Lake Titicaca Travel Guide

Lake Titicaca, Peru © Judith Duk

Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world, at 12,580 feet (3,825m). It covers 3,861 square miles (10,000 sq km) and is shared by neighbouring Bolivia. It has clear water, numerous islands and most importantly a place in Inca history. To many Peruvians, it is a revered and mythical place: legend has it that the founders of the Inca Empire, descendants of the sun, rose from the waters of the lake to create the ancient civilisation. The Uros Indians today live on unique man-made floating islands in the lake, believing they are the direct descendants of the Inca royalty.

For centuries the Uros people have built their homes and made their boats from the abundant source of reeds that grow in the shallows of Lake Titicaca. The islands are made from many springy layers of reeds that are continually added to replace the rotting layers below and it is not uncommon for the islands to drift after heavy rains. Fisherman can be seen navigating the water channels in beautifully crafted, sturdy 'canoes', some with reed figureheads forming a creative extension of the prow. Excursions to the floating islands have become rather commercialised and many visitors are put off by the throngs of children begging for sweets and the persistence of the souvenir sellers, but its popularity remains due to the fact this unusual and fascinating way of life is not found anywhere else in the world.

Further out into the lake and therefore less visited, but more beautiful, are the two fixed islands of Taquile and Amantani, with a genuine traditional lifestyle without electricity or solid infrastructure that gives visitors a glimpse of pre-colonial Andean Peru. The inhabitants of the attractive island of Taquile still use age-old weaving techniques and wear colourful traditional clothes, and the steep-sided fertile shores are covered in pre-Inca agricultural terraces that are the basis for the island's self-sufficient economy. The larger island of Amantani is a basket-weavers island and traditional crafts like stone masonry, and Inca structures of agriculture and trade are still practiced.

Day tours can be arranged from Puno, taking travellers to the Floating Islands, and the two natural islands where traditional hospitality and accommodation is provided by the local residents; or boat trips depart for each island individually at various times throughout the day.

Puno is the gateway to Lake Titicaca and one of the country's major resort destinations. The town was founded by the Spaniards in 1668 and has a wealth of Spanish and native architecture, as well as mestizo art and crafts. Puno town is also reputed to be a centre of Peruvian folklore, its inhabitants descending from two ancient Andean tribes, the Quechua and the Aymara, and it is host to some of the most vibrant traditional festivals in the country. Music, dance, and colour fill the streets each month, a delight for photographers. The most popular festival in Puno is the feast of the Virgen de la Candelaria, held each year in February, which features the famous Devil Dancers. The region is rich in ancient history and along the lake are the pre-Columbian ruins of Chullpas de Sillustani, a curious ancient complex of tombs in the form of round towers.

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