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Copacabana & Isla del Sol, Bolivia

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Getting to Copacabana was pretty stressful as it was Easter Friday, and travelling up the replacement Death Road was pretty full-on, with our taxi driver swerving everywhere at first, then ultimately getting stuck in traffic! We did manage to see some of the tarmac bit of road without the mist though, so that was pretty cool.

After a quick stopover in La Paz, we caught the bus-ferry route to Copa, which was pretty fun (the ‘ferry’ was a TINY boat!) but once there it was a bit of a scramble to find accommodation as there’s a big pilgrimage on Easter Friday of indigenous folk, from La Paz to Copa, so all the hostels were booked out and there were lots of stranded looking families everywhere!

Our ‘ferry’ across the lake to Copacabana!

Festival vibes and families camping on Lake Titikaka

But we managed to find a 5-bed dorm in a pretty ropey hostel (winning the room over a family, which was pretty guilt-inducing!) And once we were settled in, me and Sam headed out for a much-needed ‘date night’ as the girls had friends in town.

The evening was pretty bizarre, I’m not gonna lie. The town enforced a power cut for the ‘solemn procession’ that we’d read about, to celebrate Semana Santa. So after seeing a pretty sunset on Lake Titicaca, we ended up wandering the streets in semi-darkness looking for (and failing to find) the parade! All the restaurants were candle-lit, so we ended up in a kookie hippy restaurant where we had bizarre pizzas, including one with three kinds of potatoes and Andean spice on it! We then wandered round town a bit more, and ended up in the cathedral, which was super beautiful, and also where the procession ended. Hannah informed us (as an eye witness!) that it was really weird – people dressed up in KKK-like outfits, following a Jesus statue in a glass coffin, and a few candles. Hmm!

A ‘cha’lla’ or blessed vehicle, that get dressed up on their way into town. This van has a TOP HAT, FML!!

The next day, we split off from the girls for a bit of couple time, and went for brunch down by the lake, and icecream, and checked out the ‘challa’ed’ or ‘blessed’ vehicles and festival activities by the lake, then caught an afternoon ‘ferry’ (again, TINY boat!) across to Isla Del Sol. It was a bumpy, long journey, but we met some fun young Londoner girls who we sat on the roof with, and chatted to pass the time. To our dismay, when we reached the Island, we realised the boat was actually taking us to the North, whereas we (and the London girls) all wanted to go South, as all the accommodation is here! So I finally got to practice some Spanish, as I explained the situation to the driver (some random lady had taken our ticket so they had no idea!) and we all got transferred onto his mate’s boat halfway up the island. It was pretty lol, as we had to basically climb onto the front of the new boat, with a load of Bolivians laughing at us, then scramble to wherever there was space! Sam sat on the front all the way back…!

Me and Sam enjoying some sun on the long boat to Isla Del Sol

Isla del Sol itself was so, so beautiful. On arrival, you have to climb the ‘Inca steps’ which nearly killed us (think hundreds of uneven stone steps, with a giant backpack on, at 3800m+ altitude!) but once at the top, it was totally worth it. We found an (almost) deserted hostel with a few friendly French guys in, and the most INCREDIBLE view of the island and the lake, and we decided to stay put. There was a shop on the cobbled hill nearby, so we did what true Brits would do, and went to buy a load of wine and rum, then settled in for a game of cards. It was a really fun game, with 6 of us, playing ‘President’, and we chatted and giggled away, whilst watching our first ‘moon rise’ over the lake, which was INSANE.

The testing Inka Steps welcoming us onto the island

Our first ‘moon rise’!!

We then went out for a group dinner to a nearby restaurant where a really sweet lady accommodated us, drunkenly barging in and rearranging her furniture for our group! We had a bargain set meal of quinoa soup, milanesa/omelet with potato and rice, and banana and chocolate for dessert, for about 3 quid. We were also joined by a fellow hostel mate Diana, who weirdly we’d been in a dorm with on the mainland in Copa, and she regaled us with her travel tales – amazingly, she’d travelled for 8 months on about 2 grand, sleeping under bushes, hitchhiking, volunteering, and relying on strangers’ kindness to keep her going. Amazing stuff! We also bumped into Hannah and India on the island, whilst hostel hunting and also at dinner (I think Sam’s voice was booming out of the restaurant, unsurprisingly!) and was really nice to see them, despite only being separated less than a day!

Indigenous farming community on Isla Del Sol

We were basically squatting in the hostel, as the owner hadn’t materialised all night, so we were happy to meet her in a drunken slurry state before bed time (we’d scribed a note to her in Spanish explaining the sudden influx of Brits, just in case!) and she was super sweet and took our money – all THREE POUNDS A NIGHT (our cheapest accommodation yet!) – for our stay.

View from our hostel on a cloudy day, Isla del Sol

The next day was SUPER sunny, so me and Sam took a walk around the island. It’s basically all indigenous farming community, so our walk took us through tressed sloping fields, with pigs, llamas, alpacas and donkeys phanging out in back gardens, and donkeys ambling up and down the hills carrying water and food (oh, there are no roads or cars on the island either!). We walked up to a couple of miradors in the centre of the island which gave us some great views (one was just the roof of an old pizzeria that someone had built steps up to!) .. but walking was really hard work (hills+bright sun+extreme altitude!) so we soon packed it in, in favour of finding somewhere nice for lunch.

Taking a breather during our high-altitude walk around the island

Casual backyard alpaca!

As it was Easter Sunday by this point, lots of restaurants were shut (and we started freaking out that we would starve, as there are only tiny corner shops on the island with CRAZY inflated prices!) but by mid-afternoon places were buzzing, and we went to a super cute restaurant overlooking the West side of the island, where we watched baby sheep playing around, listened to MENTAL sounding donkeys, and ate some very bizarre sweet pizza (when will we learn!?)

Eerie sweet pizza, but you can’t beat this view!

That evening was a pretty chilled affair, as I was pretty sunburnt, so we wrapped up warm and took our rum and coke out to the terrace, where we watched the sun set, the moon, and all the crazy bright stars (it looked like a Disney film!) whilst eavesdropping on the young London girls’ chat about Made in Chelsea and boys (I think they were early 20s!)

The next day was a bit of a washout. We’d planned to walk the island to explore some pre-Inca ruins, but the Isla del Sol proved to be an Isla del Clouds, so we took the opportunity to have a chill day, and snuggled in bed watching the skyline and the snow capped Cordillera mountains, blogging, watching LOTS of Community, and venturing out at lunch for another lovely set meal, including my first taste of rainbow trout, which was really good!

On our last day, we got up super early and ended up getting an even TINIER boat back to Copa with some locals, and hung out eating an expensive touristy brekkie, before catching the bus across the border and into our fourth country, Peru…!

Food blog: Bolivia

Food in Bolivia isn’t the best, but there are lots of really good value options that means you can eat well for hardly anything. Having said that, there are risks when it comes to health and sanitation, so just go with your gut as to whether you trust a place (generally cafes are better than markets, but markets can be ok if the food looks well cooked… go for places with fast turnover e.g. lots of customers. as the food’s probably not been sitting round too long). Here’s my round up of the Bolivian favourites:

1. Almuerzos (or menu del dias)

The main meal in Bolivia is lunch, and this is the best time to get your offers. Most cafes will offer an ‘almuerzo’ which is a set lunch, consisting of a soup (usually quinoa and veg, or peanut which is surprisingly nice!), a main meal, and a juice or dessert. They’re usually priced between 1 and 2 pounds, so they’re a great deal. You get more local cafe-style ones, or touristy ones, but they’re usually super filling. Mains will be something like a milanesa (breaded meat) with rice and potatoes, or fish, or chicken. Usually you’ll get corn juice, but sometimes you might get desserts like fruit with cream or bananas with chocolate sauce.

2. Pollo picante

A classic market or cafe meal, this consists of a piece of chicken with a spicy sauce, lots of red onion, with potatoes, rice and salad. Both rice/pasta and potatoes accompany everything in Bolivia (sometimes a few different kinds of potatoes, including weird purple ones!) and a small salad – but beware, as they may be washed in tap water, and thus should be avoided!! On a side note, definitely check out food markets in Bolivia, as they are truly mental. Piles of cow snouts, whole gutted animals hanging up, huge piles of cheeses and unusual fruits.. it’s worth a gander.

3. Saltenas

Bolivia’s answer to the empanada, Saltenas are a weirdly sweet pastry packaging, filled with chicken, meat, eggs, cheese, and veg. Sam loves them but I find them eerily sweet for a savoury snack. You’re told to eat them with a spoon (at least in fancy Sucre) as the fillings are so hot, and admittedly it does run all down your hands, so a spoon would be helpful. Kind of weird, kind of nice. Worth a punt.

4. Papa rellenas

Fried mash potato balls stuffed with various things, from egg, to very white cheese, to meat. These are pretty delicious, and come with a curry-like chutney to go on top, which is pretty divine. Gotta make sure they’re hot when you cut through though, so the inside is melty! You also get the AMAZING local sauce – ‘llajhua’ with rellenas (and most other dishes) which is a flavourful, chile/coriander blend. Douse it on everything! 

5. Chorizo (esp. Sucre)

They’re pretty proud of their chorizo in Sucre. It’s a hotter, sweeter, spicier sausage than what’s found elsewhere, and they do this pretty cool thing when they prepare it, of toasting the bun, then dipping it in the lovely chorizo-ey oil, so the whole bun tastes of the sausage.. with a load of salad thrown in for good measure. The best company is ‘7 Lunares’ and boy do they taste good.

6. SWEETNESS

Bolivia is a country that aspartame, or sugar-free alternatives, has failed to reach. You’d think the country was sponsored by Coca-Cola’s full-sugar division. There are fizzy drinks EVERYWHERE, and they are – without fail – full fat Coke, Fanta and Sprite. They drink more coke than water, I swear. Also in this category, is the omnipresent jelly and whipped cream cups that are sold by chullitas (indigenous ladies) everywhere; milk-fruit juice blends in every cafe and market (with added sugar, obvy!); sweet doughs favoured in saltenas and pizza bases; fake-tasting ice-cream (including bubble gum flavour, which is weirdly addictive!), bunuelas (syrupy donut fritters) and more… I’m a real sweet tooth person, but I found it all too much in Bolivia. Take it in moderation!

7. Singani (or Chuflay cocktail)

Throat-burning grape brandy, Singani is known in local folklore as the spirit that doesn’t give you a hangover. And I’d say that’s actually weirdly true! Most locals hate the stuff, but we got a bit hooked on it (as Chuflay cocktails, of Singani and Sprite or Ginger, are on Happy Hours everywhere) – but sometimes we’d just mix it with Fanta instead. A bit grosser than Pisco, but dirt cheap, it was our go-to spirit a lot in Sucre (when we weren’t vomming from food poisoning, that is!)

8. Trout

This is pretty localised to Lake Titicaca, but there’s a TON of trout here. With every kind of sauce, cooked every way, imaginable. I tried it as part of a cheap set lunch on Isla Del Sol (on the lake) and it was delicious. It was filleted and well presented, so not the horrific fish-face-nightmare I was fearing, and simply seasoned with salt, pepper and lime. But you can get it with anything on… worth a try, as it’s super cheap and very fresh. (NB – outside of this, there’s a ton of fish in Bolivia but approach with caution as it’s a land-locked country with minimal refrigeration! We met a traveller who had food poisoning for a MONTH after bad fish. Yikes!)

9. (Very white) cheesy things

They really love a very particular white cheese in Bolivia – I believe it’s from an animal other than a cow. It tastes delicious (think mature very white hard-pressed goats cheese), and they put it in papa rellenas, soups, or cheese-filled rolls called cunapes. It tastes great, but I believe contributed to one of our sick phases, as it’s probably pasteurised differently (and is bought from the market). By all means, try it, but in moderation!

10. Cheap, boney cuts of meat

Generally, a classic meal – if it’s not specific like pollo picante or a milanesa – will entail rice, potatoes, and a big chunk of meat. Usually beef, it will be a huge t-bone style cut, which sometimes works in your favour and sometimes doesn’t. The amount of times Sam’s had to cut off bits of actual meat (away from the gristle and fat) to share the ‘good meat’ off our two bones… Sometimes you just get a huge bit of marrow! It’s pot luck, and if you’re not fussy it’s fine. But as a lean-meat lover, it didn’t always work out great for me!

11. Pique Macho

Bolivia’s answer to Chile’s ‘Churillana’, Pique Macho is basically a pile of chips, with meat, egg, peppers, and gravy. It’s also got a load of sliced jalapeno peppers on the top, hence the ‘macho’ because you apparently need to be macho to finish it… *feminist scorn*

12. Chirimoya

This is a weird alien-looking fruit that tastes like cake. Green and spiky on the outside, creamy and custard-like on the inside (with huge pips), it’s a bizarre fruit unique to Bolivia. It’s really sweet and desert-like, but I was put off by the gooey fleshy inner (and also the fact I was really sick after eating one… probably unrelated, but associations stick!)

13. Api

A sweet purple corn-based drink that’s either served cold with fruit (like chopped up apple) or hot with syrupy donut fritters. Surprisingly refreshing! 

GENERAL NOTES: during your time in Bolivia, food-wise you are likely to do one or many of the following:

– crave spice and/or more flavour
– really truly doubt the sanitation and/or level of how ‘cooked’ something is that you eat
– eat a lot of things that you’re not entirely sure what they are (especially meat)
– eat a lot of lukewarm (not hot) food
– save money on a ‘bargain’ meal that costs you more in the long-run (in terms of your health)
– gain a warm affection for something weird that becomes your comfort food (like bubblegum icecream!)

Coroico, Bolivia

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After all the hustle bustle of studying in Sucre, La Paz, and the Death Road, we were feeling truly ready for some nature and relaxation, and Coroico couldn’t have fit the bill better.

A small semi tropical town perched in the mountains of the Yungas region, it felt like a semi tropical paradise – and the fact that we were staying in a remote, beautiful eco-reserve, a steep 20 minute walk out of town, forced us to stay put and properly unwind.

Chilling at the pool at Sol y Luna

Sol y Luna Eco-Lodge was such a beautiful place, and after staying in so many hostels, it felt like true luxury. We had our own cabins (me and Sam, India and Hannah) complete with semi-outdoor boiling hot showers, a little kitchen, and a big, well decorated, ‘earth mother’ type bedroom with a terrace out front. On our first night there, after a boiling hot shower, I slept for about 12 hours in the super comfy beds (which I think resulted in my 90+ mosquito bites I woke up with the following day, as apparently they like the heat and sweet smelling blood. Oh well!) The cabins also had amazing views of the Yungas mountain range, and we spent our second night outside watching stars and drinking wine we’d smuggled from La Paz, nicely chilled in our kitchen fridge!

Travel admin in our cabin!

There was a cute restaurant on-site and we soon took to the routine of having breakfast and dinner there, treating ourselves to delicious food like chocolate and banana pancakes, waffles, homemade granola, tropical juices, big burgers and delicious sandwiches. It was like being on holiday! The restaurant had avocado and banana trees growing around it, and the view was incredible – out across the mountain range – which you could enjoy from one of the many hammocks around the place.

Hannah and India enjoying a delicious dinner with corked wine!

The reserve had an amazing surrounding, with hiking trails to take you around the various amenities, like 2 outdoor swimming pools (one hidden in the middle of the trail), a yoga and massage studio, a ton of incredible lookouts (with hammocks, obv), the natural spring that fed the reserve (you could drink the tap water here – hurrah!), a big swing on a tree, and lots of cool unusual tropical flowers. Sam and I spent the first day sunbathing by the second hidden pool and walking the trails (after the morning rain had cleared, during which we snuggled under the covers and watched the mist through our cabin front door!).

Hidden second pool…

On our second day, we’d planned to move on but we woke up to glorious sunshine, so we sunbathed by the pool instead and hung out in the hammocks. That evening we had our usual routine down of dinner and (corked) wine – apparently it was all corked from travelling up the hill, much to our dismay! And we all stayed in a 4-bed dorm which was beautiful (surrounded by tropical trees) and a bargain at 6 quid each (vs the 12 each for the cabins.. still not bad though compared to Argentina!)

After a few days of unwinding, we moved onto Copacabana for a jaunt on Lake Titicaca…