We are already in our last week in Bolivia, time really flies. We have passed the halfway point also. There are just two destinations left that we want to visit in Bolivia: La Paz and the Titicaca lake.
After a good night of sleep and a relaxing morning, we left Cochabamba at 1 PM. The hostel where we stayed — Running Chaski — really deserves their high rating on hostelworld.com. The facilities were good, the rooms spotless and breakfast was very enjoyable. We bought tickets to La Paz for 25 Bolivianos per person with El Dorado. The bus ride was not too bad. We got delayed as always, but they showed some really great movies. Between 9:30 PM and 10 PM we arrived at the bus terminal in La Paz. We took a taxi to our hostel, which wasn’t really needed: it was just a couple minutes of walking. Checking in to the hostel took quite a while. At 11 PM we finally found a place to have some dinner: a couple of hamburgers with fries.
It was hard to fall asleep last night. The hostel where we stayed (The Adventure Brew Hostel) was very noisy. The reviews that we read online about the unlimited pancake breakfast were right. We had to wait for half an hour before we got our share of pancakes. The supply was very limited, we were lucky to get more than one pancake. Besides the pancakes there was not much else. We started our exploration of the city by going to the Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking office to book our Death Road tour for the next day. The office was in the same street as pretty much all tourist shops. We visited a few stores before we had lunch in the English Pub at the end of the street. The timing we had was excellent, a couple of minutes after we got inside there was a big rain storm.
After a great lunch we took our time to explore the rest of the city. La Paz holds the government seat of Bolivia. It is built in a valley at 3600m elevation, originally because of the gold that could be found in the hills around the city. There are just a handful of historical buildings left from the time of the Spanish conquistadors. We visited two viewpoints of the city that afternoon. The first viewpoint was on the southern side of the city, the second on the northern side of the city. It was a steep climb to get to the viewpoints, but definitely worth it. La Paz is a very unique city. We had our dinner in a steakhouse that night. My steak and shrimps with grilled potatoes tasted very good. We also tried a piece of Alpaca meat, but it was not as good as the menu had us believe.
Today is the big day: we will be cycling the notorious Death Road today. We got up at 6 in the morning, grabbed our stuff and went to the meeting point: Oliver’s. We ordered some breakfast there and at 7:30 AM we got into the van towards the Death Road. It was a one and a half hour drive to the first stop at 4600m elevation. We got some equipment from the guides — jacket, pants, gloves, helmet and a buff — and got to try our mountain bikes. We cycled downhill over a highway for the first 30 kilometers to get used to our bikes. It was a great opportunity to go really fast! The road was split up into sections by our guides, which would then explain what to expect and to do in the next section. We got some coffee or hot chocolate and a sandwich after the first half of cycling. We had to get back into the van to get to the Death Road.
It was just a short ride before we got dropped of at the top of the Death Road. Known as the world’s most dangerous road, on average 3mwide, and with a steep cliff at one side of the road with drops up to 600m! We had to switch sides and start cycling on the left, the same side where the drops are. The climate changed a lot here, we left the high altitude mountainous area behind us and entered the Bolivian jungle. Temperatures would only rise the further we got down. The Death Road starts at 3600m elevation and ends at 1200m elevation. The gravel road winds its way through the mountains for 35km. It was a thrilling ride down. We cycled underneath waterfalls, over small bridges and through rivers. The last 8km we got some pretty bad weather: a tropical rainstorm with thunder. We arrived at the finish completely soaked. We all got a beer as reward, which was very welcome, and after a small stop we continued to an animal refugee nearby for a shower and something to eat. It was a pasta buffet with plenty of vegetables on the side. They gave us a t-shirt for us to show that we successfully cycled the death road. On the way back to La Paz we heard about a girl (from a different tour group) who cycled off the cliff today, luckily they were able to recover her body. Still a horrific thought that not everybody made it. Back in La Paz we relaxed some in the hostel and went for dinner before we got to bed early.
Our final day in La Paz and we had to get up early again. Today we were going to do paragliding. We had to check-out from the hostel before we left. We took a taxi cab at 6:30 AM to get to the office of AndesXtremo. They welcomed us with a cup of tea or coffee. Besides Angelo and I there were three women who went paragliding too. Their husbands joined us to watch them. It was a one and a half hour drive from La Paz to get to the valley for paragliding. At the take-off point we got the instructions for what to do during take-off. The weather conditions were really good that day. We got to go with two people at a time. Between each take-off there was an hour. Two of the women got to go first, then Angelo and one of the women, and finally I. The experience of flying with a paraglide was amazing! We had some really beautiful views of the surroundings, and it gave me a certain feeling of freedom. The flight was just under 17 minutes long. You can see all the flight details here. On our way back to La Paz we stopped for a delicious bowl of Bolivian maní soup (peanut based soup with pasta and meat).
We had a short stop in La Paz before we took the bus to our next destination: Copacabana. We had some lunch in the English pub again and went by the hostel to get our backpacks. We bought the bus tickets at the terminal, and had to wait for only one hour before the bus left. On the journey we had to use a small ferry to cross a part of the Titicaca lake before we would get to Copacabana. We arrived at 9:30 PM at the plaza in town. From there it was just a short walk to our accommodation: Hotel Wendy Mar. We settled ourselves into the room — which was very spacious — and went for some dinner. It was nice to get some fresh fish again for a change. I tried the trout with garlic sauce, very tasteful.
The Titicaca lake is the highest navigable lake in the world, at an elevation of 3808 meters. It is also the largest lake in South America and the largest lake of its kind at such an altitude, with a surface of 8400 sq kilometers. In Andean belief it is the birthplace of the sun.
Of all places that we have visited in South America, Copacabana is on the same level as La Serena in Peru: there is not much to do. We explored the town for a bit on the first morning, and soon decided to leave Copacabana and stay on the Isla del Sol instead. Luckily there was no issue with canceling the last night of our stay in the hotel. We hiked up to the Cerro San Cristobal just north of town. The hilltop is marked with fourteen crosses, and is an popular place for pilgrimage. The view of the town and lake were quite nice. We walked back down the to beachfront for some lunch. Almost every restaurant/bar in town has the same menu. Fresh trout from the lake, pizzas and pastas, Mexican food, and a handful of Bolivian dishes. We opted for the Mexican food this time. We spent most of the afternoon in our hotel room, one of the few places where we had some decent wifi. I was able to Skype with my family back home, as it was my little brothers birthday. We prepared ourselves for the trip to the Isla del Sol and finished the day with dinner in the worst restaurant we have been so far. Service was insanely slow, we had to wait for at least one hour before we got our starters, and the restaurant wasn’t even half filled.
Isla del Sol
We had the boat of 8:30 AM from Copacabana to Isla del Sol. It was a trip of one and a half hours to get to the community of Yumani at the southern end of the island, the place where would spend our night. We had to pay an entrance fee of five Bolivianos when we got off the boat. The small harbor was packed with tourists, and locals renting their mules for carrying luggage. Our accommodation — Hostal del Sol — was at the top of the village, a steep climb up steps for 45 minutes. The location on the hilltop gave us a great view of both sides of the island. The rooms were simple: all supplies have to be carried to the island by boat, and on the island by mules.
We started the visit by going to the viewpoint just a few minutes north of town. The views of the lake were great. The small community of Yumani appeared to be laid out without any planning, forming a colorful mess. Ancient (pre) Inca terraces cover the hillsides as far as the eye could see. We returned shortly to the harbor to check the boat times, and walked onwards to the southernmost point of the island. There we visited the ruins of an Inca palace. Funny to see, but without any signs or information not very interesting. We finished the day by walking part of the ancient pre-Colombian road to the north. Back in Yumani we enjoyed some local specialities: trout again. Very tasteful and very cheap! This would be our final destination in Bolivia too, the next day we would leave for Puno in Peru.