If you are planning to visit Bolivia this summer, we have a charming affordable place to recommend on Isla del Sol. Head down to the tiny town of Challapampa, where Don Alfonso and Doña Alicia have expanded their home to welcome pilgrims from all over the world. Refugio Ecologico Wiracocha offers private adobe shelters topped by straw roofs, marvelous views from atop a hill and comfy beds to take some rest before visiting the Inca ruins and walking the trail.
We found out about Wiracocha because its owner, Alfonso Choque Tricona, was also the captain of the boat that took us from Copacabana to the island. But instead of sailing, he spent most of the trip playing cards and chewing coca with friends, leaving his daughter in charge of the wheel.
The refuge stands on a hill overlooking Challapampa, a humble town on the northern side of the island with no cars or even bikes. Pass the (very loosely enclosed) pigs, donkeys and llamas, pass the quinoa plantations and keep walking up the stone path. You will soon reach the Wiracocha accommodation, named after the creator of all things.
Made entirely from materials gathered in the area, the refuge consists of more than 10 private shelters built by hand from adobe, an abundant and affordable building material. Adobe is not only a free resource found right on site, it is also a great sound and thermic insulator that makes the rooms comfortable and cozy all year around. All shelters are topped by a straw roof, a low-cost weatherproof solution that needs to be replaced or topped up every few months.
Each earthy shelter is decorated with colorful pennants and names that celebrate the ancient Andean Aymará Cosmovision. The rooms are basic but comfortable, costing only $2.90 a night, with rough and ready furniture made from found wood. Each room gets plenty of natural light through its many windows, which also frame the bay and tranquil waters of the lake.
Everything at the refuge was made by Alfonso, his family and their hands. The toilets are shared and equipped with a solar-powered shower. During the day there is plenty of garden space to eat al fresco or soak up the sun, and at night, an outdoor communal kitchen complete with a mud oven is perfect for sharing food, stories and songs.
So now you know the best-kept secret on Isla del Sol: the charming Refugio Ecologico Wiracocha.
Photos © Ana Lisa Alperovich for Inhabitat