Yesterday I spent time exploring Puno but found the altitude (12,556 ft.) a hindrance to doing much walking and ran out of steam early. Tomorrow I take an all-day tour of the lake and visit the Uros and Taquile islands. Looking forward to being on the water! The sky and colors here are phenomenal.
Lake Titicaca is near the city of Puno on the border between northern Bolivia and southern Peru. It has several distinctions:
- At 12,500 ft., it’s the highest commercially navigable lake in the world.
- Covering some 3,200 sq. miles, it’s the largest lake in South America.
- It’s the birthplace of the Inca civilization and the ancestral land of many indigenous people, including the Quechuas, Uros, Pacajes, and Puquinas.
Approximately 60% of the lake is in Peru and 40% in Bolivia. The area is known for its agricultural traditions and ancestral rituals such as offerings to Pachamama (Mother Earth). In addition to Spanish, inhabitants speak several indigenous languages.
Created in 1978, the Lake Titicaca Reserve preserves native flora and fauna and unique species of birds, fish, and amphibians. One of the lake’s most famous inhabitants is the giant frog of Titicaca, which can weigh up to 7 pounds.
Lake Titicaca’s islands include:
The Uros are a group of 44 small inhabited artificial islands made of floating reeds called totoro that grow in the shallows of the lake. The original purpose of the islands was for defense, and they could be moved in case of a threat.
Amantaní is another small island where about 4,000 Quechua live. Two mountain peaks are visible, Pachatata (Father Earth) and Pachamama (Mother Earth) with ancient ruins at the top. Terraced hillsides are planted with wheat, potatoes, and vegetables. The Quechua do most agricultural work by hand. Stone fences divide the fields and cattle and sheep graze on the hillsides. It’s a clean, peaceful environment.
Some of the families on Amantaní open their homes to tourists for overnight stays. There are no cars or hotels on the island and most families use candles or flashlights powered by batteries or hand-cranks. Small solar panels were recently installed on some homes.
Taquile is a long, narrow hilly island that was used as a prison during the Spanish Colonization. In 1970 it became the property of the Taquile people. About 2,000 people live there. The island has Pre-Inca ruins and agricultural terraces with views of the surrounding Bolivian mountains. Like Amantaní there are no cars on the island and no hotels. A few small stores sell basic goods.
Taquile is known for its handicraft tradition which is regarded as among the highest quality handicrafts in the world. “Taquile and Its Textile Art” were honored by being proclaimed “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO. Knitting is exclusively performed by men, starting at age eight. The women exclusively make yarn and weave.
Taquileans offer home stays, transportation, and restaurants to tourists. “The Taquileños run their society based on community collectivism and on the Inca moral code ama sua, ama llulla, and ama qhilla, (do not steal, do not lie, and do not be lazy).”
Isla del Sol
Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) is one of Lake Titicaca’s largest islands. It’s on the Bolivian side with boat links to the town of Copacabana. The terrain is harsh, rocky, and hilly and there are no motor vehicles or paved roads. Farming is the main economic activity of the 800 families living on the island.
There are Inca ruins on Isla del Sol dating back to 15th century AD and many hills contain terraces, which adapt steep and rocky terrain to agriculture. “Among the ruins on the island are the Sacred Rock, a labyrinth-like building called Chicana, Kasa Pata, and Pilco Kaima. The Incas believe that the sun god was born here.”
Isla de la Luna
Isla de la Luna (Island of the Moon) is east of Isla del Sol. Both islands belong to the La Paz Department of Bolivia. According to legends that refer to Inca mythology, Isla de la Luna is where Viracocha commanded the rising of the moon.
Archaeological excavations show that the original Pre-Inca Tiwanaku peoples built a major temple on the Island of the Moon. The Inca built the structures seen on the island today directly over the earlier Tiwanaku ones. Archeologists found ruins of an Inca nunnery (Mamakuna) on the shore.
Suriqui is on the Bolivian part of Lake Titicaca and is the last place where the art of reed boat construction survives.