“Exploring the World’s Highest Navigable Lake”
Extending from south-eastern Peru to western Bolivia, Lake Titicaca is the cradle of Incan civilisation and is the highest navigable lake in the world (approx. 3,810 meters or 12,500 feet) – and the largest lake in South America. The lake is 196 km long (122 miles) with an average width of 56 km (35 mi) and an average depth of 107 meters (351 feet). The lake’s waters are cold and blue making a beautiful contrast to the parched Altiplano.
Cold sources and winds over the lake give it an average surface temperature of 10 to 14°C (50 to 57°F). In the winter (June–September), mixing occurs with the deeper waters, which are always between 10 to 11°C (50 to 52°F).
The origin of the name Titicaca is unknown. It has been translated as “Rock Puma”, because local inhabitants have traditionally interpreted the shape of the lake to be that of a puma hunting a rabbit. “Titicaca” combines words from the local languages of Quechua and Aymara.
According to Incan mythology, Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo emerged from the depths of Lake Titicaca to create Cusco. The entire lake was a holy place for the Incas.
The lake has 41 islands, some of which are densely populated.
Populated by some 800 Quechua-speaking families, Amantani is a circular, 9 sq. km. island located 36km (22 miles) northeast of Puno. The island is dominated by two mountain peaks which hover almost 300 meters over the lake; they’re called Pachatata (Father Earth) and Pachamama (Mother Earth), next to which some pre-Hispanic ruins are found (including a mummy cemetery). They offer beautiful views of Lake Titicaca, particularly at sunsets.
The Amantani people, distributed in eight villages, make their livelihood by fishing and raising cattle, sheep, and alpacas. They also cultivate traditional Andean crops: potatoes, corn, quinoa, beans, and so forth.
Electricity, though, is not available on Amantani; nor are cars or hotels. Visitors stay overnight in private homes, as some families open their houses to tourists and provide cooked meals. To provide a benefit from our visit, we contract with Amantani families, paying them directly the price of food and accommodations eliminating intermediaries. This is a small contribution but one where it is relatively easy to make a difference in the Amantani community.
The trip from Puno to Amantani takes three and a half hours by boat and, instead of a tiresome single-day round-trip; we recommended spending at least one night on the island.
Inhabited for thousands of years, this peaceful island is situated 34 Km (21 miles), east of the city of Puno, by boat. The most popular attractions in Taquile are its landscapes, dominated by tiered platforms where potatoes, corns, quinoa and broad beans are cultivated. On the top of the island archaeological ruins can also be found.
During the Spanish conquest, it was used as a prison. The island became the property of the Taquile people in 1970.
The citizens of Taquile wear different coloured clothes, in accordance with their social status. Leaders wear black chullos (caps), married men, red ones; singles red and white (and the same applies to women). The women wear multi-layered skirts and delicately embroidered blouses. Taquile textiles, which also reflect customs and beliefs, are colourful and exquisitely hand-woven, not to mention much sought after by visitors for their quality. In 2005, “Taquile and its Textile Art” were proclaimed “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO.
Homestays can be arranged, but on the island there are shops and restaurants. Normally, if you only have a day to visit the Lake Titicaca, we advise visiting Taquile and Uros.
Uros: the Floating Islands
The Uros islands – about 50 in number- are located just a few minutes from the city of Puno, on the waters of Lake Titicaca. These islands are made and re-made using layers of the buoyant totora reeds that grow abundantly in the shallows of Lake Titicaca.
The islands take their name from the Uros tribe who began their floating existence centuries ago in an effort to isolate themselves from the aggressive Collas and the Incas. Today, several hundred people still live on these islands.
The Uros are part of the Titicaca National Reserve, created in 1978 to preserve 37 thousand hectares of marsh reeds in the south and north sectors of Lake Titicaca. The reserve also protects over 60 species of native birds, four families of fish and 18 native amphibians species.