There are three routes to the Island of the Sun. Some people choose to take a high-speed boat from the port town of Huatajata, while others will cross the strait between the mainland and the island with a small boat from the small village of Yampupata. The most common and inexpensive way to get to the Island of the Sun, however, is to contract a boat from Copacabana. The boats are run by cooperatives of individual owners who live in Copacabana and on the Island of the Sun. To contract a boat, go to the beach and purchase a ticket or make a reservation. You can also make a reservation and purchase a ticket at one of the many stores in Copacabana that advertise "Tickets to the Island of the Sun".
Your ticket provides you with a trip to the villages of Yumani, Challa, or Challapampa. The price increases by distance. The trip to Yumani takes about two hours and to Challapampa takes around three and a half. The price of your boat transportation does not include admission to the archaeological ruins. Each major site has a small entrance fee of around $2 USA which is used by the National Institute of Archaeology to protect and maintain it. The fee is collected by an Institute representative who will give you a receipt.
The Yumani trip takes you to the "southern" side of the island, while the Challapampa trip takes you to the "northern" part. The purchase of a ticket does not constitute the private rental of a boat. Each boat owner needs a minimum amount of passengers to make the trip worthwhile. Also, it is commonly accepted that the boat owner will pick up people on the island going back to Copacabana from the day before. The routes are set by the boat owner, so do not expect him to make additional side trips or wait while you do extra activities on the island.
If you want to see more of the Island of the Sun, go to the Island of the Moon, or have an individualized trip, you may contract a boat for the entire day. The cost is, of course, substantially higher than that of a simple day trip ticket. If you do contract for the day, it is essential that you make it clear to the where and for how long you want to go, since the boat owner must buy all of the gasoline in Copacabana before leaving.
There are a number of hostels on the Island of the Sun run by community members. You can ask the boatman for information depending upon which community you are going or you can ask around the village once you arrive. Most of the hostels are in Yumani, although there are also places to stay in Challa and Challapampa. For an extra charge, the hostels are generally pleased to provide you with food.
A number of people have built informal rooms in their house compounds to accommodate travelers. You can ask a guide or ask in one of the villages for a family willing to put you up. The cost is about the same as a hostel. Some people provide food in private houses, others do not.
Many travel books indicate that you may camp anywhere you like on the islands. This is not correct since most land is privately owned. Camping is permitted on private land with the permission of the owner and you are generally asked to pay a small fee.
What to bring
Essentials include a sleeping bag, flashlight, batteries, candles, small currency, hat, and a water bottle. Rain gear is necessary in the rainy season. Food is generally available in hostels and in informal restaurants. Each village also has several stores which have a limited range of soft drinks, beer, candies, canned foods, and basic supplies. Drinking water is also sold in the stores, but you should bring at least one bottle until you get settled in a place to stay and find a store that is open.
There are a variety of trips that you can take on the island, depending upon how long you want to stay. The Island of the Sun is a little over 11 kilometers in length. Most of the interesting sights are located on the eastern side, as are all of the accommodations. Here are some suggested trips:
Many people take a half-day trip from Copacabana to Yumani to see the Fountain of the Inca and Pilco Kayma. You can buy a ticket for this trip at the beach. The boat leaves Copacabana in the morning and returns in the early afternoon. You can climb the steps up the hillside to the fountain and then visit the ruins at Pilco Kayma.
Full day hike
A very enjoyable full day trip is to go to the north of the island and walk to the Sacred Rock area. The hike begins at the village of Challapampa, about three hours by boat from Copacabana. From there you walk to the Sacred Rock, spend about an hour, and return to the village to visit the museum and to have lunch (The Inca road also takes you past Kasapata). The hike to the Sacred Rock takes between 45 minutes and 1 1/2 hours, depending upon how much time you take along the way to investigate the remains and marvel at the views. On the way back to Copacabana, the boat may stop at the Fountain of the Inca and perhaps Pilco Kayma.
Most people who are able to spend a night on the Island of the Sun find it a most memorable experience. If you can stay a night, you will have the opportunity to walk the entire island, visit most of the important of archaeological sites, and see all three villages. There are two alternatives. The first is to travel to Yumani, get a hostel and visit the Fountain of the Inca, Pilco Kayma. and the village of Yumani. The next day you can walk from Yumani to the Sacred Rock area, passing the community of Challa and lunching in Challapampa. You then have the option of getting a boat back to Copacabana in Challapampa or walking back to Yumani for a return boat trip in the afternoon.
The second alternative is to go from Copacabana to Challapampa or Challa, get a hostel, and then hike to Sacred Rock area. You can return to the village for dinner in Challapampa and spend the night. The next morning walk to Yumani where you can explore Pilco Kayma and the Fountain of the Inca. Catch a boat back to Copacabana in the afternoon.
Two nights and three days will give you more time to visit the island, learn about its cultural wonders, and see its natural beauty. You can stay in any one of the communities, or perhaps pick two to see the differences between them. From your hostel you can walk half of the pilgrimage route the first day, finish it the second day, and then use the morning of the third day to concentrate on your favorite areas before returning to the main land.
Visiting the Island of the Moon
The Island of the Moon is more isolated than that of the Sun, and is thus less visited. You can hire boats in Copacabana for a half-day trip, or included the Island of the Moon as a short stop within a day trip to the Island of the Sun. An adjunct visit to the Island of the Moon from the Island of the Sun will add approximately 2.5 to 3 hours of travel time. It can make for a long day, but most who make the journey feel it is worth the extra time.
If you would like to spend a night in the small village on the south shore of the Island of the Moon you need to arrange for a boat to pick you up the following day as there is no regular transportation. There is only one small store on the Island of the Moon and their supplies are limited. Travelers who expect to spend the night may wish to bring some supplies with them. While there is no formal hostel on the island, visitors can arrange a room for the night with one of the families in the village.
You are a guest of the local people on the Islands of the Sun and the Moon. Remember that this is not a national park -- the land is privately owned and it is a place where people live and work. You will be welcomed to the islands as long as you remember to follow some basic rules of etiquette.
You should stay on the trails unless you ask permission to walk into people's land. Do not walk through peoples' fields during the farming season (September-April), as you may be liable for any damage done to crops. In the dry season (May-August) you should not walk on land without permission. Please do not walk or peer into private household areas unless you have been invited.
Nude or semi-nude bathing is not permitted. Scant clothing worn by either men and women is considered offensive. Men should not take off their shirts, and both men and women should avoid cut-off shorts. Furthermore, there are few toilets on the island. Toilet paper should be burnt after use and waste should be buried.
The people on the island conduct private festivals such as weddings, community fiestas, funerals etc. in the outside, usually in the plaza of each community. One should not attend or interfere with their private engagements without their explicit permission. If you come across a wedding, funeral, or other community festival, do not walk through the crowd--go around the people, both as a sign of respect, and for your own protection.
As anywhere you travel, you should not take photographs of people without their permission. Children and women in traditional clothing will occasionally give their permission, but you are expected to tip them for the privilege. In Yumani, there are professional models with llamas and alpacas that will sell you the opportunity to take a photograph.
You must pay small entrance fees to each of the ruins. Be sure to get the receipt. Separate fees are charged in Pilco Kayma, the Sacred Rock, the Museum at Challapampa, and the ruins on the Island of the Moon. The fees are used by the government and community to maintain the ruins and keep the areas clean and enjoyable. Your fees are not included in the boat ride or in any other payment in Copacabana.
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