If you ask us, Copacabana, Bolivia is a far more pleasant basecamp on Lake Titikaka (spelled Titicaca in Latin America) than the much larger city of Puno on the Peruvian side of the lake. Use this brief travel guide to enjoy lake life in Copacabana, Bolivia.
What to do in Copacabana, Bolivia
Copacabana, which had that name before the more famous Copacabana in Brazil, is about four hours by bus from La Paz. Today, about 6,000 people live in Copacabana and it’s a major stop for travelers who want to explore Lake Titikaka.
The Inca considered the lake to be sacred because they believed the original Incan King emerged from the lake. The main attraction on the lake is a visit to Isla del Sol which the Incans considered to be the birthplace of their empire.
However, since 2016 this island has been embroiled in an increasingly violent dispute between two of the island’s three communities. The result is that the northern half of the island is completely off-limits to tourism. You can visit the southern part of the island, but you cannot currently visit the sites in the north or hike the length of the island. After waiting in vain for the dispute to work itself out, we gave in and booked our trip to the southern half of Isla del Sol and to Isla de la Luna anyway.
Another reason to visit Copacabana is to experience the annual festival of the Virgin of Candelaria which is another name for the Virgin of Copacabana which is the patron saint of Bolivia. This multi-day festival is so important that they celebrate it twice per year in Copacabana: Once starting on February 2 and again starting on August 5. See what the celebration looks like in our photo essay from the Virgin of Candelaria festival in Copacabana.
And if you’ve got a vehicle like we do, getting it blessed in front of the Basilica of Our Lady of Copacabana in the main plaza in Copacabana is another top activity. Every day at 10 am vehicles line up in front of the church and purchase flowers and other decorations from local vendors which are then used to dress up your vehicle. Eventually, a priest emerges and sprinkles holy water all over your vehicle, on the engine, and on the occupants.
Where to sleep in Copacabana, Bolivia
Copacabana is full of cheap hostels, mid-range tour group hotels, and a few quirky boutique hotels. We stayed at the basic but economical hotel Hotel Wendy Mar which is central, clean, secure and serves up a good breakfast (included in rates) with eggs, fruit, juice, cakes, bread, coffee, tea, and more. If you don’t want to be right in town, we can also recommend Hostel Piedra Andina on the hillside above town which offers great service and great lake views, but you have to be willing to travel up and down to town.
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Where to eat in Copacabana, Bolivia
We had great soup and a terrific falafel plate at La Orilla restaurant on the main street leading down to Lake Titikaka. It’s also one of the more stylish and tidy places and has an outdoor patio with a roof which keeps the space warm and inviting even in the rain.
For fresh baked goodies, bottomless cups of great coffee, and excellent pizza we relied on Pan America (get it?) on the main plaza in front of the church. Everything was great and the expat owners were good company. They’ve since returned to the US but new owners seem to be offering essentially the same menu.
For a fancier meal, head up the hill to the restaurant at Hotel La Cupula for good views of the lake, stylish surroundings, great service, and terrific international dishes (our goulash over gnocchi was spot on). The hotel is one of those quirky boutique options in Copacabana, so check it out while you’re up there.
You need to be very careful with water in Copacabana for two reasons. First, water is poorly distributed in town so water can be scarce. Don’t waste it. Also, what water there is comes from Lake Titikaka which is also where all waste from the city goes, so water quality is very, very poor. When we were there a much-needed sewage treatment facility and a lake water purification system were in the works but not yet operating.
Here’s more about travel in Bolivia