Copacabana, Bolivia, is a small seaside tourist town- except it’s on a lake.
The horseshoe bay is a mix of sand and pebble with a flotilla of swan-shaped peddle boats awaiting passengers and dozens of boats moored in the bay. Most of the boats are 12 to 20 seater tourist transports, used for tours to the nearby islands.
We travelled from La Paz to Copacabana by bus; a complicated process. Firstly, the ride through El Alto and the hour beyond was full of construction work and rough dirt road detours. Good news though, that means they’re improving the road so in 6 months or so, it’ll be a great highway!
The view of El Alto from the bus
Then there is the Tiquina straight. Although this is the main route to Copacabana and to the Peruvian border, there is no bridge across the straight. All passengers are ordered off the bus, need to buy a ticket and cross the lake in a series of small boats. Meanwhile, the bus drives onto a rickety wooden ferry, and with help of only a 40hp outboard motor, it makes its way to the other bank.
The first issue is the driver only explained this in Spanish and the bus was 3/4 English speaking tourist. Some know-it-all (me) translated for the other passengers. The second issue was we just happened to be travelling on el Día del Mar.
Michael and I were on the third boat to leave the dock for the town on the other side; dozens followed soon after. Our bus was the fourth to make the crossing.
The driver honked the horn, while everyone tried to remember which colour bus was theirs. If you’re not on board within 5 minutes, the bus leaves along with any bags you have in the cargo, no head count.
From there, it was only a curvy 45 minute drive to our Easter retreat of Copacabana. The steep uphill walk from the main street to our hotel (pre-booked for once), made me regret booking the place while I was panting up the 45° cobblestone road. But once we got La Cupola, wow!
Our room, overlooking the bay
There was a manicured garden with hammocks and alpacas feeding on the grass.
Alpaca gets a bit too friendly with Renée
The buildings had Moorish domed roofs. Our room had a balcony overlooking the bay, a view you could see while lying in bed. And we discovered, through trial and error, the hotel restaurant had the best food in the town. But I swear, the room was not expensive.
You wanna go mate?
In Copacabana we really took it easy. The town is tourist driven, but the touts aren’t pushy. We went for a stroll along the shore front, looked at the dozens of peddle boats and few kayaks sitting idle on the beach.
Inspecting the goods
The row of restaurants facing the bay were empty and unappealing, each with a tin shed for the kitchens and a tent filled with plastic stackable chairs to the front. Behind these were actual buildings, hotels and cafés, pumping a cocophony of musical styles to the rather empty street.
The main street
But… that was Thursday.
Boats moored, waiting for the visitors to arrive
The town exploded by Good Friday. Every single hotel was full. The beach was suddenly filled to capacity with tents, three deep, as far as the eye could see. People who came late even set up tents in the town squares, on cement.
The town was filled to capacity by Friday afternoon
Copacabana is the place to be for people from La Paz looking for a Easter getaway. More than that, it is the place for a religious pilgrimage. We sat in one of the many identical cafés on the main street, eating some bland, poorly cooked, barely edible meal, chosen from an identical menu to all of the neighbouring businesses. From there we watched the pilgrims arrive, looking exhausted, shuffling slightly, and with hiking sticks and backpacks. Yep, these folks had walked from La Paz.
The hill, on which our hotel was near the base, is the final point of the pilgrimage. We walked it for something to do. There are crucefixes and statues of the Virgin right to the top of the hill.
Despite bins everywhere, the pilgrims chose not to use them
I watched the climbers stop and pray at each one, then continue up the steep steps to the peak. One thing that struck me was, if it’s such a holy place, why is no one taking care of it. People dropped rubbish wherever, and rocks, steps, even the venerated statues were covered in “Pablo waz ‘ere” style graffiti. And rather than being a quiet place to pray, women at the peak sold beer and icecream, the wrappers of which soon littered the holy mountain.
Beautiful view of the bay though
On the night of Good Friday, we went to church. Michael was afraid that as Atheists we’d burn, but nothing.
We had heard there would be an Easter procession but weren’t sure where it would go. So we went to the source.
Quite a beautiful church, and the architecture is totally different to all the others we saw in Peru
It was the most solemn religious procession I’ve ever seen, save for the miked-up guy with a guitar singing Christian pop from the back seat of a taxi.
Procession ran through the square to the lake
Then boom! We woke up Monday morning to empty beaches, no tents, and a spattering of international tourists.
And other than an essential cruise to Isla del Sol, the Island of the Sun, that was our five days in Copacabana.
Sunset at 3800m