Previous Post: From Copacabana To Isla del Sol
The night before we had walked up to the mirador – the scenic lookout on the island’s highest point. We then made our way back down to the Ecolodge La Estancia for dinner and a restful evening. The next morning we first headed for the village of Yumani. Our guide Javier had arranged for a restaurant there to prepare that day’s lunch-in-a-bag for us. I noticed a few lodges and cheaper hotels – and a lot of places offering pizza! – in the village. You don’t have to stay at the Ecolodge if you’re on a tight budget.
The map below shows the path – the ruta sagrada – that we walked to the north end of the island. The cool of the morning – it was about 8:30 when we started -and the entire island being vehicle-free, it made for a wonderful walk on a very well maintained path. It is about nine kilometers end-to-end.
[ Do note that the map below is turned 90º to fit a landscape image format. The island actually angles from southeast at the Yumani end to northwest on the Chincana/Titi Khar’ka end.]
A Two-Day Exploration of Isla del Sol: One Way to do it…
As mentioned, Yumani has a number of restaurants and accommodation options for those planning on spending a night on the island. One possible plan would be to take the 8:30 a.m. boat from Copacabana to Yumani, find a room and drop off your baggage, and then spend the day walking to the sites at other end of the island and then walking back via Challapampa before dark to Yumani. (See map above for the route.) If the thought of walking all the way back is too much, a boat ride from Challapampa back to Yumani is possible. The reception desk at your hotel/hostal would be able to help you plan it.
Early the next day you could walk up to the mirador (scenic lookout) at the island’s highpoint for the sunrise and then spend a few hours visiting some sites on the south end of the island before catching a boat back to Copacabana in the afternoon.
As we left Yumani we came to the toll-gate where villagers from Challa charge $2. U.S. for passage. The pix below show the scene as our guide took care of the details. This included writing each of our names and country of origin down in a registry!
What looks like a pretty humble site is actually infused with a couple of millennia of history – if you know the story. The archaeologist Charles Stanish’s Lake Titicaca: Legend, Myth and Science provides an insightful guide to the history of the entire region. Of this spot, named Apachinacapata, he writes –
Apachinacapata has a long cultural history, going back at least 2000 years before the Inca. There is also a substantial Inca occupation on the site. This large site was a major point in the Inca-period pilgrimage. It is the only site where the two roads intersect, is on the boundary between the communities of Yumani and Challa today, and is a major crossing area. It is precisely for these reasons that the islanders have established a ticket booth here, a custom that definitely goes back to the Inca period. (page 173)
Leaving the ticket booth at Apachinacapata, we continued our way north to the major Inca sites. Looking east, I saw the Cordillera Real about seventy kilometers away and thought – “Tomorrow morning our trek will be starting at the foot of that peak on the left!”
The current edition of the Lonely Planet guidebook notes this –
The island’s most spectacular ruins complex, the Chincana ruins, lies near the island’s northern tip. Its main feature is the Palacio del Inca , a maze of stone walls and tiny doorways, also known as El Laberinto (the Labyrinth) or by its Aymará name, Inkanakan Utapa.
Like a visit to the remains of other ancient sites – Machu Picchu or Mycenae or Sigiriya – the visitor needs to supply some constructive imagination for it to come “alive”.
In the case of Chincana, we have the ruins of a roofless building. All that is left are the stone walls of a labyrinth-like set of rooms – some much smaller than others – and passage ways. Even without the roof it was occasionally difficult to see the way forward and once or twice I had to backtrack from a dead-end passageway. It must have been fun finding one’s way around when the roof blocked off all the sunlight!
Below the ruins of the Chincana is a beautiful beach. Three backpackers had their tent up and they were walking along the beach or sunbathing – maybe not the greatest idea given the UV levels at 4000 meters! The beach, the water, the whole scene was breathtaking.
From the Chincana we looped back to the area of the Titi Khar’ka. I will admit that I was actually disappointed since the reality of the sloping sandstone rock face was not quite as dramatic as I had imagined. There it is – a small bump – in the middle of the image below. It is behind the remnants of a stone wall.
Also, given that a major temple complex once stood here, I was expecting to see some evidence of that. Other than the so-called Ceremonial Table on the plaza area across from the Rock, there was nothing. Where did it go? Did the Spanish really haul away all the stone blocks for their own projects?
And here is The Sacred Rock is from a different angle. Titi Khar’ka means Rock of the Puma; it gets its name from its shape as pictured below. If you can see a puma you are on the right track! This is a situation where it really helps to be told what you are seeing. Someone else might imagine a giant sleeping on his side!
In the pic above you can also see two cavities near the east end, one on top of the other. They are the birth place of the sun and the moon in Inca myth are part of what made the site so holy to them. In fact, next to the Coricancha in Cusco this site was one of the most powerful huacas (sacred spaces) in the entire Inca mythic worldview.
I let the rest of my group wander ahead while I worked a bit at different angles of the Titi Khar’ka. I would catch up to them on the path that leads to Challapampa. We would catch a boat there which took us for a quick visit to Isla de la Luna, another important huaca in the Inca world.
The walk from the Sacred Rock to Challapampa and the boat was 2.3 kilometers. It was just after noon and there was absolutely no shade anywhere as we walked in the full sun and heat of the day. The path and the elevation profile are illustrated in the Google Earth satellite map below –
Our next objective was the much smaller Isla de la Luna about 12 kilometers to the south-east. It has one small Inca-era site which may -or may not – be worth the time and cost to get there, depending on how obsessed you are about things Inca.
The first thing you notice is the red colour of the island’s tip. It reminded me of the red colour of hematite used by Algonquian peoples in Canada’s Canadian Shield region to paint mythic images on countless vertical rock faces at water’s edge.
The map below shows the 12-kilometer boat ride from Challapampa to the north side of the island. There is a small community on the south side but we did not visit.
The image below shows the area we approached with our boat. The visitor center and entrance to the site sit just above the dock. A short steep walk up a series of steps leads you to the site itself – a natural amphitheater – with its ruins of a stone temple and a supposed nunnery. Some reconstruction makes it easier to picture how it may have looked.
At the top of the plateau before we entered the amphitheater, we passed by the following wall. It turns out that what we think of as amazing Inca stonework is actually the handiwork of those from this area. The builders were the descendants of those who created Tiwanaku, a city-state so fabled in the Lake Titicaca area that the Inca themselves incorporated it into their story.
Since the Spaniards used this island and Isla del Sol as sources for the stones they needed to build the cathedral in Copacabana, much of what was here has been destroyed. This island’s use as a penal colony in the early 20th century also resulted in damage or outright destruction to more the original buildings.
Various names are used for the site. Among other names, I found it referred to as the Temple of the Virgins of the Sun, as Acllahuasi, and as Iñak Uyu.
What you will see is a fairly humble site. For many people the half-day dedicated to the visit must be a disappointment; for some, keen to experience every little bit of Inca myth, it could be worth it.
Combining the visit to the site with a walk along the ridge and perhaps a stay in the village on the other side overnight might create added value. You would have to make sure about boat connections since the island is not serviced regularly. In my mind, spending more time on the nearby Isla del Sol would be a better use of your limited time and allow you to ramble around there a bit more.
Thanks to fellow trekker Tony Coulson for the remaining shots in this post. For some reason I put away my camera at this point of the day! After our brief visit to the site – perhaps an hour in all – it was back to the boat and the ride to Yampupata where our mini-bus was waiting to take us to Huatajata and our hotel room for the night.
Along the way we had to go back over the Strait of Tequina. It was just before 6:00 p.m. when we got to the hotel – Huatajata’s finest. Reception staff took our dinner orders while we checked in and an hour later we were in the dining room. Very efficient!
The next morning we would begin our trek with a last ride up to the start point. In the image above, our cooks for the trip Lucretia and her daughter Patricia are readying their food boxes and gear on the truck which will take them to the first of the trek’s campsites located just above the village of Llojena and accessible by dirt road. A few days later, as the roads disappeared, a switch to donkeys and llamas would be made. The trek begins in the next post – Cordillera Real Trek Day 1: South of Sorata to Alto Llojena
The Lonely Planet guidebook to Bolivia has an excellent chapter on the Lake Titicaca area, as does the Rough Guide to Bolivia.
However, Of all the books I read before the trip, Charles Stanish’s Lake Titicaca: legend, Myth and Science provided the most informative and scholarly exploration of the Inca and pre-Inca civilizations which flourished around the Lake Titicaca. Stanish has spent over twenty years doing archaeological work in the area and the depth and range of his knowledge make for a great read.
If there is one overall idea that the book left me with it is this – the credit we give to the short-lived Inca empire often belongs to civilizations of the Titicaca region like that of Tiwanaku which preceded theirs. The allure of anything Inca is so strong, however, that any trail becomes an Inca Trail and ruins are always Inca ruins – it is marketing gone mad and leaves travellers unaware of the true – and more complicated – story.