Just across the Bolivian border is the scenic and sacred city of Copacabana, spilling from the Andes toward Titicaca’s glittering expanse. Originally called Kota Kawana (“View of the Lake”) in the Aymara tongue, this picturesque place has been a destination since long before the rise of the Inca Empire and remains a favorite base for exploring the lake and Bolivian islands.
Many travelers prefer Copacabana to Puno, though the Peruvian port offers access to popular islands such as Islas Uros, Taquile, Amantani, and Suasi; Copacabana is your best base for Isla del Sol and Isla de la Luna. It’s a four-hour bus ride between the two cities, including the usually quick, hassle-free border crossing. Travelers should keep in mind that Bolivia is a reciprocal visa country; ie, you’ll pay whatever Bolivians do to enter your home country. This ranges from free for EU members to US$135 for US citizens.
You’re probably here to visit Isla del Sol, the lake’s most popular island. You can arrange half- and full-day trips from Copacabana (protip: go for the full-day trip), or arrange to overnight at one of several hotels. But be sure to stay in the scenic port city for at least a day or two; Copacabana has much to recommend it.
The most famous site is the whitewashed, Mujedar-style 1619 Basilica of Our Lady of Copacabana, home to a revered wooden statue of Bolivia’s patron saint. The Virgin of Copacabana, also known as the “Dark Virgin of the Lake,” was carved in 1583 by Francisco Tito Yupanqui, the nephew of Inca Emperor Huayna Capac. She still watches over Titicaca from her graceful basilica, protecting the city from storms, earthquakes, and enemy attacks. Several pilgrimages and festivals are held in her honor throughout the year.
Other attractions include an incredibly scenic hike dedicated to the 14 Stations of the Cross, well worth it for the splendid sunset views. Or, visit the Horca del Inca (Gallows of the Inca), which was neither a gallows nor Incan, but a far older astronomical observatory hewn from native stone by the Chiripa peoples around 1300 BCE.
In the city proper, you could visit the modest Museo del Poncho, featuring fine examples of the region’s famed textiles. Or, purchase some of your own from the dozens of shops and stalls along Avenida 6 de Agosto. The beautiful beach is a bit chilly for swimming, but you can rent a kayak or paddleboat, walk along the rocky coast, or just relax in one of the ramshackle restaurants overlooking the scene and enjoy the local specialty, lake trout.