Lake Titicaca in Peru - South America's Largest Fresh Water Lake
Like Timbuktu, what most people know about Lake Titicaca is its name and little else. Pristine and vast, Lake Titicaca sits majestically at 12,500 feet above sea level backed by the snowcapped peaks of Bolivia's Cordillera Real range. It is the highest navigable lake in the world and South America's largest fresh water lake, covering 3,200 square miles that extend across the border between Peru and Bolivia.
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Lake Titicaca is surrounded by the barren landscape of the Altiplano, a high plain that starts at the northern border of Peru and stretches south through the Andes, ending at the world's highest volcano, the Ojos del Salado. One of seventeen remaining ancient lakes in the world, Lake Titicaca is thought to be three million years old, a remnant of Lago Ballivian, an inland sea that disappeared amid the volcanic shifts and eruptions that formed the Altiplano. Today the region is known for its abundant wildlife, huge salt deposits, hot springs and geysers. It is here that the Aymara people have eked out a subsistence living in agriculture since before Incan times.
For centuries, Lake Titicaca has held great religious and economic significance. Pre-Incan peoples believed the Sun diety and the sun itself had originally emerged from the lake. For the sun-worshipping Incas, it was considered the birthplace of mankind, beginning with the first emperor, Manco Capac. Long an important source of irrigation water, the lake is fished commercially today for the karachi and ispi species.
Founded by the Spanish in 1668, Puno is a port city of 80,000 people and an important transportation nexus for passenger travel and market goods. Among its sights are a cathedral, a central market and a dockside museum, the Yavari, a Victorian cruise ship, brought there in pieces that ferried passengers across the lake for a century.
On the outskirts of Puno are various burial sites of the Colla, a pre-Incan civilization that eventually became part of the Inca Empire. The Colla were an Aymara-speaking warfaring tribe that buried its nobility with rations and earthly belongings in funerary towers called chullpas. The most interesting and tallest of these well-preserved chullpas are north of Puno at Sillustani, a peninsula in Lake Umayo that is rich with flora and fauna including three species of flamingo.
Several other towns dot the Peruvian shore of Lake Titicaca: including Moho and Huancane northeast of Puno, and to the south, Chimu, Chucuito; Llave, Juli, (where one can take a hydrofoil to Bolivia) and Pomata.
Further from Lake Titicaca to the north are the cities of Lampa and Juliaca. Called La Ciudad Rosada, Lampa is primarily known for its many pink buildings. Juliaca is a travel hub with rail and air connections to several of Peru's major cities. Both have little in the way of sights but alpaca and other woolen goods can be purchased at attractive prices in their markets.
Lake Titicaca contains over 30 islands. On the Peruvian side, the most famous are the floating islands (Islas Flotantes) constructed of the lake's totora reeds by the Uros people as a means of protecting themselves from the mainland Collas and Incas. The island's 300 inhabitants continue to speak the Aymara language today and still fashion the totora into many products, from huts to canoes to souvenirs.
Picturesque Taquile Island (Isla Taquile) is roadless and primitive, its dark red soil in vivid contrast to the deep blue of the lake. Home to the Taquile people who speak the Incan language, Quechua, the island is famous for its weavers who work and sell their colorful garments and tapestries cooperatively. A school of handicrafts there passes on the Taquile weaving and knitting traditions.
Almost every month of the year, a colorful festival or fiesta takes place in the communities of Lake Titicaca. Some pre-date Colonial times, intertwining a commemoration of the harvest or planting season with a Catholic holy day. Most feature one or more of the 300 traditional dances of the region, accompanied by an eclectic mix of Indian percussion and woodwind instruments and Spanish brass.
Among the most important events are the Candlemas (La Virgen de la Candelaria) in February; Carnaval when pre-Lenten fiestas are held throughout the region; St. James Day (San Diego) on Taquile Island when offerings are made to Mother Earth (Paccha Mama) in July; and Puno Week, commemorating the birth of Manco Capac, celebrated in November.
Six of Southern Explorations' Peru tours explore Lake Titicaca, spending one full day and two half days there visiting Puno, the floating islands of the Uros, Taquile Island and the chullpas of Sillustani: The 9-day Machu Picchu & Lake Titicaca tour, the eleven-day Peru Highlights tour, the twelve-day Inca Trail & Lake Titicaca, the fourteen-day Best of Peru tour; the fourteen-day Discover Peru trekking tour and the eighteen-day Adventure Peru tour. Southern Explorations also offers a three-day Lake Titicaca tour extension to add to other Peru tours.