Isla del Sol - Most annoying insult to tourism I have ever encountered

Published: May 28th 2009
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When buying our tickets for Isla del sole, we were told that it was $3 to visit the island, or $4 to visit the island and see the floating villages. Ok, I thought it would make sense to visit the floating village for $1. Turns out, it costs $6 to visit the island, and there is no floating village. The Inca ruins are a categorical joke, the island is literally a tourist 'trap'. And then it turns out that when we were done trekking the island, none of the restaurants were open. In short, the experience was so pathetic that I would advise against coming here until the Bolivian government sorts this situation out. It really takes a bit of effort to come up with something as tacky as this tour. The day we visited the island, I witnessed the most unapologetically 'upcharge the tourist' behavior of my life, the worst tourist information ever, and the tackiest tourist trap I have ever encountered. ALL IN ONE DAY! Folks, I am not kidding. The government approach to tourism on this island is such a sham that I may just write a letter to the embassy once I get back. Not that I think that it would change anything, it would just be fun to see if they actually respond. Like the day, it was so pathetic that it actually had an amusing side to it. Amusing in the sense that if they though that they could pull this crap without me blogging the hell out of it, they were nuts. Ok, enough of the intro! The story awaits.

We boarded our boat to take us to the island on time, and waited 10 minutes past departure time before leaving. Ok, no problems so far. One would think that we were in the middle of last years fuel crisis based on how slow we went, but still, for a $4 ticket, I was not going to complain. We rounded the island and then docked at a little village to unload. We got our instructions for when to be on the other side for the trip back. None of the tour guides spoke English, so the group ended up translating for itself. Again, not a biggy, I just think that having tourism officials know a few phrases in the language tourists know would be a good idea. However, no sooner had we started walking away from the boat then we found ourselves herded into a building to buy a ticket for the 'museum'. I told Justin that I would actually prefer not to go to the museum. He translated, and I found out that a museum ticket is required, because it also serves as your trekking permit for the island. I was soon to find out that the people on the island were so infatuated with 'permits' that I found myself feeling like a tourist in a communist country. I would venture to guess that the biggest employer on the island is the government, employing people to check tourist's papers. I think we spent about 20 seconds in the museum. If theoretically possible, it was even worse than I expected. Our first stop along the route was the 'stone of spiritual significance to the Inca people'. It was a rock in a corn field. Yawn, turn around, backtrack to trail and continue.

We then found ourselves looking at another 'site', a rock that had 'special significance to someone with a small brain'. This site had 3 guides standing around, one of which was describing the rock to two women, the other two were there for unknown reasons. Both Justin and I may have taken of picture of the rock, but I think it got lost among pics of general scenery. Off to the next spot.

This next spot was a special checkpoint. Special in that the 'trekking pass' that we had purchased was not good enough for the central part of the island. Nope, that was only good for the north part. We had to buy another permit at this checkpoint. Folks, I had Justin to translate for me. The poor Japanese tourist in front of us was completely lost as to why his permit was no good. Now, there were two 'officials' at this checkpoint. One to sell the ticket and another to give it to you. We had to wait for the Japanese guy to be parted from his cash before getting our tickets. The job of selling a ticket and giving it out was too much for these sophisticated people. The ancestral habit of staring at the 'rocks of spiritual significance' must have taken there toll. The job had to be split between two people. I am serious, I tried to give the guy with the tickets money, but he would not take it, because the guy standing by the Japanese tourist trying to explain this bs was the cashier (I had exact change). After parting ways with these two proteges of human achievement, we then walked along for a bit. At this point, it is important to note that we passed many many huts selling water, soft drinks and candy bars at inflated prices. As well as many people selling touristy junk. This will come into play later.

After passing a few more checkpoints, we then got to the village where our boat was departing from. Well, almost. You guest it, we had to buy another ticket for the south part of the island. Because, the ticket to the island, trekking pass, and additional permit were not adequate . At this point, I was out of small change (who knew one would blow through so much of it?). So, I handed the person at the checkpoint who collected the money a 50 Boliviano note (about $7). I think the toll was 10. Uh oh, this was too much for her to break. She gave me a 'deer in the headlights' look. I gave her a look I will not describe right now. Justin paid for both of us. But what if I had been traveling alone? I had to pass through the checkpoint to get to my boat. I surmise that I would have literally found myself in a 'tourist trap'. Is it actually asking too much for them to have change if they choose to operate this kind of racket?

But operate it they did, as evidenced by our search for a restaurant. On arrival at the village before the stairs down to the boat, Justin and I sent in search for a bite to eat. Searching, searching, searching. Every single restaurant was abandoned. The human resource drain of the checkpoints and beverage huts had taken their toll. When we actually wanted to buy something, there was no one there!

As we queued up to take our boat back, we witnessed the beginning of Inca tourist tackiness. A boat with locals dressed up in Inca outfits was 'rowing' tourists from the more expensive boat along the shore. Only thing is, if you looked, you could see the trawling motor powering the 'traditional boat', no doubt of 'special significance to the people'. It just made me happy not to be part of that group.

As we left the island of Soviet checkpoints, we all thought we were going to the floating villages. I remember thinking that I there didn't seem to be room for a village in the cove that we were going to. I was right! As we rounded the corner, we were greeted by two 'floating' platforms with a grand total of 2 (thats two) people on one of them. We passed the first one, which actually had a giant 'welcome' sign on it. The other was purportedly supported by, how should I put it, non-traditional building materials? My favorite part of it was when we pulled up, we were told that it was another 5 Bolivianos to get off the boat and see the island (er, platform). So much for the extra fee. To my great delight, the vast majority of the passengers just started busting out laughing at the site of the fake island, and refused to get off the boat.

Back to the mainland.

In conclusion, the Island is scenic. I would enjoy its scenery anyday. However, the government of Bolivia has managed to turn it into such an obnoxious 'hose the tourist' zone that I will activity discourage anyone from going there. There is a free hike along the hills on shore that goes to the point closest to the island. There you have the beauty of the area without the bullshit. Now, if Bolivia wants to charge 50 Bolivianos for a visit to the Island, that is their prerogative. I am actually pretty sure that I very well may have paid that much had I been told that is what is cost. However, I was told 30, and that is what I made my decision on. The extra 10 for the fake platform of island people culture was a lame joke. What really frustrates me is why it had to be frustrating at all. Just sell a ticket for what it costs to go to the Island, have the boat companies collect the money, and then let the people trek. This perpetual surprise shakedown is not only annoying, it was downright insulting, and could have been extremely inconvenient (running around the island trying to make change for the last toll anyone?). In regards to those on a tight budget, the cost of these excursions factors into play. Going to the island costs as much as 2 nights accommodation and a couple meals (if you cook for yourself or buy street snacks). The actual cost of visiting needs to be presented to people so they can make an informed decision. I would suggest anyone boycott the Isla until this circus packs up.

Additional photos below
Photos: 26, Displayed: 26


overlooking the steps down to our boatoverlooking the steps down to our boat
overlooking the steps down to our boat

at the very very end, we were actually able to find an open restaurant.
Photo 14Photo 14
Photo 14

the fake inca boat, complete with motor wake behind it

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