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PLEASE NOTE: The currency in Peru is the Peruvian New SOL (I will refer to them as P$s). At the time of writing, US$1 = P$3.36. The currency in Bolivia is the Boliviano (I will refer to them as B$s). At the time of writing, US$1 = B$6.90.
We (my sister Diane, my brother-in-law Jeff, and I) had just completed our tour of Machu Picchu and The Sacred Valley.
We planned a 3 Island Tour from Puno, Peru and a Day Tour to Isla Del Sol, Copacabana, Bolivia.
The price was US$219 each but we got our tickets at a discounted rate of US$209 because we were 3 people.
The bus leaves at 10pm from the Peru Hop Terminal in Cusco which is located about 1.2kms south east of the Plaza Major del Cusco.
We were at the terminal as it opened just after 9:30pm. The bus from Cusco to Puno (and on to the Bolivian border) is a Double-Decker bus with Business Class seating downstairs and Economy Class seating upstairs.
You do not get assigned seats. It is a ‘free for all’. First come, first served. We made sure that we were at the front of the boarding queue and were lucky enough to get 3 Business Class seats downstairs.
Bolivia Hop buses provide USB ports and blankets. Our trip was comfortable and we arrived on schedule in Puno at 6am.
In Puno, we transferred to a shuttle bus (free) that took us to our hotel.
We booked 2 nights at the Suites Antonio.
We booked a Double Room for US$19.80 and another Double Room (single occupancy) for US$14.40. Both included Breakfast.
It came with Cable TV (no English speaking channels) and ‘variable’ wifi.
As we arrived so early, they let us have a buffet breakfast for P$10 each. There was cereal and yogurt, some fruit, butter, jam, lots of bread, a smattering of cheese and ham slices, and unlimited tea and coffee.
3 ISLANDS TOUR:
We booked our 2D/1N ‘Three Island Tour’ with Bolivia Hop for US$37 each: Floating Islands, Amantani Island, and Taquile Island.
We were picked up from our hotel at 7:45am and taken down to the port. We were underway soon after 8am.
You are, then, taken across the water on a reed boat (an extra P$10) to another island. The ladies row but a motor powered boat pushes from behind. You don’t have to take the reed boat (you can cross on the tour boat if you want to) … but, if feels almost compulsory.
… a life very different from the one that tourist see. I left feeling that it was all too ‘orchestrated’.
We landed and we were met by a group of locals: each a Homestay Owner. Our tour guide allocated us out to the Homestays in logical groups. We three were allocated to Sophia along with one other single man: Daniel.
We were told that the tour boats rotate around the island to ensure that all of the Homestays get a share of the tourism trade. We were led up a steep path to our Homestay. It was very basic. The shared toilets were on the ground floor.
We were instructed to be back at the Village Square at 6:30pm for a briefing. It was, then, back to our Homestays for Dinner at 7:30pm. Our dinner was a simple vegetarian pasta. The villagers put a dance on for the tourists at 8:30pm. I suspect that this is done every night that tourists are in town.
Amantani Island was nice but, again, it felt a bit too ‘orchestrated’. For example, everyone across the Homestays had the same meals … and the guide talked about the tradition of those meals later in his briefs. The traditional costumes were already prepared for the guests. The Homestay owners coordinated by cellphone. Even the beds had to have the exact, traditional, 4 wool blankets …
Those that had paid US$30 for the tour had to pay for their own lunch. Those that had paid US$37 had lunch included. There was a choice of 3 mains. I had grilled trout – which was very nice.
We were back in Puno by about 3:30pm and dropped off back at our hotel by 4pm.
We continued on our Bolivia Hop ticket from Puno to La Paz stopping in Copacabana for 4 hours along the way. This, again, was a Double Decker bus to the Bolivian border … we were lucky and got Business Class seats downstairs again. It took 3 hours to get to the border. Clearing Peru Immigration was quick and easy. It is a 200m walk uphill from there to Bolivia Immigration. Bolivia Immigration was quick and easy. We were all through in about 30 minutes.
Look in the green-shaded area first but only look in the upper northern block if you are fit and you are happy to climb hills. Yellow is worth a look. Red is borderline.
We chose to pay a premium price to stay on the waterfront with a terrace, balcony, and views. We chose the Hotel Estelar del Titicaca.
We walked in off the street and negotiated a cash price of B$600 for a Double Room and B$400 for a Single Room. Both with a balcony. Both including an American Buffet Breakfast. We left 50% deposit.
… which we rode for several hours trying to do the complete ‘circuit’.
OUR COPACABANA ACCOMMODATION:
3 wifi connections were provided: one for the hotel, one for the terrace restaurant, and one for the downstairs restaurant. All 3 were unreliable and variable … often you found yourself flicking between them to get a workable connection.
ISLA DEL SOL:
There is a dispute between the north (80% of the island) and the south (20% of the island) over the share of the tourism trade. The north is owned by the indigenous communities. The south is privately owned. Tourists cannot go to the north of the island until the dispute is resolved.
The ‘public boats’ to Isla Del Sol leave at 8:30am and 1:30pm each day. They return at 10am and 4:00pm each day. They are slow and take 1.5+ hours each way. This meant that we couldn’t take public transport.
Tour operators offer an 8:30am to 4:30pm two island tour of Isla De La Luna and Isla Del Sol. Prices range from B$25 each to B$60 each. We read many reviews (online) about Isla De La Luna which said that the extra hours were not worth it. We, also, didn’t trust these tours to be back by 4:30pm. We didn’t want to miss our Bolivia Hop connection at 4:45pm.
The boat is scheduled to leave at 1pm, be at Isla Del Sol 70 minutes later at 2:10pm, and leave at 3:30pm back to Copacabana. This leaves people 1 hour 20 minutes to walk the trail.
We set off late and, after having some engine problems on the way, landed late (at 2:40pm). The driver (who spoke no English) told us that we would leave at 3:40pm. Luckily, I knew enough Spanish to translate. This gave us an extra 10 minutes to walk the trail … but we only, now, had 60 minutes to do it.
You start by walking up 200 old Incan steps to the Incan Trail. Di (knees) and Jeff (asthma) were not sure if they could make it up the steps but (after missing out on Taquile) wanted to try. I asked the driver how long he could wait before continuing on to the 2nd harbour. He said normally 5 minutes but that he would extend that to no more than 10 minutes. That wasn’t enough time. Di and Jeff had no choice but to stay on the boat. It takes about 10 minutes for a fit person to climb the steps to the top (without pause). For some, it took over 20 minutes.
On the way down the rickety stone path…
Di and Jeff had been there for about 20 minutes. They were disappointed. They could have done the trek. All that they needed was for the boat to give them 10-15 minutes longer to find out if they could make it up the steps. There was no reason why the boat couldn’t have waited longer in the 1st harbour. The boat sat in the 2nd harbour for over 20 minutes doing nothing.
The other passengers were just finishing getting on to the Bolivia Hop bus. I approached the guide and asked if the bus would wait for us to go to our hotel and collect our luggage.
We had made the right decision. The guide had no choice but to wait for us … the Bolivia Hop trip had returned 25 minutes late with his Bolivia Hop passengers … what else could he do?
The Floating Islands were a bit ‘tacky’. Amantani Island was a bit ‘orchestrated’ but still worth staying on overnight. Taquile Island was a pleasant trek.
RECOMMENDATION: I wouldn’t do the 1/2 day Bolivia Hop Isla Del Sol tour again. I advise you to stay 2 nights in Copacabana and spend the whole day. You will be able to see more of the island and more ruins. Catch the 8:30am public boat and return on the 4:00pm public boat. The return trip costs about B$40.