Lake Titicaca: From 1920s-Styled Railcar to Preserved Bolivian Island of the Sun
When we started to think about our South America trip I knew two things - I wanted to visit Machu Picchu and the Bolivian Salt Flats. Eoghan had done more a little more research and mentioned that we should also visit Lake Titicaca and Isla Del Sol. I knew nothing about these places but automatically said yes because I say yes to anything near a body of water.
After saying yes I learned that Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake sitting at 12,500 ft above sea level and that it has crazy weather patterns - like waterspouts that suck up water from the lake in a tornado-like fashion. Um a little crazy and nerve-racking! However Lake Titicaca and Isla Del Sol ended up being our FAVORITE part of our whole entire trip. We highly recommend taking the Peru Rail train from Cusco to Puno and then visiting Copacabana and Isla Del Sol. Let’s first dive into the train ride from Cusco to Puno.
Let’s first say, at a cost of $205 per person this train ride isn’t for the budget traveler, but you definitely get your money’s worth. The steep-ish price is balanced out by the quality of the service, food & drink provided, comfort and entertainment. If long bus journeys through windy bumpy roads isn’t for you, then consider this more luxury option that transports you through the Andean mountains and countryside.
All aboard a 1920s style train with local live music and dancing, a bar carriage, open aired observatory deck at the back, three course dining, afternoon tea, and a Pisco sour tasting. Our experience with Peru Rail was a highly memorable one for the once in a lifetime experience that made this ten hour train journey whisk by in a flash.
The train seats are plush winged-back arm chairs that are seated around a white linen covered table. Depending on your party size you will be seated at a table for one, two, or four. The train only sits about 30 passengers so the whole experience will be very intimate. There is also a luggage car, kitchen car, bar car, and open-aired look-out car.
Once you arrive and are seated, you are presented with a breakfast menu and complimentary tea and water. We ordered the ‘American’ breakfast that came with scrambled eggs, bacon, chorizo sausage, bread & pastries, orange juice, and your choice of coffee or tea. It was plenty much food and very reasonably priced. The breakfast and cocktails are the only extra food/beverage you will have to pay for on the journey.
About two hours into the journey you’ll be asked to visit the bar car where there will be a show with local music, dancers and models showcasing different alpaca fashion items. They will also provide complimentary bar snacks and a Pisco sour.
There will also be another performance after lunch that includes more music, dancing and a Pisco sour demonstration where you can learn how to make the classic cocktail.
Before lunch the train will stop in a town called La Raya, which is the highest point in the journey at 14,271 feet above sea level. Here you can stretch your legs for 10 minutes and browse some souvenirs at a small market and peek into a nearby chapel.
Lunch did not disappoint. It was a 3-course meal, starting with soup and bread, followed by a choice of beet tenderloin & vegetables or risotto and a chocolate cake for dessert. The food was presented beautifully and was of high quality. If that didn’t fill you up, don’t worry. About one hour before arriving into Puno you are served afternoon tea. This includes infused tea (lemongrass, orange) and small sandwich bites and desserts. Yum Yum Yum!
The train arrives in Puno around 6pm and there are plenty of taxi cabs waiting at the train station to take you to your next destination.
Lake Titicaca is a huge lake that spans both Peru and Bolivia. There are many different islands within the lake but we decided to stay at Isla del Sol. Isla del Sol is a small island that is the home to about 800 families. Their main economic activities are fishing and tourism. The small town island was so welcoming and the terrain gave us Mediterranean vibes. We often found ourselves forgetting that we were actually in the middle of a lake at 14,500 above sea level!
To get to Isla del Sol from Puno we suggest taking Bolivia Hop from Puno to Copacabana and then take the Bolivia Hop ferry to Isla del Sol. Bolivia Hop is nothing special but they do a great job of helping you get across the border. Just note that Americans will have to pay a $160 visa fee to enter Bolivia.
We stayed at this fabulous enviromentally friendly guest house for our night on the island. We highly, highly, recommend staying at Ecolodge La Estancia - it was the best hotel/accommodation we have stayed in for our whole trip. Their hospitality was on par with the best of best 5-star hotels. This self-sustaining hotel uses solar power, locally grown fruit, vegetable, and livestock to ensure waste is kept to a minimum. Each cottage is powered through the sun, including the heating mechanism during the day. The staff were incredibly lovely, welcoming us at the boat dock some 30 minutes walk from the lodge itself with donkeys to assist us with our heavy luggage - there is no way we could have done this ourselves. We were greeted with warm welcomes at the lodge itself, with a swift check-in process accompanied by lavender or kiswara infused water.
Your stay includes a 3 course dinner and buffet breakfast. The food was absolutely amazing and so fresh. We also were allowed access to yoga mats and had the most beautiful view to practice some of our stretching.
Isla del Sol is not a big island and we recommend staying for 1-2 nights to really just take in the beauty and culture of this small town. Put on your hiking shoes and just explore the island. There are amazing sunrises, sunsets, star gazing, alpacas, donkeys, and dogs. We walked around following signs to take us to view points, Templo del Sol, and down to different beaches. Just note the water is freezing and not swimmable - but views are fantastic!
We can’t say it enough, but this place is truly incredible and should be a must-visit on any trip to the region. We hope our insights have been helpful, and check out our other South America blog posts for ideas and tips for places to visit and things to do.