Lake Titicaca is apparently the ‘highest commercially navigable lake in the world’, as well as stealing the prize for the largest lake in South America (based on water volume at least… thanks for that Wikipedia). As it also lies between Bolivia and Peru and more to the point La Paz and Machu Picchu – it seemed crazy not to stop and see it. I’d heard differing reports on what to expect – one backpacker I met stating that “if you’ve seen water you’ve seen Lake Titicaca” – so I wasn’t expecting to be blown away. But that damming endorsement couldn’t be further from my own experience – Lago Titicaca was stunningly beautiful and unimaginably huge and in the end I was disappointed to be leaving so quickly.

We decided not to book a hostel in advance as we were arriving early in the day and, even though it was a weekend, we’d been told at this time of year we’d have no trouble getting a room. We had a couple of places which had been recommended to aim at and it was the second of these we chose. With quick wifi (for Bolivia), a massive room with a balcony over looking the lake – as well as the best shower I’d had for months – it felt like a proper bargain at 80Bs each per night (roughly £7).

The first afternoon was spent wandering around Copacabana – which was much smaller than I anticipated (and I thought it would be pretty small). We managed to sort out bus tickets on to Peru, a tour of Isla del Sol for the following day and find out the best place to try the local Trout (a real speciality so they say) in the space of a couple of hours. So everything was going great, well apart from the fact we hadn’t been told that Copacabana has no foreign-card-accepting ATM’s! This gave us a bit of a challenge money wise – we were just about covered once I’d changed up some Brazilian Reals I found in my wallet, but we’d have to watch the pennies a bit here. This wasn’t such a bad thing really, as I need to be watching my money closely at this stage – however, it did lead us to a very cheap dinner which would have some unfortunate consequences the following day…

Salteña’s are a Bolivian version of the classic empanada (a sort of South American pasty). They’re delicious – packed full of flavours unlike the standard empanada which is usually much more plain. They’re big and filling and generally a real bargain. I’ve eaten my fair share (as people who know me well can probably imagine) and as street food goes they’re pretty safe. But there’s a weird tradition of serving them no later than midday which in Sucre and La Paz everybody religiously obeys – so you can never find them in the afternoon or even at lunchtime really. Bizarre. Well, all I can say is that if you do see someone breaking these rules, don’t be tempted. A bit like a culinary gremlin, after midday, they turn bad (I’m not sure what happens if you get them wet, but I don’t want to find out). In Copacabana, looking for the cheapest dinner possible on our first night, I was delighted to find someone still serving Salteñas at 8pm. I did wonder if it was a good idea to be eating it as it was luke warm and not that tasty, but I’d made my investment and blocked out any worries about parasites and worse…

The next morning I awoke to some fairly painful cramps in my stomach. Either I was having my first period or the salteña was to blame. Not having any tampons I was relived to discover that I did indeed have the shits. It could have been a lot worse in reality – I wasn’t throwing up and I didn’t really feel ill, I just had some fairly angry sounding bowels and a 2-3 hour boat ride to prepare for.

My stomach settled down a bit before we got on the boat and I felt like I’d be OK for the day. It was a really beautiful sunny morning as we boarded and we managed to get ourselves a seat on the top viewing deck of the little passenger vessel. Our boat held about 50-75 people and was completely full. This meant that it was a little bit slower than some of the emptier boats that whizzed past us, but it managed to keep to the pre-agreed schedule (not something that tends to happen much in Bolivia). The lake itself is indescribably huge, it just seems like it must be ocean. The horizon disappears with nothing but water visible in most directions and the little town of Copocobana disappeared long before we’d reached Isla del Sol. The whole thing is fresh water too, which I guess is obvious but was amazing to me… you could smell it somehow as well (not that I’ve got a particular nautical nose or anything).

It took about two and a half hours to arrive at the north end of Isla del Sol and luckily for me the first thing we were met with getting off the boat was a bathroom. I was just about getting through, but after nearly three hours on a boat my stomach wasn’t happy. Again, once I’d dealt with the immediate problem I was hopeful I’d get through the walk up to the Inca ruins and was doing my best not to think about the rumbles as we joined up with our guide.

The tour itself was all in Spanish – there are no English language tours – and I was pleased with the amount I was able to understand. Speaking is still pretty difficult for me, but I’m understanding more and more and was able to pick out a lot of the details of what he was saying (Kari’s near perfect Spanish is quite handy to fall back on though… which I do most of the time). We started off at a small museum where we had to buy a ticket which was valid for all of the various attractions we’d be visiting. At 10Bs this was comfortably within even our modest budget, but I have to say the museum didn’t really offer much for the money. Consisting of one tiny little room with some dusty cabinets randomly filled with old pottery and a few photos on the wall – we were ushered in and out in about 5 minutes. There were some items in there which were probably pretty impressive, but we were hurried along and the presentation was so hashed that there was no real way of appreciating them.

After we moved on from the museum we walked out of the tiny town towards the ruins. We walked slowly, stopping at significant points for our guide to illuminate the island with his insight. He was actually very good, passionate, animated and speaking very clearly. But my stomach was getting more and more involved in proceedings and I was soon beyond caring where the Incas kept their virgin girls or which crops they still farmed on the island. This was a real shame as, like I say, the guide was good and what he was saying was very interesting. One of the things I hadn’t known before was that the islanders to this day are completely self sufficient – growing what they need to live and trading with each other but nobody else. So, other than the daily stream of tourists, the island is a micro community that needs no outside contact. Fascinating in retrospect, much harder to care about when you’re trying not to shit yourself.

By the time we made it to the Incan ruins I was in pieces. Bent over double and desperate to find some way of relieving the problem. Unfortunately not much of the little Incan settlement has survived these last few centuries… any toilets they did have back in the day wouldn’t have been a match for what I was about to unleash anyway. This is a real disappointment for me now as I couldn’t appreciate the site in any way – and it was really something special. It was some consolation that I was moving on to see Machu Picchu, but I’m still pretty gutted to have been at this ancient site and barely looked around.

The tour came to a painfully slow climax (for me at any rate) as our guide talked us through a shamanic ritual before requesting his 10 Boliviano fee. As soon as I paid him I was off. In absolute agony I concentrated on controlling my stomach and tried to find the right balance been speed an delicacy with my walk. It was a horrible 25 minutes, but I did manage to make it back to the little baño by the boat without any serious embarrassment.

After this I did feel quite a bit better and was OK getting back on the boat to visit the south part of the island. I’d hoped to trek across rather than getting a lift, but based on the experience I’d just had that didn’t seem like the best idea. By the time we made it to the more built up (only slightly, it’s still very basic) southern town, I felt OK. There’s much less to see on this part of Isla del Sol – a fairly ugly fountain and the town at the top of the hill. But we had an hour or so to kill so we had a look around.

The fountain is the only real ‘attraction’ to speak of and like I say, it’s not that pretty. I didn’t find out much about it or its significance, but it just flows out of an ugly old wall and down the hill into the lake. Once we’d seen that we carried on up to the top of the (very steep) hill until we came to the town, which is just a small collection of non-de-script little houses. Then a bit like the grand old duke of York we marched back down again.

Back in Copacabana that night, watching the sunset from our balcony, I could reflect on a very mixed day on Titicaca (suddenly a fairly appropriate sounding name). It was a real shame my day had been so interrupted by the dodgy salteña I’d chosen to eat the night before, but that didn’t stop my final stop in my Bolivian adventure being a very beautiful and interesting one. Bolivia has been amazing, the three months flying past and leaving Copacabana I couldn’t help wanting just a little bit more time…

Here are some of the best pictures from the beautiful Lago Titicaca. You can see the full gallery here.

Here are some of the best pictures from the beautiful Lago Titicaca. You can see the full gallery here.