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Copacabana. Travel Guide of Copacabana City, Bolivia

Welcome to our Travel Guide of Copacabana City. You will find here a comprehensive information over Copacabana, including Copacabana hotels, Copacabana history, Copacabana climate, around Copacabana, activities in Copacabana, festivals and events, travel companies and hostels.

Copacabana Travel Guide.

1. History of Copacabana.

Copacabana Travel Guide, Bolivia

Lake Titicaca is deservedly awash with gushing clichés. This incongruous splash of sapphire amid the stark plains of the Altiplano is one of the most beautiful sights in the region. Covering 8400 sq km and sitting at 3808m, it Is the largest high-altitude lake of the world.

The lake straddles both Peru and Bolivia, and is a remnant of the ancient inland sea known as Lago Ballivián, which covered much of the Altiplano before geological faults and evaporation brought about a drop in the water level.

The traditional Aymará villages along the lakeshore, with the snow-topped peaks of the Cordillera Real in the background, provide a magical landscape. Even more fascinating for the visitor are the colorful and historical communities that inhabit many tiny islands of the lake. Integral to any visit is learning about the ancient legends of the region, which can enhance the travel experience.

Long rumored to be unfathomable, the depth of the lake has now been measured at up to 457m. Trout were introduced into it in 1939, but are now largely farmed in special hatcheries.

Nestled between two hills and perched on the southern shore of Lake Titicaca, Copacabana (Copa) is a small, bright and enchanting town.

It was for centuries the site of religious pilgrimages, and today local and visiting Peruvian pilgrims flock to its fiestas.

Although it can appear a little touristready, the town is a pleasant place to wander around. It has scenic walks along the lake and beyond, is the launching pad for visiting Isla del Sol and Isla de la Luna, and makes a pleasant stopover between La Paz and Puno or Cuzco (Peru).

After the fall and disappearance of the Tiwanaku culture, the Kollas (Aymará) rose to power in the Titicaca region. Their most prominent deities included the sun and moon (who were considered husband and wife), the earth mother Pachamama and the ambient spirits known as achachilas and apus. Among the idols erected on the shores of the Manco Capac peninsula was Kota Kahuaña, also known as Copacahuana (Aymará for lake view), an image with the head of a human and the body of a fish.

Once the Aymará had been subsumed into the Inca empire, Emperor Tupac Yupanqui founded the settlement of Copacabana as a wayside rest for pilgrims visiting the huaca (shrine) known as Titi Kharka (Rock of the Puma), a former site of human sacrifice at the northern end of Isla del Sol.

Before the arrival of Spanish priests in the mid-16th century, the Incas had divided local inhabitants into two distinct groups.

Those faithful to the empire were known as Haransaya and were assigned positions of power. Those who resisted, the Hurinsaya, were relegated to manual labor. It was a separation that went entirely against the grain of the community-oriented Aymará culture, and the floods and crop failures that befell them in the 1570s were attributed to this social aberration.

This resulted in the rejection of the Inca religion, and the partial adoption of Christianity and establishment of the Santuario de Copacabana, which developed into a syncretic mishmash of both traditional and Christian beliefs. The populace elected La Santísima Virgen de Candelaria as its patron saint, and established a congregation in her honor. Noting the lack of an image for the altar, Francisco Tito Yupanqui, a direct descendant of the Inca emperor, fashioned an image of clay and placed it in the church. However, his rude effort was deemed unsuitable to represent the honored patron of the village and was removed.

The sculptor, who was humiliated but not defeated, journeyed to Potosí to study arts. In 1582 he began carving a wooden image that took eight months to complete.

In 1583 La Virgen Morena del Lago (the Dark Virgin of the Lake) was installed on the adobe altar at Copacabana, and shortly thereafter the miracles began. There were reportedly innumerable early healings and Copacabana quickly became a pilgrimage site.

In 1605 the Augustinian priesthood advised the community to construct a cathedral commensurate with the power of the image. The altar was completed in 1614, but work on the building continued for 200 years. In 1805 the mudéjar (Moorish-style) cathedral was finally consecrated, although construction wasn’t completed until 1820. In 1925 the image of Francisco Tito Yupanqui was canonized by the Vatican.

2. Basic Information About Copacabana.

Emergency Police (Main Plaza).

Immigration No immigration office in Copacabana, but Kasani (border with Peru) it is only 30 min by bus.

Internet Access 2-3 places to surf over internet, but expensives and very slows.

Laundry Lavanderías are noticeably scarce, although many hotels now offer a laundry service. Laundry services are offered along 6 de Agosto.

Medical Services There is a basic hospital on the southern outskirts of town with medical and dental facilities, but for serious situations do not think twice – head straight to La Paz.

Money Travelers beware: there ins no ATM in town. Calle 6 de Agosto is the Wall Street of Copacabana with many money booths.

Post and Telephone Entel (Plazuela Tito Yupanqui, 7:00-11:00) In a modern building behind the cathedral. Entel, Cotel, Tigo and Viva puntos (privately run phone offices) are dotted along 6 de Agosto and around town. Post office (8:30-12:00 and 14:30-16:00 Tue-Sun) On the north side of Plaza 2 de Febrero, but often closed or unattended.

Tourist Information Centro de Información de Comunitario (Plaza Sucre, 9:00-13:00 and 15:00-19:00) An NGO-sponsored project encouraging tourism to three communities in the area: Isla de la Luna, Challapampa and Las Islas Flotantes. It has an excellent photographic exhibit (English labeling), a short screening and a community shop. Centro de Información Turística (T. 71915544, 16 de Julio, near Plaza Sucre, 9:30-17:00 Tue-Sat) Another attempt at a municipal information office – this time they seem to be getting it right. Helpful English-speaking attendant, although rudimentary information available.

Electricity 110V.

3. Weather in Copacabana.

From February to November the climate around Lake Titicaca is mostly pleasant and sunny, but there is often a cool wind off the lake and nights can be bitterly cold. Most rainfall occurs in midsummer (December and January).

Temperature in Copacabana, Bolivia Rainfall in Copacabana, Bolivia

4. The City of Copacabana.

a) Cathedral

Copacabana Travel Guide, Bolivia

The sparkling white mudéjar cathedral, with its domes and colorful azulejos (blue Portuguese-style ceramic tiles), dominates the town. Check the notice board in front of the entrance for the mass schedule.

The black Virgen de Candelaria statue of the cathedral Camarín de la Virgen de Candelaria, carved by grandson of Inca Tupac Yupanqui, Francisco Yupanqui, is encased above the altar upstairs in the niche (camarín); note, visiting hours can be unreliable. The statue is never moved from the cathedral, as superstition suggests that its disturbance would precipitate a devastating flood of Lake Titicaca.

The cathedral is a repository for both European and local religious art and the Museo de la Catedral contains some interesting articles – offerings from hopeful individuals. Unfortunately, the museum is open only to groups of four or more (unless, of course, you are happy to pay) and you will most probably need to chase down a sister to arrange your visit.

b) Copacabana Beach

Copacabana Travel Guide, Bolivia

While the only public beach of Bolivia ca not hold a candle to the better-known beach of the same name in Rio de Janeiro, on weekends the festive atmosphere is a magnet for families.

You can take a pew at one of the many little eateries along the (unfortunately) drain-ridden shore front. More appealingly, you can soak up sun, trout and beer. Or, you can rent all manner of boating craft, bicycles and motorbikes.

c) Cerro Calvario

Copacabana Travel Guide, Bolivia

The summit of Cerro Calvario can be reached in half an hour and is well worth the climb, especially in the late afternoon to watch the sunset over the lake. The trail to the summit begins near the church at the end of Calle Destacamento 211 and climbs past the 14 Stations of the Cross.

d) Horca del Inka

Copacabana Travel Guide, Bolivia

The fascinating Horca del Inca is a pre-Inca astronomical observatory. This odd trilithic gate perched on the hillside is surrounded by pierced rocks that permit the rays of the sun to pass through onto the lintel during the solstice of June 21, the Aymará New Year (this predicts everything from the amount of rain to the crop yields).

During this time locals venture up before sunrise to celebrate.

These weirdly rugged rock formations merit an hour or so of exploration. From near the end of Calle Murillo, a signposted trail leads uphill to the site.

A further 4km down this road, toward Kasani (near the turnoff to the floating islands), lies Cerro Kopakati, a carved stone featuring pre-Inca ruins and pictographs. The best known, but difficult to distinguish, is the Escudo de la Cultura Chiripa, a unique icon attributed to the pre-Inca Chiripa culture.

e) Tribunal del Inka - Inti Kala

Copacabana Travel Guide, Bolivia

North of the cemetery on the southeastern outskirts of town is the sadly neglected site of artificially sculpted boulders known as the Inca Tribunal. Its original purpose is unknown, but there are several carved stones with asientos (seats), basins and hornecinos (niches), which probably once contained idols.

f) Kusijata and Baño del Inca

Copacabana Travel Guide, Bolivia

A 3km walk northeast along the shoreline from the end of Calles Junín or Hugo Ballivián leads to the community of Kusijata, where there is a former colonial hacienda, housing a small, dusty (read untouched) archaeological display. If you can see in the semi-dark – there is no electricity – seek out the long-deceased mummified corpse (chullpa) sitting in an upright fetal position, as he was buried. If no one is at the entrance, simply ask around. You can also enter the now-unkempt gardens where there is a pre-Columbian irrigation channel, originally used to access the subterranean water supply. Head past the first gushing pipe and follow the path to the carved-stone water tank, the Baño del Inca (Inca Bath), whose origins and meanings are a little unclear.

g) Museo del Poncho

Copacabana Travel Guide, Bolivia

A visit to the Museo del Poncho (Baptista, corner Costañera, 9:30-12:30 and 15:00-18:00 Mon-Sat, 9:30-16:00 Sun) will help you unravel the mysteries of the regional textiles. The exhibits, spread over two floors, give a clear insight into the origins and meanings of the poncho and their associated regions. Labels are in both English and Spanish.

5. Around Copacabana.

a) Copacabana to Yampupata

Copacabana Travel Guide, Bolivia

An enjoyable way to reach Isla del Sol is to walk or travel in taxi or minibus along the lakeshore to the village of Yampupata, which lies just a short boat ride from the ruins of Pilko Kaina on Isla del Sol.

If walking, this trek is road-bound, making it a fairly hot and hard slog (allow seven hours if you are stopping along the way), although with lovely views and interesting village visits. Take your own snacks; there is little, if anything, along the way. From Copacabana, head northeast on the road around the lake for around 1.5 hours until the Gruta de Lourdes (aka Gruta de Fátima), a cave that for locals evokes images of its French and Portuguese namesakes, respectively. For a shortcut, turn right immediately after the small bridge leaiding to the Virgin and follow the Inca path.

When the path peters out head directly uphill to rejoin the main road at the crest of the hill.

At the fork just below the crest of the hill bear left and descend to the shore and into the village of Titicachi. For die-hard archaeologists, in and around Titicachi are some pre-Inca walls and the abandoned Tiahuanacota Inca cemetery, but these are not obvious to the visitor. The community currently boasts two privately run floating islands, although at the time of research the return trip to Isla del Sol with both boat companies incorporated a visit here.

An alternative hiking option, especially for those who do not want to head to Isla del Sol, is to catch a taxi from Copacabana along the main road and stop at villages along the way. You finish at the beautiful and unspoiled cobblestone village of Sampaya, 5km from Yampupata.

b) Islas Flotantes

Copacabana Travel Guide, Bolivia

Visit Las Islas Flotantes (floating reed islands), a community project at Sahuiña, approximately 6km from Copa, for a delightful spin on one of the most tranquil parts of the lake, in a row boat or a totora-reed boat. Hint: take the minibus towards Kasani and ask to be let off at the entrance (a 10-minute ride). The office is 15 minutes on foot from here, and it’s another 15 minutes to the boats.

6. Tours and Activities in Copacabana

a) Hikes

Copacabana Travel Guide, Bolivia

Hike around the stunning peninsula south of town; this offers a different perspective of the lake. Head 6km out of town to the village of Jiska Qota, near the ex-pista (former airport strip). To get there, catch a minibus marked Kasani, and after about 10 minutes you wll arrive at the ex-pista. Follow the road towards the lake heading in a northeasterly – and then northerly – direction around the peninsula and back to Copa.

7. Festivals and Events.

January 1: New Year 's Day.

January 24: Alasitas.

Alasitas festival. One local tradition is the blessing of miniature objects, such as miniature cars or houses. Supplicants pray that the real thing will be obtained in the coming year.

February 2-5: Virgen de la Candelaria.

Fiesta de la Virgen de Candelaria Honors the patron saint of Copacabana and all Bolivia. Copacabana holds an especially big bash, and pilgrims and dancers come from Peru and around Bolivia. There is much music, traditional Aymará dancing, drinking and feasting.
On the third day celebrations culminate with the gathering of 100 bulls in a stone corral along the Yampupata road, and the braver (and drunker) citizens of the town jump into the arena and try to avoid being attacked.

February or March (changeable date): Carnival.

April (Changeable date): Easter.

Palm Sunday: The Saturday before Easter. People enter temples with branches which the clergy bless.
Holy Thursday: It is a tradition of the people to visit 12 temples of the city, one for each apostle, in this day.
Good Friday: Procession of the Holy Sepulchre.

May (First weekend): Fiesta de la Cruz

Fiesta de la Cruz (Feast of the Cross) Celebrated over the first weekend in May all around the lake, but the biggest festivities are in Copacabana.

May-June (Changeable date): Señor del Gran Poder

La Festividad de Nuestro Señor Jesús del Gran Poder Held in late May or early June, El Gran Poder began in 1939 as a candle procession led by an image of Christ through the predominantly campesino neighborhoods of upper La Paz. The following year the local union of embroiderers formed a folkloric group to participate in the event. In subsequent years other festival-inspired folkloric groups joined in, and the celebration grew larger and more lively. It has now developed into a unique La Paz festival, with dancers and folkloric groups from around the city participating.
Embroiderers prepare elaborate costumes for the event and upwards of 25,000 performers practice for weeks in advance. El Gran Poder is a wild and exciting time, and offers a glimpse of Aymará culture at its festive finest.
A number of dances are featured, such as the suri sikuris (in which the dancers are bedecked in ostrich feathers), the lively kullawada, morenada, caporales and the inkas, which duplicates Inca ceremonial dances.

June (Changeable date):

Corpus Christie: Commemoration of the Body of Christ.

June 21 and 24: Andean New Year and San Juan

Aymará New Year and San Juan The winter solstice is celebrated across the Altiplano around June 21, the longest and coldest night of the year. Festivities feature huge bonfires and fireworks in the streets, plus lots of drinking to stay warm.
San Juan (June 24) The Christian version of the solstice celebration. The solstice celebrations are most lively at Tiwanaku.

July 16: Anniversary of La Paz.

Fiestas de Julio This month-long cultural series at the Teatro Municipal features much folk music.
Virgen del Carmen The patron saint of the department of La Paz gets her own public holiday (July 16), which includes many dances and parades.

July (last saturday of month): Entrada Universitaria.

Entrada Folklórica de Universitaria Held on the last Saturday in July, and with an atmosphere alluding to Carnaval, hundreds of dance groups made up of students from around the country perform traditional dances through the streets of La Paz.

August 6: National Day.

Bolivian Independence Day Copacabana stages its biggest event during the first week in August. It is characterized by round-the-clock music, parades, brass bands, fireworks and amazing alcohol consumption. This coincides with a traditional pilgrimage that brings thousands of Peruvians into the town to visit the Virgin.

September 21: Day of Spring. Youth and Students of Bolivia.

First Sunday in October: Feast of the Virgin of Merced.

Second Sunday in October: Feast of the Virgin of Rosario.

November 1: Todos Santos (All Saints Day).

This is a pre-columbian tradition when the people go to visit the Tombs prepared at home by the relatives of the deceased and where the friends are offered the same food and drink liked by him.

November 2: Difuntos (Day of the Deceased)

The tombs are dismantled and the people celebrate in the memory of the deceased.

November 3: Alma Cacharpaya (Soul of the Calypsobreakers)

Those in charge of dismantling the tombs show up in the home of the deceased with an orchestra so that the soul of the deceased will be happy.

December 24 and 25: Christmas Eve and Christmas day.

8. Travel Companies and Tour Operators in Copacabana.

Colonial Tours (Same building of Hostal Colonial) Offers a variety of boat transport to Isla del Sol and Isla de la Luna.

9. Hotels and Hostels in Copacabana.

Hotel Glorial (avenida 16 de Julio, Website).

Hotel Utama (Michel Perez cornes San Antonio, Website).

10. Restaurants and Bars in Copacabana.

Restaurant Vegetariano Kala Uta (6 de Agosto at 16 de Julio) An artsy, appealing Andean atmosphere pervades this place. It serves up passable, if slightly bland, vegetarian choices. The breakfasts are more imaginative; try the poder Andino (Andean power) – quinoa crêpes topped with jam, banana, yogurt, Brazil nuts, raisins and coconut. Its opening hours are a bit unreliable.

Pueblo El Viejo (6 de Agosto # 684) Readers love this rustic, cozy and chilled cafe-bar, with its ethnic decor and laid-back atmosphere. It serves up a good burger and pizza, and is open until late (thus breakfast clients sometimes eat here in a stale haze of smoke, courtesy of the previous clients of evening).

Waykys (16 de Julio, at Busch) A friendly, warm den of a place with cozy corners, graffiti-covered walls and ceilings (you can add what you want), a billiards table, book exchange and a varying range of music.

Nemos Bar (6 de Agosto # 684) This dimly lit, late-night hangout is a popular place for a tipple.

11. Getting There and Away.

Air No commercial flights to anywhere from local airport. El Alto International Airport (Airport of La Paz is at three hours by road).

Bus The main bus terminal is on Plaza 2 de Febrero.

  • La Paz-Copacabana-La Paz: (170 Km paved road) Daily departures from 5:00-17:00. Manko Kapac and 2 de Octubre runs this trip.
  • Peru-Copacabana-Peru: (Paved road) Daily departures to Puno, Cusco, Lima and Arequipa. Tour companies sell tickets to this destinations.

Boat All agencies sell tickets to Isla del Sol for boat companies Titicaca and Andes Amazonia. Alternatively, you can buy tickets on the morning of departure from one of the beach offices. Local community boats (Mallku and Sol Tours) also run less frequent trips.

Train No commercial service anywhere.

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