunning crescent shaped bay with white sand and clear, blue water. This place is just beautiful, one of the highlights of South America in my opinion. The ruins themselves are quite well preserved and provide the perfect foreground for the amazing natural site in the background. Getting to the Chincana ruins from Challapampa, where the boat drops you, takes around an hour and this part of the pan island walkway is probably the nicest. From Chincana we hiked back to Challapampa, ate some lunch and continued our walk back to Yumani.
Further reading: According to the Incas, Isla del Sol is the home of the supreme Inca god, Inti. This whole area is sacred to the Incas and is thought of as the birthplace of their civilization. Check out this article for a more in-depth look at Isla del Sol’s spiritual side.
Challapampa to Yumani
There are two options if you’re hiking Isla del Sol from north to south. You can take the track through the centre of the island (which starts near the Chincana ruins) or you can backtrack to Challapampa and walk the coastal track. This track takes you along a ridge above of Lake Titicaca and is a great option for hiking Isla del Sol from north to south (I can’t say it’s the best though, as I didn’t walk the other track). We passed a few locals walking between the villages, but apart from that we were on our own, with the hills on one side and the deep blue water of Lake Titicaca on the other. It was incredibly peaceful, until we reached a small village called Cha’lla, and realised we’d have to walk down into town and up a steep hill on the other side. It wasn’t actually too difficult, but if you haven’t acclimatised to the altitude (Isla de Sol is around 4000 metres above sea-level) you might have some trouble. An hour or so (and a few more ups and downs) later, we were back in Yumani.
A gruelling uphill walk separates the port and the main part of Yumani village. Well, it’s gruelling if you’re carrying bags. I carried about 25 kg worth of luggage up there and it took around 40 minutes – it was exhausting. There are some hostels closer to the port but it’s worth struggling up the hill for the better views (and cheaper prices). There are no vehicles on Isla del Sol, but you’ll usually be able to hire a mule to carry your bags up the hill. We were a bit late and missed the last mule – take one if you have lots of stuff! We stayed in a small hostel with an amazing view of the lake, Isla del Luna and the snow-capped peaks in the distance, and it only cost 60 bs (under $10). I can’t remember its name but it’s one of the first hostels you’ll see once you’re at the top of the hill (just before two shops selling drinks on either side of the road).
Sunrise in Yumani
We woke up just in time for an awesome sunrise – isn’t it great when you can see the sunrise/sunset from your bed! I got up to take a few photos and it turned out most of the guests in the hostel were braving the icy cold morning to get a glimpse of the rising sun. There are some places further up the hill in Yumani where you can see the sunset – I’ve heard it’s spectacular and I kind of wish we took the time to walk back up and see it (let me know if you saw a great sunset on Isla del Sol, maybe you can send me a photo and I’ll feature it here).
Hiking Isla del Sol: The Details
The walk from Challapampa to Yumani takes around 2 and a half hours, and if you add on the detour to the Chincana ruins (you definitely should) you’ll be walking for around 4 and a half hours (allow for more time than that though, you’ll be making plenty of stops to admire the views). If you’re staying in Yumani you can take the 10am boat from the port at the bottom of the hill. It cost us 30 bs, which is weird because some people took the boat all the way from Copacabana to the north of Isla del Sol (an extra hour and a half) and only paid 25 bs; there’s definitely some kind of scam going on with that boat! There are 3 “entry tickets” you’ll have to buy when hiking Isla del Sol from north to south (or south to north) – one for each of the towns that you pass through. All up this will only cost you 30 bs (around $5), so it’s not so bad.
Further reading: Check out my post on hiking from village to village on the island of Santorini, Greece — do you think it looks similar?
Hiking Isla del Sol has been one of the highlights of my trip in South America — If you’re travelling to Bolivia make sure you do it. It’s actually pretty close to Cusco and Machu Picchu, so it’s worth the detour if you’re visiting that wonder of the world and you have a few spare days.
Do you think hiking Isla del Sol looks fun? Have you seen similar scenery anywhere else in the world? Let me know!