The Isle of the Sun-A Bolivian Adventure

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I have always wanted to visit The Isle of the Sun.

I’m not sure why this specific island is so luring, but as soon as my feet stepped off of the ferry and on to its rocky sand, I knew that it would be an unforgettable experience.

The Isle of the Sun (also known as Isle De Sole) is a relatively small island on the southern part of the Bolivian half of Lake Titicaca. There are no motor vehicles, or paved roads on this jagged, hilly island. Only about 800 families live here, and conduct their lives much like their Incan ancestors had during the 15th century AD.

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Although the principle source of income is tourism, an observer will notice much agricultural activity as well as some fishing. The terraced land is farmed entirely by hand using the most basic farming tools. Even the simple homes are built out of hand made clay bricks.

This island seemed to stretch back into time, and I wondered how a modern tourist looked in the eyes of the local’s perspective.

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After 2.5 hours on a rocky ferry, the first thing that came to mind when reaching shore was a bathroom. After asking around, I was directed to a rustic wooden shack with an attached booth and a long line of tourists. I have to admit, the long line was quite daunting and I thought about just walking away.

Unfortunately nature disagreed with my impatience.

As I finally neared the front of the line, I was surprised to discover that the attached booth was built for the sole purpose of collecting a 2.00 (Boliviano) toll from each fidgety person in line. I was amused when I discovered the 2.00 admission came with a bonus, one piece of toilet paper 🙂

The inside of the ruddy shack consisted of two bathroom stalls, one sink, and no soap 🙁 . Throughout all this I have to admit that I wasn’t completely shocked until I realized that the only way to flush the toilet was to fill a filthy bucket with water and wash out the basin. This was the first time in a long time that I actually appreciated a western toilet, and its attached plumbing.

As I exited the shack, I went to meet my husband, who by now had been waiting for quite some time. He seemed to be amused as he watched some of the local children carelessly play on the lake’s shore with their pet hog.

We were really quite comfortable just sitting by the shores of the lake, but since we traveled so far we figured that we would regret it if we didn’t make the effort to delve deeper into this remote world.

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With more than 80 Incan and pre Incan archeological sights (dating as far back as 3000 BCE) the Isle of The Sun is a magnificent place to literally hike through history. Among the numerous ruins the three most significant are:

  • Chinkana (labyrinth) – Located in the village of Challapampa, on the north side of the Isle of the Sun. This amazing labyrinth is thought to have been a training ground for Incan priests
  • Sacred Rock and a set of Giant Footprints– Located about 200 feet from Chinkana, this amazing puma shaped rock and enormous footprints are believed (according to Incan religion) to have been created when the sun dropped down to the earth (after the great flood) and gave birth to Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo (the Incan version of Adam and Eve)
  • Incan Steps– The ancient Incan people carved 206 stone steps into the mountainside. According to the Incan religion they are said to lead to a spring that they believe to be the fountain of youth.

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With all of the interesting historical sights I was extremely motivated to see as much of them as possible. The only way to get from place to place on the Isle of the Sun is to walk.  As I climbed through the steep, rocky terrain, I couldn’t help but thank G-D that I was wearing my hiking boots. As I huffed and puffed my way upwards into the thin air, I could feel the high altitude sun baking and blistering my exposed arms. Apparently SPF 30 just isn’t enough to combat the strong sun and high altitude that bakes the Island of the Sun.


I have to admit that once I adjusted to the constant uphill climb, I really enjoyed the hike significantly more than anything else. As my husband and I walked along the burnt sienna foot paths, we had the privilege of meeting some of the local people. This I value above all else, since there’s no better way to get to know a place then to speak to its people and have a glimpse of their ancient way of life.

Wherever I turned my head I saw people farming their fertile land with simple hand tools, women spinning lama wool into yarn, and people hand washing their families clothing in wild streams. Along the way we saw men, caked in dirt, making bricks from mud and straw with their bare hands. Sometimes while walking along a quiet path we would come across a family eagerly selling their handmade crafts.

As we continued up the ancient Incan roads of The Island of The Sun, I was in constant awe of the view of the blue lake lapping against the rocky beach. The energy of this island is completely serene and peaceful. I felt as if this island and the surrounding Lake Titicaca are completely removed from the rest of the world. Perhaps it was the high altitude or perhaps there is something much more to this place then meets the eye.

Zoe Green

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