Sun Island is beautiful and the journey from one end to another is a challenge to the senses, your body will say "enooouuughh!". The road is 11 km, hilly, and 4000 m above sea level. If you're not used to the altitude or you're an athlete, it gets difficult in places. The Huayna Picchu and all the other experiences we had on our trip were like strolls in the park! The challenge is worth it for the scenery, though. Lake Titicaca on the island seems much bluer than elsewhere. You reach the island by taking a small boat from Copacabana. However, for me Sun Island seemed extremely commercial and exploited by tourism, which I didn't feel elsewhere in Bolivia. Everything has been sold, even the stones that were supposedly Inca ruins. I hope they were not. In addition, the ruins here aren't well maintained, and people climb over them, nobody says anything to them.
I was in Tiwanaku in November 2007. I went with high expectations, I had read a lot about the sun gate and the Inca rituals which used to be performed at the site. I was stopping in La Paz, and I went with two friends who lived there temporarily. We drove, leaving the Alto was difficult, but once we found our way it was a lot easier. Upon entering, we found a sign that said: "The capital of Tiwanaku empire in classical times was a densely centralised state controlled by top artisans and farmers who supplied a variety of products harvested from different ecological countries." They are still excavating, and I watched how women perform the tasks that are more suitable for men. How they built the walls with stones of different sizes and how they all fit perfectly was really impressive including the blocks for the sun gate and statues. My photos are on flickr and can be seen at http://www.Flickr.Com/photos/celi-online/sets/72157603740144253/
Our Lady of Peace is the administrative capital of Bolivia and the highest capital in the world! The colonial city that is at the heart of the present city, is lower than other neighborhoods. The streets are much like those of other colonial cities in South America. But because of its mountainous topology, here it was harder to organize the city into blocks that were perpendicular, as in Mexico or Chile . The streets are crooked, winding, go up and down and the air becomes increasingly difficult to breathe. It is a cheap place where you can sleep for 3 euros per night, eating for 1 euro and most visits require no payment. There is a residential zone which is nice, but it's quiet, no activity and not much to see, more than lovely contemporary houses. The main street is named the Prado. In the colonial center, there are many well-preserved houses with wooden balconies and painted in bright colors, is very beautiful. Come to the witches market, to know a little more about Aymara sorcery!
These are photos from two separate visits where the sky's colour can be seen. The weather is sunny and cold in June, and cloudy, but not too cold in late September. On the second visit we had the pleasure of renting a little both with three other travellers to get to an island where, legend has it, the ancient shamans performed their rituals.
Murillo Square is the main square in La Paz. It was named that in honor of Pedro Domingo Murillo ve lived from 1759 to 1810. He was a Bolivian patriot ve was a precursor to Bolivian Independence. Currently it's in the heart of the city. In the center of the square a monument to immortalize the martyr was erected. Nearby, is the presidential palace, the seat of the Congress and the Cathedral.
Near the southern part, and the most high-end part, of La Paz, you'll find the Valle de la Luna, which is a kind of valley with cannons that can be traveled in one hour. Here we can also appreciate rocky peaks around chimneys and cacti. The visit seemed very nice, aunuqe the route is a bit short.
The San Francisco Church is situated in La Paz, in the plaza of the same name, dating back to the 16th century. Its architectural style is representative of the mestizo (mixed Spanish), which combines Spanish and pre-Columbian art. It is a very noisy and I liked the contrast of going inside of the church which gives visitors peace and quiet.
If you want to see it in full, you'll have to organise yourself carefully and walk briskly, but it's a good idea to do so, as the corn/pineapple roasts are to die for, and a blessing from the shaman can't hurt.
Coroico is about 100 kilometers from La Paz, but it seems as if it were 1000, because the weather is quite different. While La Paz has a highland climate, at a 4000 meter altitude, Coroico has a subtropical climate, as it is the gateway to the Bolivian jungle . Its population is mostly Aymara, Afro-Bolivian mestizos and foreigners (who mainly come for tourism) but the town does not exceed 3000. The town is quite picturesque, but the best aspect is the big mountains that surround the town, covered by lush nature. An hour's walk from the village are the Black River and Coriguayo. The trails are full of all kinds of flowers, orchids, exotic birds and waterfalls, which are all abundant in the area. It's real pleasure, but one must be well-equipped for the rain, which is very common in this region.
I think that whoever named this road had never travelled in the Himalayas or the Karakorum. The road is really pretty dangerous, especially if you have to take the old road if the new one is blocked by landslides. It has become very popular to descend this extreme road by mountain bike. It's a one hour drive through the mountain pass from Paz to Coroico. The passage of the summit is at 4700 meters above sea level, surrounded by huge mountains that are over 5000 meters, and is the main passage between Paz and Yungas (Amazon basin). The route descends 3600 meters in altitude in 64 kilometres, from 4700 meters to the subtropical valleys of the Yungas, passing the villages of Yolosa (1200 meters) and Coroico (1500 meters). Since 1995, it has the honourable title of being the world's most dangerous road, according to the Inter-American Development Bank. The downhill biking is spectacular, although you should not take your eye off the road. The contrast of scenery along the route is bestial, from the eternal snows of the Andean peaks to the extensive subtropical Yungas forests.
Traquilo Copacabana is a town on the border between Peru and Bolivia, on the shore of Lake Titicaca. The church is actually a cathedral, built in the centre, and is important for the Inca religion. They believe it's the cradle of the birth of its civilization. Many pilgrims come to see the Virgin of Copacabana, also known as the "Queen of Bolivia". This Virgin is the most revered in the country. The cathedral was built in 1580, after the Virgin appeared, in a style reminiscent of Moorish churches in the south of Spain. On the weekend, there is a peculiar ritual performed. People come, sometimes from far, to bless their car. They decorate their car with flowers and colour and covered it with sparkling wine, while a priest throws holy water and says a prayer. There is lots of noise, music, singing, and dancing. The people consider it good luck for avoiding accidents. Since Bolivia has the most dangerous roads in the world, I guess it's a good idea.
Chacaltaya is a mountain that rises to over 5400 meters above sea level. To reach its summit, you can only take a car up to 5300 meters, after that you've got to walk the remaining hundred meters. The slope is not very steep, but at that height it's exhausting! The views over the mountains and lakes of different colors - red, brown, blue (lakes have those colors as original by the minerals that compose them) - are wonderful. It's really awesome.
To get to La Paz from Copacabana you must cross the Strait of Tiquina, in small boats or on rafts and barges with space for cars on them. The views over Lake Titicaca are absolutely amazing and it is 780 meters wide. One of the strange things you see is a sign claiming landlocked Bolivia, an eternal conflict with Peru since the year 1879 when Bolivia lost access to the ocean, after the War of the Pacific.
Copacabana, a nice Bolivian town on Lake Titicaca, 4 hours bus from Puno (Peru), very quiet and full of backpackers and artisans. It can climb to Calvary (we couldn't because Ro had fever during three days we were there), visit mannerist style church where the virgin of Copacabana (whole building is really impressive). The Basilica of Copacabana: a Moorish-style building built in 1550 is home to the Virgin Morena. The day we went there was a procession of cars and trucks decorated with floral arrangements that would bless the vehicle.
The La Paz Cathedral is situated on the Plaza Murillo. It is in a neoclassical style and was constructed in the year 1831. Inside are the the columns supporting the Corinthian-style building. The plan of the temple façade is divided into 2 bodies, which were prepared by Antonio Camponovo.
To call the path connecting La Paz to Copacabana a road is lying. The winding path has no shoulder, no signs and is very narrow. But, it's incredibly beautiful. Most of the time it runs along the great Lake Titicaca, and when it does, the undulating landscape is dotted by humble cottages surrounded by gardens. The real adventure begins after an hour and a half in the village of San Pedro. The village is along the Strait of Tiquina and you have to get off the bus to cross it on an 18th century raft. Passengers cross in a brightly painted boat. Once on the other side, you have to walk a few yards to get another bus. At these altitudes you have to be careful, because you're brain might not be thinking properly and you might get on the wrong bus. I clarify because it happened to me.
Bolivians are very superstitious, and there are plenty of rituals centered around daily life. One is to bury a llama fetus under the foundations of your home in order to protect the building from natural disasters. This tradition began in the time of the Incas, and this custom has survived the fall of the empire. There is even a witches' market in La Paz! They don't like cameras, but it's easy to understand why: it's a little creepy!