After being on the road in Bolivia for a few weeks, relaxing somewhere away from the hustle and bustle of La Paz is more than welcome. Let me introduce you to the most amazing chill out spot in Bolivia - Isla del Sol.
The Incan's believe that the the sun actually came from this small island on Lake Titicaca in North Western Bolivia. Now it's home to a few locals who mostly rely on income from agriculture and some tourism. There are no cars but plenty of donkeys.
On a good day the island more than lives up to its name, with the sun feeling searingly hot at 3800m above sea level. Even when it rains, it will usually pass within a couple of hours, and the cooler weather makes hiking to ruins a little easier. But don't be fooled, even in summer the nights get bitterly cold, and a open door policy is common in the towns few restaurants. Bring warm clothes, but if you find yourself here ill prepared, locals selling scarfs, ponchos, gloves and hats made of llama and alpaca are not hard to find around the islands walking tracks.
Lake Titicaca is about a 3 hour bus ride from La Paz and Isla del sol is broken into two main sections;
The south of the island is the more touristy part of the island and the village here mainly exists to service tourists with a bunch of hostels and several restaurants. The main draw back here is once you get off the ferry for the majority of hostels there is a 300m vertical climb to get there. Unless you have been at nearly 4000 meters above sea level you will have no idea how much hard work it is to walk this with a full pack. We opted for the northern side of the island.
The northern part of the island is your chill out zone. You arrive via a boat to a small village called Challapampa and here you will find some small houses, tiny little farms and a few enterprising locals who will rent you a room.
Staying in the northern part of the island is a real treat. No need to book accommodation in advance here, you will likely be greeted at the dock by several locals offering you a 'habitacion' or room for the night. For just 25b (US $3.50) you'll stay in an extension of someone's house with a comfortable bed, okay pillow, one wet bathroom, and an amazing water view. Your host will be the nicest person you have met but they will speak not a word of English. Aside from the noise of the odd restless donkey you will get an amazing night sleep.
For those who are on more of a budget, if that is possible, camping is also an option. For just 10b (US $1.20) you can pitch your tent on the beach. Be warned the local pigs are very friendly and may pay you a visit at any time.
There are a handful of restaurants in the northern part of the island. Most of the menu items revolve around trout, which has been freshly caught in the lake. The service will be slow but pleasant, verging on cute, and for 25b the food will impress. There are also small shops selling snacks, and beer. Make sure you bring small change.
Aside from hanging on the beach, reading a book, playing with the local kids or admiring the tiny herds of village animals, the main reason you will come to Isla del sol is for some great 2 hour to 1 day hikes which take in some spectacular views and some quality Incan ruins. These include the Temple of the Sun in the south, abandoned ruins, sacrificial alters and terrace hills.
Please treat this place with respect. Unlike a lot of places in Bolivia you will find little rubbish lying around, and bins are not difficult to find. Use them! Topless sunbathing is a no no. You will be staying in traditional villages where local customs still exist. If you are a loud mouth party animal then this place is not for you. There is no full moon party here, no bars, just people living a nice quiet life on a beautiful quiet lake. If you want an insight into traditional Bolivian village life, then this place is absolutely worth a stop.