Leaving Peru was bittersweet.
I had to bid adieu to Austin, who was flying back to NYC, but at the same time I was entering my favorite country in South America, Bolivia.
My least favorite part of Bolivia was the $135 visa fee to enter the country. Bolivia was the first country in South America that I had to pay for the right to enter. Bolivia is one of three countries (along with Argentina and Brazil) in South America that charge U.S. citizens a hefty Visa fee or equivalent before allowing them to enter the country.
Visas and entry fees are all about reciprocity. The U.S. makes it (relatively more) difficult and/or costly for Argentinians, Bolivians, and Brazilians to get into the U.S. so these countries return the favor when it comes to U.S. citizens coming into their countries.
I was just one of the lucky recipients of that favor that day. As I learned from travel companions from the E.U. and Israel, citizens of these countries don’t need to pay a dime to enter Bolivia or Argentina because the governments of Israel and the E.U. don’t charge citizens of Argentina and Bolivia to enter their countries.
My first stop in Bolivia was Copacabana, a small slow-moving town on the south side of Lake Titicaca. In my opinion Copacabana is a much better better version of Pero’s Puno, which also borders Lake Titicaca.
I had made the trip to Copacabana with two girls I met in Puno, Petra from Germany and Jelena from the Netherlands. On our first day in Copacabana we took some time to relax by the lakeside and throw some frisbee.
In Copacabana the meal of the day is always trucha (“trout”). There is plenty of trucha in the biggest high-altitude lake in the world and there are 30 indistinguishable tents by the lake selling the tasty fish.
Despite the wide availability of trucha some I saw some residents of Copacabana resorting to dumpster diving – shameful.
Looming over the top of the town, Copacabana has a Moorish-style Cathedral laced with azulejos, blue ceramic tiles.
I had recently seen carnival start in Peru’s Cusco and Puno. The party had also started in Copacabana. The locals in Copacabana were celebrating the Fiesta de la Virgen de Candelaria, which goes from February 2-5.
During theFiesta de la Virgen de Candelaria pilgrims from both Peru and Bolivia perform traditional Aymara dances along wih lots of music, drinking, and eating. The Aymaran dancing I saw started in front of the cathedral and continued around Plaza 2 de Febrero.
Unfortunately for those trying to sleep, the loud music could be heard throughout the town and would continue well past midnight. The bowler hats and colorful dresses you see the locals wearing were not just for the fiesta. They were also what I saw them wearing them in Copacabana’s market.
At the top of the hill on the north side of Copacabana is Cerro Calvario, just 34 meters short of 4,000 meters above sea level.
It is a short but steep hike from the town’s center.
The best time to do the hike is at sunset because the sun sets over the lake in the west.
The vantage point gives you a really good sense of Lake Titicaca’s incredible size.
From the top of the mini-mountain you can see the boats in Copacabana’s small bay.
We stayed long enough for the lights of the town to come on.
Thankfully Petra had her headlamp, making the hike down much safer than it otherwise would have been.
Hostels in Bolivia are very cheap. Petra, Jelena and I stayed at a hostel that cost 20 Bolivianos (about $2.50) a night.
Bolivia is the poorest country in South America, which is both a blessing and a curse. The prices for just about everything in Bolivia are cheaper than anywhere else in South America. I was able to travel for 45 days in Bolivia (and do everything along the way) for about the same cost as spending just 18 days in Peru.
The flip side of this coin is that hygiene is also the worst of any South American Country. I only met one or two travelers that had not gotten sick while traveling in Bolivia. Even eating a meal prepared in a restaurant comes with a risk of stomach illness and I got a bad case, complete with nasty fever, my second night in Copacabana. This would be the first of seven health “issues” I had while traveling in the country.
After our hike we met up with a great crew that I would end up traveling with for a while.
Almost all of us ordered the – surprise, surprise – trucha. We all went to bed early that night (while trying to shut out the noise from the festival) because we would be starting a two day hike the next day that would end up being one of my favorites in South America – from Copacabana to Yampupata, Isla del Sol, and back.