Copacabana is the main Bolivian town nestled between Mount Calvario and Mount Nino Calvario facing the world’s highest navigable body of water, Lake Titicaca (3,812 m altitude). With 6,000 residents is often only used as a stopover for travellers from Puno (Peru) to Bolivia’s capital, La Paz. The town is known for its famous Basilica, home of the Virgin of Copacabana, its trout, and its picturesque atmosphere.
1. Wander through the Avenida 6 de Agosto
The main street in Copacabana where you will find cafes, bars, and restaurant of all sorts. Be aware of the aggressive hawkers shoving their restaurant’s menus at your faces trying to usher you into their restaurant. Avoid eye contact and learn to say: “No, gracias!” and keep walking. Most of this is in the lower half of the street and it mellows down as you make your way up towards the Cathedral where there are fewer restaurants and more vendors selling fruits and local produce.
2. Visit the Basilica
While it’s surrounded by the local market in the centre of town, it’s hard to miss the Basilica of our Lady of Copacabana. Decorated with Portuguese-style blue tiles and rounded domes and ornate with gold and silver accents, the cathedral has got a Moorish look architecture. The Basilica is dedicated to the patron saint of Bolivia, the Virgin of Copacabana.
3. Chill at the Waterfront
Lake Titicaca has a vast volume of water and it looks more like an ocean instead of a lake. The views of the waterfront are splendid and relaxed. Feels like a beach and is packed with restaurants, bars, and various street vendors selling trinkets. You could rent a kayak, a jet ski, duck looking like paddle boat or a more modern water zorb if you are into water sports or just chill at a beachfront bar with a cold Cerveza or pisco sour.
4. Eat the famous Trucha
Trucha is Spanish for trout and it is caught fresh from the lake. It’s served at every single restaurant in town. There are several versions of the dish: you can have it grilled, fried, or sautéed.
The lakefront is lined with a series of tent-like eateries where you can get a plate of grilled fish with a slice of lemon, and it’s probably the best meal you’ll have in town.
5. Watch the sunset from the hilltop of Cerro Calvario
You should allow at least an hour to reach the top from the centre of town depending on how you have adjusted to the altitude. The 200 metres climb is steep but brief. While it may not look daunting at first, you’ll soon breathe heavily and be grasping onto each molecule of oxygen as you try to make your way up.
The trail begins near the red church at the end of 3 de Mayo and climbs past the 14 Stations of the Cross on Calvary Hill. At the bottom of the stairs, a man can tell your future by dropping lead into a boiling pot of water. About halfway up are native priests burning candles and working with coca leaves. Here you can stop and learn about the ancient rituals of fortunetelling. The cross, which is visible on the waterfront, sits on top of a hill overlooking the Copacabana waterfront and Lake Titicaca.
The views at the top are spectacular. If you make your way up late you can avoid the crowds and the annoying hawkers and catch a breathtaking sunset.
GETTING TO COPACABANA
- From Peru, there are buses from Puno to Copacabana. It takes about 4 hours with about an hour spent sorting out your visa at the border. You will need to walk the short distance between the immigration offices and cross the archway which marks the border between the two countries. The bus will wait for you on the other side (in the other country).
Bolivia and Peru border
- Buses leave Copacabana from Plaza Sucre, the main square, located a few blocks from the port. The buses leave every day between 06:00am and 1:30pm. Buses arrive at the main bus terminal in Puno located on Avenida Primero de Mayo.
- Tickets Bolivia has the safest and most reliable booking system which lets passengers choose their trip from different bus companies. You can book their bus and train tickets through the website with the best-known online payment companies worldwide, such as PayPal or Stripe, for $5-10 USD.
- From La Paz, the bus will cross Tiquina Strait on a ferry and the whole trip takes about 4 hours. You will have to exit the bus and buy a ticket ($2 B) for the brief boat ride across a section of the lake. Take your valuables and hand-luggage with you, as the bus is transported over the water on a separate barge. After a 5-10 minute wait, the bus will collect you on the other side.
Buses From La Paz To Copacabana
- Local Buses:depart daily from La Paz’s general cemetery (Terminal Cementerio) every 30-60 minutes between 6am and 5pm. The quality of buses vary from one company to another. You can expect to pay around Bs. 20 ($2.90 US) for a one way ticket. Those wanting to shave an hour off their travel time and happen to be in El Alto can catch a local bus from La Terminal Nueva de El Alto. Buses run until 6.30pm and ticket prices are the same as from the cemetery.
- Tourist Bus:depart twice daily at 8am and 1.30pm from La Paz’s main bus terminal. The cost for a one way ticket is around Bs. 50 ($7 US) and can be bought in advance from Tickets Bolivia (see https://www.ticketsbolivia.com/buses_paso1.php ).
- All buses arrive in Copacabana at Plaza 2 de Febrero.
Buses From Copacabana To La Paz
- Local Buses:depart every hour between around 8am and 7pm daily. The cost for a one way ticket is around Bs. 20 ($2.90 US).
- Tourist Buses:depart at 1.30pm and 6.30pm daily. The cost for a one way ticket is around Bs. 50 ($7 US) and can be purchased in advance from Tickets Bolivia (see form below).
- All buses depart from from Plaza Sucre in Copacabana and arrive at the main bus terminal in La Paz or at the Terminal Cementerio, depending on which bus company you use.
Beware of pickpocketing and keep an eye on your valuables at all times.
Brings cash, because credit cards aren’t widely used.