Taking a boat out to visit Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) and Isla de la Luna (Island of the Moon) on Lake Titicaca in Bolivia is truly fascinating. The islands have many interesting ruins that pre-date the Inca empire and have been dated back to as far as 300 BC. The ruins are mostly of temples, but people lived on the islands as well. Island of the Sun is the larger of the two islands and there are even hotels where you can spend the night if you would like. If you just want to tour the islands and return to the town of Copacabana on the same day, it will take you about four to six hours.
We did a three day tour from La Paz, the capital of Bolivia, where we first visited the ruins of Tiwanaku before continuing on to Copacabana where we stayed at a hotel that overlooked the Lake Titicaca. The following morning we rose early to take a rented boat out to visit the islands. We visited Isla de la Luna first where we were greeted by some local women selling souvenirs as well as a very friendly llama. The views of the ruins with the lake in the background were simply amazing. We were able to walk through the ruins and see them first hand, which made the experience even more interesting.
From Isla de la Luna, we continued on to Isla del Sol where we continued to tour ruins that are in excellent shape considering their age. Inside of one of the temples, there were coca leaves left on an altar by people hoping to receive blessings from the gods. Looking back towards the Island of the Moon from the shores of the Island of the Sun, its smaller size becomes quite apparent. We did not stay the night on the island, but instead returned to Copacabana, but we understand that they do reenactments of the Incan ceremonies on the island at night if you do decide to stay.
We saw many different ruins during our time in Bolivia, but certainly the ones on Isla del Sol and Isla de la Luna were among the most interesting. It was also a refreshing break from the busy city to stay a couple of nights with beautiful sunsets and wonderful views. It took us about eight hours to reach Copacabana from La Paz, but that included a couple of hours touring Tiwanaku and a stop for lunch. It also included a ferry ride across part of Lake Titicaca in order for our van to make its way to the lake. It was definitely one of our favorite tours while we were in Bolivia.
One of the day tour options from Panama City is to visit what is called Monkey Island on Lake Gatun. Although it is referred to as a single island, it is really several islands, each with different monkey varieties. When the river was dammed to create the lake, one of the inadvertent things was that some animals were trapped as the waters rose and what were hilltops within the rainforest became small islands. Since these smaller monkeys can’t swim from island to island, they would have perished were it not for the fact that soldiers were stationed on the islands as lookouts and guards.
One of the first things that you learn as an ecotourist is that you never feed the animals as it disrupts their natural instincts and can create an imbalance. Since the lake was created in the early 1900’s, there was no sense of our impact on wildlife and the soldiers didn’t think twice about feeding the monkeys on these islands. Without that food, those monkeys would not have survived and now they have become completely dependent upon getting food from humans. These days, the monkeys are reliant upon the tours that bring tourists to the island and give them food to entice them to interact with the people on the boat. The monkeys are cute and adorable, so you can see where there might be some temptation for people to catch them and sell them as pets, but the tour guides and people of the area are extremely protective of them and are always on the watch to ensure that no one is smuggling one of the monkeys.
In order to get to the islands, you obviously need to get there by boat and tour groups come throughout the day to take a motorized boat out to the islands. If you want to have the best experience, starting your day earlier in the day is definitely recommended as the more that the boats visit the islands and feed the monkeys, the fuller that they get and the less interested they become in coming down from the trees to get a treat. Some of the monkeys were given small pieces of banana and they are willing to come into the boats and sit on shoulders and even a head in order to eat some banana. For some of the larger monkeys, you hold a grape in your hand with your fingers lightly gripping the grape and the monkeys will gently open your hand to get their treat. If you hold the grapes low on your lap, you will spend even more time with the monkey than if you just extend your hand.
Although the monkeys are reliant on people to get their food, they are not domesticated and are still wild animals. It is important that you don’t make any sudden movements, jump, scream, or even laugh dramatically. Any of those things can be construed as a threat by the monkeys and they will lash out to protect themselves. We were warned by our guides that if we weren’t able to remain calm, they would have to back the boat away from the island for our safety and the safety of the monkeys. Fortunately our group did as told and since we were the first boat of the day, we had excellent interactions with the monkeys.
We did Monkey Island as part of a longer tour, visiting other sites after seeing the monkeys. It is certainly a highlight for anyone visiting Panama City and is worth getting out of the city to see. We saw other monkeys in the rainforest, but being able to get as close to them as you do on the islands makes for a very special memory.
When we were in Aswan, Egypt, we took a boat out to Philae, which is an island with a variety of temples. It was a very interesting site with plenty of things to see and definitely worth a half day to visit. The temples were moved to higher ground after the High Dam was built in order to save them and it was well worth the effort. As Aswan is in the southern part of Egypt, the temperatures can be quite hot, so be prepared and bring plenty of water.
Clearly the Temple of Isis is the highlight of visiting the island, but there is also the Temple of Hathor and the Kiosk of Trajan. The columns, hieroglyphs, and entrance were extremely impressive. We took our time walking around the temples and seeing them from every angle, but seeing them from the boat as we neared the island was truly stunning. There are still archeological activities occurring at the site and we saw people actively working while we were there.
There are a few other sites worth seeing in Aswan, but Philae was what stood out most to us. The history of temples goes back over 2500 years and seeing how well preserved they were was fascinating. We would definitely recommend a visit to the island to anyone who makes their way down the Nile River to visit Aswan.