We returned to Debbie and Geoff’s Pizzeria to buy sandwiches for our day trip to the Isla del Sol. Most visitors to the island spend multiple days there, hiking from village to village up and down the steeply terraced hillsides, taking in views of the many ruins and Lake Titicaca. Regrettably we had one day to visit the island.
We trundled down to the jetties in Copacabana and sat ourselves down on one of the many boats that head up to the island. As soon as we pushed off we both felt better for being out in the fresh air and doing stuff again.
The journey took 90 minutes, after which we disembarked at the foot of the 'Inca Steps' in the village of Yumani. As soon as we arrived we realised that it would have been great to spend longer on the island, if only to get out on the trails and away from the boisterous day tourists who had sharpened their elbows especially for today’s visit. At the top of the steps, there is a freshwater spring that was once believed to provide everlasting health.
Lake Titicaca is over 3,000m above sea level so we arrived at the brow of the hill somewhat out of breath. The water level of the lake is believed to at one point have been 85m lower than the current, leading to speculation that the Isla del Sol may have once been connected to the main land, explaining its extremely early inhabitation approximately 4,000 years ago. The steps we walked on are believed to continue down well below the surface of the water, where the lake is now 200m deep in places. You can see the Isla de la Luna in the middle-ground of the above picture, a smaller island that can also be visited.
The Isla del Sol is believed to be the birth place of the Inca Sun God, Inti. This belief is partly shared by the Tiahuanaco people, who believe the Lake was the womb from which their deity emerged. Another example of overlapping belief systems from one civilisation to the next.
The inhabitants of the islands still farm in and around the main villages but many of the terraces in between are now left uncultivated. The island does not seem to rely as heavily on self-sufficiency as it once did, no doubt the effect of daily boats to Copacabana and increased tourism has supplemented their way of life.
The island has a rugged beauty and thanks to clear weather we got great views east towards the Andes ranges that run north out of La Paz, bordering the eastern shores of Lake Titicaca.
We were herded along the terraces to the site of Pilko Kaina. Our tour guide told us this was an Aymaran Temple of the Sun. But a quick fact check told us this is the two-level Palacio del Inca, thought to have been built by the Inca ruler, Tupac-Yupanq. I guess you get when you pay for when it is £2 each for a tour! Pilko Kaina is one of the smaller archaeological sites on the island, with many more ruins along the island up to its northernmost point, Challapampa. Sadly we didn’t have time to see these sites, next time perhaps.
The boat journey back in the late afternoon Sun was packed with ever-changing views of the lake and its rocky shoreline. Both of us felt it a real shame that we couldn’t spend more time on the island, compounded by the pushy and panicked vibe of the day tour group.
Compared to Taquile, that we visited a couple of days later, the Isla del Sol seems to be more of a relic to past glory. The identity of the people and health of their local economy and culture has been sacrificed in favour of touristic demand. This is of course my initial impression based on seeing only a fraction of an island which is known for its sweeping hillsides, rocky coves and the many ruins of a civilisation now all but gone.
It would have been interesting to compare the two islands in more detail; a thriving culture that has survived into the modern day on Taquile, compared with the grand ruins of a once verdant and wealthy society on the Isla del Sol. Which begs the question, what happened on the Isla del Sol that meant it was reduced to ruins? A missed opportunity I fear. While I can always go back to the books once home, sometimes there is no substitute for learning things there and then.
We returned to Copacabana in time for an early dinner in front of yet another beautiful sunset.