A vast, sea-like stretch of turquoise water painted across the glorious altiplano landscape, with an intense cultural and historical heritage set below huge, almost never ending skies, it’s hard to find words that do justice to the sheer magnificence of Lake Titicaca.
A look at Lake Titicaca
The lake, the largest in South America and one of the highest navigable bodies of water on Earth, plays a central role in the mythical traditions of ancient Andean civilization. The Inca based the legend of their very creation on this inland ocean. It was from these waters that Viracoca, the God of Creation, emerged to create the sun and the moon, as well as mankind, and it was from here that the Inca began their long conquest of the Andes.
Stepping into this ethereal, high altitude world, where even the sunlight seems to shine with an unreal glow, it’s easy to see why ancient civilizations attached such importance to the lake. Not only is Lake Titicaca overwhelmingly beautiful, it’s also an abundant cradle of life, an environment that has sustained numerous tides of civilization over its long history.
Hop to these islands
Lake Titicaca today is an enormously popular Peru travel destination, drawing a steady stream of visitors year round. Using the city of Puno as a convenient base, it’s easy to discover some of the enchanting islands that make the lake such a unique place:
The artificial islands of Uros are one of the most unusual and interesting aspects of the lake. For centuries the Uros people have lived on these man-made floating islands, built entirely from the Tortuga reeds which grow in Titicaca in such abundance.
Originally built as an ingenious solution to aggression from the neighboring Aymara tribes, the islands provide a self-contained refuge with everything the Uros need to survive. Youngsters search for bird’s eggs within the reed forests, the men hunt and fish, while the women use the reeds to construct virtually anything, from the islands and houses themselves to impressive double-story boats capable of holding a dozen people.
The islanders are hospitable and welcoming to visitors. During your tour you will be able to meet community members who are happy to describe their unique way of life and show you round their island. It’s even possible to stay overnight in a small hostel, although most travelers prefer to move on to more comfortable accommodations elsewhere.
The Floating Islands of Uros on Peru’s Lake Titicaca.
Photo by Matthew Barker, 2010
Compared to Uros, the island of Taquile is a metropolis, albeit one with no roads, cars and only intermittent electricity. All the same, the island is home to several thousand residents and is famed for its rich weaving and textile traditions. Islanders are famed for their extravagant clothing, with colorfully embroidered waistcoats, blouses and billowing skirts a common sight, as well as the ubiquitous wool hats. You can get to know this long history of expert weaving in the island’s small but interesting textile museum.
There are also a number of Inca-era ruins on the island, but the Taquile’s real attractions are the jaw-dropping vistas of vast expanses of shimmering water and the snow-capped mountains in the distance. Travelers can enjoy the views during long walks along the many trails that snake along the island’s 3.5 mile length, or from the highpoint of the island which measures over 13,000 feet above sea level.
After exploring the relatively large Taquile, the island of Suasi appears as a microscopic dot in the vastness of Lake Titicaca. Suasi is a beautifully tranquil place to relax and enjoy the serenity. There are no permanent residents living here – other than a small herd of camelids, and it’s possible to cross the entire breadth of the island in less than thirty minutes.
Suasi is also one of the few private islands on the lake, accessible only to guests of the island’s single lodge, making this perhaps the most serene place in all of Lake Titicaca. But despite its diminutive size, the island packs a great number of activities and adventures for the visitor, from hiking the trails to sailing the surrounding waters, or simply enjoying the lodge’s spa. But the biggest treat is saved for night time, when under the blackness of night, nature’s spectacular light show of countless stars illuminates the entire island.
Islands Further Afield
Some of the lake’s other islands are much less visited and can be reached by local boat services from Puno. Amantani is one such island, home to several interesting archeological sites, while the island of Anapia is hidden way off in the lake’s far southern waters.
Meanwhile, on the Bolivian side of the lake are a duo if incredibly important islands, the Isla del Sol and Isla del Luna. It is actually on these islands that the Inca creation legends emerged and the islands are home to a fascinating complex of ruins and small settlements.
It is possible to hike along the route of an ancient pilgrimage, formally only open to the highest ranking of the Inca nobility, a trail that curves along the highest point of the Isla del Sol and passes some of the island’s numerous ruins. Reaching the Bolivian islands is possible on trips directly from Puno.
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Matt left England for Peru in 2008, originally planning to stay for just 12 months but ending up settling down in Lima working for Latin America For Less for three fun-packed years. He remains a perpetual traveller, working and writing his way through Europe, North America and Asia but he has always saved a special place in his heart for Peru and South America.