Is that the beach? The highs and lows of Copacabana, Bolivia

There is probably no other name that conjures an image of tropical paradise (sparkling ocean, fabulous beach, beautiful people) quite so strongly as Copacabana. It’s a name redolent with meaning and association – who could forget Astrud Gilberto’s sultry The Girl from Ipanema or, for that matter, Homer Simpson in a thong? So it is understandable that a visit to Copacabana should fizzle with excitement.

Unfortunately, Copacabana, Bolivia, doesn’t quite live up to its more famous counterpart in Brazil. That’s not to say it isn’t a charming and tranquil town with a dramatic location overlooking the deep blue waters of Lake Titicaca. It’s just that it fails to excite the imagination in the same way that the other Copacabana does, which is unfair because it is also the gateway to Isla del Sol, birthplace of the Inca creation myth and a gorgeous place to spend a few days relaxing before heading to Peru.

From La Paz the journey north towards the lake is itself pretty dramatic, skirting the jagged snowcapped peaks of the Cordillera Real and offering travellers spectacular views.

The Cordillera Real en route to Copacabana, Bolivia
The Cordillera Real en route to Copacabana, Bolivia

To reach Copacabana it’s first necessary to cross a part of Lake Titicaca that cuts Copacabana off from the rest of Bolivia. The crossing is done on a barge, which isn’t without excitement. A few years ago a barge carrying a bus and its passenger capsized with a number of fatalities. Since that tragedy buses and passengers go on separate barges.

Bus crossing the Estrecho de Tiquina, en route to Copacabana, Bolivia
Barge crossing the Estrecho de Tiquina, en route to Copacabana, Bolivia

Copacabana itself is a fairly small town set between two large hills on the edge of a crescent-shaped beach lined with duck-themed pedaloes.  It is a pleasant place to spend a day before taking a boat to Isla del Sol, and for exquisite views of the town and lake a lung bursting climb of Copacabana’s iconic Cerro Calvario is obligatory.

Copacabana beach on the shores of Lake Titicaca
Copacabana from Cerro Calvario

The route up Cerro Calvario is severe and marked by the Stations of the Cross. The top is home to a Catholic shrine, although if I’m honest the actual worship that takes place there owes far more to pre-hispanic, pre-Christian beliefs performed by traditional priests practicing ancient rites that are anything but Catholic.

It’s not uncommon to see libations of beer or spirits being offered to Pachamama, the pre-hispanic earth mother, or the burning of coals and incense wafted over the heads of individuals undergoing a traditional rite.

The Catholic shrine on top of Cerro Calvario, Copacabana, Bolivia
Beer and burnt offerings, Copacabana, Bolivia

Of course not everyone feels inclined to walk to the top of a big hill at 3800m altitude, or to admire the magnificent view that one gets from all that exertion. No, some people feel that all they need for a good time is a hammock. Faulty logic in my opinion, but what do I know…this hammock can be located at the Hostal Las Olas ( which has unique and really wonderful rooms-cum-cabins to stay in, plus tremendous views over the lake.

Hammock time for the perennially lazy

2 thoughts on “Is that the beach? The highs and lows of Copacabana, Bolivia

  1. I think that person in the hammock has exactly the right idea

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