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Titicaca, Peru, Bolivia

GPS: -15.800433757559, -69.384819103171

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A natural border between Peru and Bolivia at very high altitude, Lake Titicaca (or Titiqaqa in Quechua) is located at some 3,800 metres above sea level. Surrounded by the high peaks of the Andes Mountains, this mysterious place means “lead-colored puma” in the Aymara language (ancient official language of the Incas). Titicaca is a freshwater lake considered to be the cradle of the Inca civilization and one of the highest navigable lakes in the world.

190 kilometres long and 80 kilometres wide, Lake Titicaca covers an area of nearly 8,500 km², making it the second largest lake on the South American continent after Lake Maracaibo (Venezuela). This inland sea gives rise to ancient local legends and beliefs. With its morning mists and sacred peaks, Lake Titicaca is said to be the home of the god Viracocha, who was once worshipped under the Inca Empire. This high altitude lake has always been associated with the origin of the world, the cult of gold and the creation of the sun. It is the place of a hundred or so ancient sites dating back to pre-Columbian times. Ceramic fragments, censers in the shape of puma heads, lama bones and gold leaf have recently been discovered during scientific explorations and underwater research carried out in the waters of the lake. These remains could be offerings deposited as part of ritual ceremonies. They are attributed to the Tiwanaku civilization, which is believed to have settled on the shores of Lake Titicaca more than 10,000 years ago. Prior to the Incas, the Tiwanaku people would have prospered between the 5th and 11th centuries AD. The site subsequently became a major centre of Inca mythology. To this day, Lake Titicaca remains a central element in the culture of the ancient Aymara, Quechua and Qulla Indian tribes who originated from the region.

Divided into two sub-basins by the Strait of Tiquina, Lake Titicaca has around forty different islands and is home to wetlands of global importance. Its ecological balance is seriously threatened by the pollution of the lakeside towns (untreated waste water) and gold mining. A large-scale sanitation operation is being carried out in both countries to eradicate the problem by 2030. Numerous archaeological remains still lie in the depths of the lake, further enhancing the fascination of visitors for this legendary place.

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  • The aesthetic quality and sacred dimension of Lake Titicaca, whose surface stretches as far as the eye can see (the size of the lake is equivalent to the archipelago of Puerto Rico); the reed vegetation and traditional floating islands (Los Uros and Titinos islands) on the Peruvian side; the manufacture of rafts and reed boats made from braided totora (an aquatic plant) on Suriki Island on the Bolivian side; the exhibitions of objects recovered from the lake (these could be ritual offerings to honour religious deities)
  • The archaeological ruins in the Bolivian part : the temple of Chinkana, the sacred rock of Challapampa, the ruins of the temple of Pillkukayna and the village of Yumani on Isla del Sol; the remains visible on Isla de la Luna (ruins of the Inca temple Iñaq Uyu) and Isla Pariti (pottery, ceramics and vases) ; the funerary sites on Isla Kalahuta; the Asiento del Inca (stone sanctuary) and Horca del Inca (pre-Inca astronomical observatory of the Chiripa people) sites in the city of Copacabana
  • The archaeological sites in the Peruvian part: the temples of Pachatata (Father Earth) and Pachamama (Mother Earth) as well as the mummy cemetery on Amantani Island; the remains on Taquile and Ticonata Islands; the fortress and small museum of Pucará; the villages of Chucuito (Temple of Fertility), Juli (Aramu Muru stone carving) and Pomata (temple of Santiago Apóstol converted into a church)
  • The city of Tiwanaku containing the oldest archaeological ruins in South America (15 kilometres south-east of the lake), the Illampu (6,421 metres) and Ancohuma (6,427 metres) mountains, the Apolobamba mountain range, the Ulla Ulla National Reserve and the Copacabana market in Bolivia
  • The Titicaca National Reserve, the peninsulas of Capachica, Chucuito and Llachon in Peru, as well as the craft market and the Cathedral Basilica of St. Charles Borromeo; the Cerrito Huajsapata panoramic viewpoint (near the Plaza de Armas de Puno)
  • The beaches and shores of Lake Titicaca (the water temperature does not exceed 12 °C); the encounter with llamas and alpacas at high altitudes
  • Hiking, kayaking, climbing, fishing, boat trips; discovery of ancient agricultural practices
  • The age-old traditions of the inhabitants of Lake Titicaca (mostly speaking Aymara on both shores) : folk dances and Andean music, the Pachamanca earthen ovens used for cooking food, arts and crafts, textile know-how, ancestral methods of cultivation and breeding; the typical dwellings built around the lake (adobe houses made of dried clay brick); the cult dedicated to the Black Virgin and the goddess Pachamama (the Mother Earth of the Aymara, Quechua and Andean peoples)
  • In Peru, the annual festival of Taquile (the third week of July) and the festival of the Virgen de la Candelaria in Puno, a festive carnival taking place in the first half of February; in Bolivia, the pilgrimage of the Day of the Virgin (Dia de la Virgen) to the Basilica of Our Lady of Copacabana on 5 August and the parades organized on National Day on 6 August
  • According to mythology, the first founding king of the Inca Empire and son of the Inti sun god, Manco Cápac, and the Inca goddess Mama Ocllo were born on Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun), the largest island in Lake Titicaca, before founding the city of Cusco (capital of the Inca Empire). It is on the northern end of this island that the ruins of Chinaka contain a sacred rock corresponding to the birthplace of the Inca civilization. Opposite this archipelago, the Isla de la Luna (Island of the Moon) is said to be the home of Mama Quilla, the Inca goddess of the moon (in charge of protecting women, she played a great role in the lunar calendar of the Incas). Mama Quilla was the sister and wife of Inti (the sun god), daughter of Viracocha (the creator god) as well as the mother of Manco Cápac (first emperor of the Inca people) and Mama Ocllo (goddess of fertility).
  • The Tiwanaku are said to have founded the first Andean Empire in history, which stretched between southern Peru and northern Chile, straddling Bolivia. Tiwanaku was the capital of this empire (today it is located a short distance from Lake Titicaca on the Bolivian side, although the level of the lake has changed significantly in the last 1,000 years). The remains of an ancient Tiwanaku port have been were discovered by archaeologists Christophe Delaere and Martial Medina near one shore of the lake, revealing that economic and commercial activities such as fishing and navigation were practiced there. The emergence of the Incas changed the function of the lake, as only rituals were allowed there (the site was considered sacred like a church). In 1968, the French explorer Jacques Cousteau explored the depths of Lake Titicaca without discovering any notable elements about the Tiwanaku.
  • Recent explorations have revealed the presence of submerged ports and ancient villages as well as more than 20,000 objects from the Tiwanaku and Inca peoples. These discoveries should lead to the creation of a floating and semi-submerged museum in the heart of Lake Titicaca to showcase its underwater heritage through glass walls.
  • On the Peruvian side, Lake Titicaca has small artificial floating islands built from reeds braided together and growing in the deep waters of the lake (the totora and taipi kili). Now static, these 2.5 to 4-metre thick floating platforms were once used by the ancient Uros people to flee their enemies (including the Incas, who made them their slaves from the 14th century onwards, and then the Spanish conquistadors, who would do the same two centuries later). About thirty of these artificial islands have been inhabited by small Amerindians communities for several centuries in the marshes of Lake Titicaca and some are even equipped with solar panels.
  • Confronted with the elements of nature, the Uros (a people who could be originally from the Amazon) have long maintained their ancestral way of life in harmony with the lake and in respect of their environment. In the 1950s, the Uros finally lost their language (uruquilla) and their age-old traditions. Their descendants are attached to the Aymara (a people who predate the Incas) and a local community continues to reside on these small floating islands to live from tourism. The reeds on which the Uros lived are edible and can be eaten raw. On the other hand, their inhabitants must constantly maintain their constructions (floating islands, houses, furniture, boats, canoes…) otherwise they will break up and end up sinking. Artisanal boats are gradually being replaced by fibreglass or plastic boats with engines.
  • The Peruvian Andean Cordillera is the cradle of a tuber called papa, which was imported to Europe by the Spaniards in the 16th century: the potato. Once used as a bargaining chip, it has been considered a sacred food since ancient times. According to local beliefs, the potato is a gift from Mother Earth, the Pachamama. With thousands of different varieties in the Andes, the potato has been used by nomadic populations to settle down and by the powerful Inca Empire to prosper for centuries. The Incas mainly used it in terrace crops through the technique of agroecology (an environmentally friendly process of sustainable production). In the Central Andes, potatoes are often processed into chuño (freeze-dried potato) to preserve them for longer (up to several years) after a cycle of exposure to sunlight and frost (using a tuber dehydration technique).
  • Victim of water pollution and overfishing, Lake Titicaca’s fish stocks are in dangerous decline. While several species of fish are threatened with extinction, others such as the Boga or the Titicaca orestias (endemic to the lake) are thought to be completely extinct. The use of nanotechnology could eventually help to purify the waters of Lake Titicaca, safeguard its natural habitats and rehabilitate its ecosystems (fauna, vegetation, wetlands and marshes).
  • In Bolivia, the city of Copacabana, located on the Strait of Tiquina, can be a good base for exploring Lake Titicaca by boat and visiting the city of Tiwanaku.
  • In Peru, the picturesque city of Puno is the most popular destination for its folklore and its privileged location at the gates of the Titicaca National Reserve. The Peruvian authorities have recently published a digital guide for national and foreign travellers. Entitled Ruta Segura Lago Titicaca, it is supposed to provide all the information, services and tourist tips on Lake Titicaca.
  • The cities of Copacabana and Puno are linked by a bus service (4 hours).
  • Due to the high altitude, temperatures between day and night can drop rapidly and become negative.
  • On your way to the bay of Sicuani (Peru), you can discover the process of harvesting, preparing and weaving totora. This edible plant has been used for centuries by the Aymara people in the design of traditional boats, buildings, artificial islands and handmade hats.
  • The experience of sleeping in a local home-ownership (on the islands of Taquile, Amantaní and Ticonata or in the villages of Llachon and Luquina Chico for example) will allow you to discover the traditional way of life of the Lake Titicaca Indian communities. Most of these rustic accommodations do not have running water or electricity but are a good way to participate in the development of the local economy.

Where to eat

  • El Condor & The Eagle Cafe
    (the muesli is delicious)
  • Loving Hut Titikaka
    (vegetarian experience)
  • La Table de l'Inca
    (gastronomic cuisine)

Where to go out

  • Sillustani
    (vast pre-Inca necropolis)
  • Basilica of Our Lady of...
    (major monument)
  • Isla Suasi
    (paradise island)

Where to sleep

  • Kusillo's Posada
    (family hostel)
  • Hotel La Cupula
    (pretty building)
  • Castillo del Titicaca
    (dream location)

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