We left La Paz in a mini-van early the next morning, spiralling upwards towards the valley’s rim. Bolivia is a poor country and the roads are, frankly, terrible. Road rules appear to be ‘first in best dressed’ and traffic often diverges to avoid huge potholes or areas of impossibly corrugated track. Sealed surfaces are a rarity.


We left La Paz in a mini-van early the next morning, spiralling upwards towards the valley’s rim. Bolivia is a poor country and the roads are, frankly, terrible. Road rules appear to be ‘first in best dressed’ and traffic often diverges to avoid huge potholes or areas of impossibly corrugated track. Sealed surfaces are a rarity.

Once out of the valley, the altiplano (high plains) provided spectacular views, which are best photographed with a polarising filter. The high, snow-capped peaks along the edges of the altiplano make a wonderful background to the dry, grassy plains. The Ixus 750 came in handy for grabbing quick shots of the farmlands we passed through – although roughly two thirds of the shots were unusable, due to the motion of the bus. Nevertheless, the ones that worked made the effort worthwhile.


The Bolivian section of the altiplano with Mount Mururata (5,860 metres) and Mount Chacaltaya (5,375 metres) in the background. A polarising filter was used to reproduce the intensity of the colours in the scene. (Taken with the EOS 400D and 75-300mm lens.)


A typical altiplano farmhouse, with walls made from mud bricks and a corrugated iron roof. The animals are housed on the ground floor level in inclement weather. (Taken from the moving bus with the Ixus 750.)

Shortly after 8.00 a.m. we arrived at Chua and boarded a cruising boat for a trip to Isla del Sol (Sun Island), where we were to spend several hours looking at Inca remains and a reconstruction of Inca farming. We were also promised a ride on a typical reed sailing boat, of the type used by Thor Heyerdahl in several of his endeavours to prove connections between the civilisations of South America, the Pacific Islands and the Mediterranean.


Local people rowing out to gather reeds from the lake’s edge. These reeds, which grow all round the lake, are used for many purposes.


Cruising the lake provided some excellent picture-taking opportunities but a polarising filter was necessary to penetrate the slight haze and reveal the distant mountains in the background.


Small villages are dotted around the lake. Their main industry is fishing for the introduced trout and kingfish. Almost all of the trees you can see are Tasmanian Blue Gums, which were introduced in the late 1800s to control soil erosion and now provide a useful timber resource.

Isla del Sol – and a nearby Island of the Moon – were sacred to the Inca civilisation and contain many relics of their presence. The hills surrounding Lake Titicaca are also terraced in many places, a legacy of pre-Inca farming activities. You can’t help marvelling at the enterprise of these peoples when you see the extent to which the landscape has been modified.

Landing at Isla del Sol we climbed about 100 metres to view the ruins of an Inca temple – the only one where there are some intact roofs. As we arrived, several of the local people came out with their animals, providing great opportunities for picture-taking, at the cost of a handful of cents.


This little girl is dressed in Western style – as were most of the children we saw. They earn valuable income by posing for tourists’ photographs and selling small trinkets.


A typical Bolivian peasant with her llama, standing beside the ruins of an Inca temple. Her bowler hat and full skirt are the same as the Cholitas of La Paz.

We had a long walk up the hill and around the headland to reach the reconstructed Inca village. The effort, which would have been negligible at sea level, caused breathlessness in us all and one member of the party had to have oxygen delivered in order to complete the journey. (Fortunately, our guide’s mobile phone made this a relatively seamless exercise.)


The view from the headland on Sun Island, with the Island of the Moon in the foreground and the Andean peaks behind. Note the crescent moon in the upper right corner. This could only be recorded by using a polarising filter.

Altitude affects different people in different ways and it is difficult to predict who will be worst affected. But, when you are dizzy, nauseous and have a splitting headache, no amount of scenery and interesting things to photograph can alleviate the condition. Fortunately, the spectacular views over the lake provided an incentive to proceed further as we plodded along, pausing for frequent rests.

The end point, when we reached it, was also worthwhile as it enabled us to take close-up shots of llamas, alpacas and the rare vicuna and guanaco – the four types of camelids that inhabit the altiplano. The vicuna and guanaco were of particular interest and the former is an endangered species (killed off by hunters seeking its valuable fleece durign the last century), while the latter is impossible to domesticate.


An alpaca in profile. It was easy to take close-up pictures of the four types of camelids as they were penned in and offered alfalfa to allow visitors to get close.

We also learned about how the reed boats were constructed and watched a shamanic ceremony, where we were blessed and wished luck with our future enterprises.


A traditional shaman conducts a blessing ceremony against the backdrop of Lake Titicaca and the distant Andean peaks.


A native in traditional dress poses for photographs in a single-person reed canoe.


An example of the type of large reed boats that carried many passengers across great distances. The figureheads represent pumas, the scared animal of Lake Titicaca.
We then walked down to the port (through the inevitable souvenir vendors) to board the reed boat and sail back to the catamaran ferry that would take us to Copacabana, where we would board the bus to Puno, crossing the Peruvian border en route. A brief stop in Copacabana was scheduled for a visit to the Church of the Black Madonna, a noted carving of the Virgin Mary, made from wood, which is credited with several miracles.


Exterior of the Church of the Black Madonna at Copacabana, taken with the EOS 400D and 10-22mm lens.


The interior of the church, showing the richly-decorated altarpiece. The Black Madonna is illuminated in the centre of the screen. This was one of the few churches where photography was allowed.

The bus trip on to Puno was uneventful, with scenery similar to the rest of the altiplano (which ends at Puno). Passing through the Bolivia/Peru border was also quite straightforward, although it took about half an hour to check passports and change our money into Peruvian Soles. We arrived at Puno after dark and checked in to our hotel, faced with an early departure for further explorations on the lake on the following day.