According to ancient mythology, the first Inca was created on Isla del Sol in Lake Titicaca. Accordingly, their "Island of the Sun" was sacred to the Incas and there are interesting ruins to discover there. In addition, the Isla del Sol is absolutely worth seeing because of the beautiful landscape and friendly people.
The largest and best-known island in Lake Titicaca is Isla del Sol on the Bolivian side of the lake. If it weren't for the snow-covered peaks of the Cordillera Real and the sensitively cold water, the dreamlike Isla del Sol with its sandy bays could also be in the Mediterranean. Since there are neither mineral resources nor sufficient flat areas for agriculture on the Isla del Sol, the sunny island has been able to preserve its unspoiltness.
When the hordes of daytime visitors have left the island, a wonderful calm returns and you find soothing relaxation between the deep blue waters of Lake Titicaca, the barren surface of the island and the colourful festive costumes of the inhabitants.
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Birth Island of the Incas
According to ancient mythology, the sacred Isla del Sol is the birthplace of the Inca. This is where the deity Viracocha is said to have sent the first Inca, Manco Cápac, to earth. Together with his wife Mama Ocllo, he descended to earth via the "titi karka", the "puma rock".
This is where the lake got its name. Manco Cápac and Mama Ocllo were given a golden staff by Viracocha and instructed to found the Inca city at the place where the staff penetrates the earth - and thus the royal city of Cusco was born.
In the 13th century, the Incas took possession of the Island of the Sun, but left the Aymara people who lived there alone. The most sacred island of the sun was only allowed to be entered by the highest priests of the Inca, who paid homage to the sun god Inti in a labyrinth of pure gold. Almost 200 Inca ruins from the 15th century still bear witness to this today.
When the Spaniards conquered the Inca Empire, the temple guards allegedly sank the entire treasure of the Island of the Sun in the almost 300-metre-deep Lake Titicaca - it has not been found to this day despite countless attempts, including by the famous diver Jean-Jaques Cousteau.
Climate on the Isla del Sol
At an altitude of over 3,800 metres, Lake Titicaca is the highest lake in the world. At this altitude, you have to reckon with night temperatures around freezing point even in summer, and the average daytime highs hardly go above 15°C either. The sun's rays should not be underestimated either, so be sure to use sunscreen, especially on longer hikes!
Visit to Isla del Sol
The sunny island is regularly approached by boats from the settlement of Copacabana on the mainland, 1 km away. The crossing takes about 2 hours. Most of the 5,000 inhabitants live in the three largest settlements of Isla del Sol, Yumani, Cha'lla and Cha'llapampa, where the most important sights of Isla del Sol can also be found.
The entire island is 12km long and 5km wide and is criss-crossed with a dense network of well-maintained footpaths, where small amounts of toll are collected from time to time. You won't find any roads or cars here.
Tip: If you want to enjoy the Isla del Sol to the full, you should explore the island on foot and ideally also spend a night on the island - nowhere else does the heart of the Inca culture beat as loudly as at its birthplace!
Things to see in Yumani
In Yumani, in the south of the sunny island, most of the excursion boats from the mainland dock and this is also where the largest hotels were and are built. Directly from the pier, the Escalera del Inka, the "Stairway of the Inca", flanked by a water channel, leads up to a spring. The steps are shaded by eucalyptus trees, but the 250 metres up can be quite strenuous. But it is worth it!
The water from this Inca well is sacred and is said to give eternal youth. Even if the water doesn't work, the climb is still worth it because the view over Lake Titicaca and the snowy peaks of the Cordillera Real is truly unforgettable!
A few hundred metres to the south is the Palacio Pilkokaina. The two-storey building was supposedly built by Tupac Yupanqui, under whose rule the Inca Empire reached its greatest expansion.
Tip: A three-hour hike leads from Yumani to the north of the island, where fabulous views of the surrounding landscape open up again and again.
Places of interest in Cha'lla
There are no Inca ruins to visit in Cha'lla, but it is worth a visit for its gorgeous bay in front of the deep blue waters of Lake Titicaca.
Things to see in Cha'llapampa
The most significant sight in Cha'llapampa to the north are the ruins of Chancana. Here is the famous sacred rock "titi karka", namesake of the lake and birthplace of the first Inca. With a little imagination, you can still make out a puma's head in the red sandstone rock.
To this day, this site is considered the holiest place on Isla del Sol. The sacred rock was once covered with vicuña wool and contained offerings, gold and silver inside. The central palace, also called the "Inca Labyrinth", was allegedly also built by Tupac Yupanqui and acted as the scene of numerous mysterious rites.
The small Museo Marka Pampa, or "Gold Museum", in Cha'llapampa exhibits the finds of the sunken city of Marka, which was discovered in the 1990s north of Isla del Sol about 8 metres below the water level of Lake Titicaca. The ceramics and stones are strongly reminiscent of the Tiwanaku culture, whose most famous ruin site is located nearby.