Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake, is located on the border between Peru and Bolivia. This is also South America’s largest lake, nestled at an elevation of 3,812 metres above sea level. The lake is surrounded by a picturesque setting of mountainous peaks, busy little villages and towns and archaeological sites.
Over time, the shores of the lake were home to various Andean cultures like the Pukara, Tiahuanaco, Colla, Lupaca, and Inca. Steeped in local legends and lore, the lake is believed to be the birthplace of the mighty Incans who established South America’s largest empire.
The small town of Puno will serve as the base to explore the lake and its surroundings. If you visit in early November, you can witness the colourful Puno week and Carnaval celebrations. The town doesn’t have many attractions and the best thing to do is enjoy a slice of local life. You can also visit the Carlos Dreyer Museum which has a good collection of artefacts that were unearthed in and around Puno. Other highlights include the Casa del Corregidor, a 17th-century residence that now houses a cafe and art store and the 18th-century baroque cathedral located in the town’s centre.
Around 5 km away from the centre of Puno, you will find the Yavarí, a British steamship that was transported to the lake in the 1860s. It was Titicaca’s first-ever steamship and it was decommissioned after being in service for more than a century. Today, the ship sits inactive on the tranquil shores of the lake as a museum and bed and breakfast.
Sillustani is a burial ground that existed even before the Incas did, and is set overlooking Lake Umayo. It is believed to have been the cemetery for an Aymara tribe who buried their nobility here. The site is dotted by the remains of cylindrical funeral towers called chullpas, some of which also bear the carvings of animals on their sides. If you take a guide along, you will hear stories on how they buried the dead in uterus-shaped tombs, along with their personal belongings and plenty of food, sending them on their next journey.
If you’re a bird lover, then there’s more for you here – this is a great spot for watching Andean water birds!
A visit to the Uros islands is a truly unique experience; there are more than 40 of these man-made floating islands that are made from the tortura reeds that grow in the lake. The islands might have reed layers up to 4 metres deep and you can feel how spongy they are as you walk on them. Atop each of these islands, you will find tiny thatched huts and it will be interesting to observe the natives’ lifestyle and how they navigate through the lake with their homes in tow! You can also learn the history behind these people and how they built the floating islands in order to escape Inca colonization.
Taquile is a tiny island that is famous for its colourful textile production and is home to around 2000 people. The people of the island have taken steps to ensure that the traditional way of life is conserved and even today, you can see them dressed in their ethnic woven hats, layered skirts and shawls. Observing the relaxed pace of life, community culture of the residents and magical sunsets by the lake, make the island a lovely place to visit.
This is one of the remote islands of the lake and is best known for its authentic native atmosphere and culture. You can visit the temples of local gods, Pachamama and Pachatata and walk through cobbled pathways, ruins and terraced farmlands of potatoes, beans and peas. At night, you can witness the locals perform their lovely traditional dances and music, fully dressed in their ethnic costumes.
Lake Titicaca is not only a great natural destination with scenic views but also a place rich in history and culture. After visiting all the highlights that the Peru side of the lake has to offer, you can even make your way to the Bolivian side to visit places like Copacabana and Isla del Sol.
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