The Mysterious Lake Titicaca And The Attractions To Enjoy!
The lake Titicaca is located in the Andean highlands on the border between Peru and Bolivia. The area covers about 9000 square kilometers and lies about 3800 meters above sea level. Its maximum depth is estimated to be approximately 460 meters, unusual for a lake.The lake now is a very small portion of what was once a vast sea.
At least two civilizations that managed to reach the degree of empires belonged here: the Tiwanaku civilization and the well-known civilization of the Incas. Two highly religious civilizations, but at the same time very advanced ones. What’s interesting is that in the mythology of the two presents the genesis with their leaders emerging from the waters of Lake Titicaca. This is the reason that Lake Titicaca is considered a sacred lake.
There are many legends about the lake. They say that under the surface there are cities abundant in gold and silver, but still people were not able to find them. They say that in its waters live mermaids singing sweet and deadly.
And according to Incan legend the god Viracocha emerged from the lake to create the world, then went on to create the sun, the moon (born on the islands which now carry corresponding names, Isal del Sol, Isla de la Luna), and man and woman; and it is to here that the Inkas spirits return after death.
The main bases for exploring Lake Titicaca (and other sights in the region) are Puno in Peru and Copacabana in Bolivia. From Copacabana, most tour operators run a day trip to the Isla del Sol, with a quick stop at the Isla de la Luna.
What To See At Lake Titicaca
Lake Titicaca is a very strange area in some aspect, but it is populated by friendly people. You will find here the Uros Islands (or the Floating Islands), but also the town of Puno. That said, taking a boat from Puno is one of the best ways to see Lake Titicaca and it is only a two hour journey from the harbour to the Lake’s most famous islands, the Uros Islands named after the inhabiting Uros tribe. The Uros tribe pre-date the Inca civilisation but only began their floating lifestyle about two centuries before the Spanish conquest as a defensive attempt to avoid the advancement of Incan armies. This was successful for a number of years but the Incas eventually discovered the Uros, resulting in enslavement and taxation of the island dwellers. As the Uros’ lifestyle was simple and precarious however, the Incas thought them worth little and accordingly taxed them minutely which meant that their life went on relatively undisturbed.
Uros Islands are made from the cattail-like totora reeds which grow in abundance around the lake. The reeds are layered on top of one another to form a ‘blanket’ over the water and the plants dense roots support the top layer which is uneven and can be likened to walking on a waterbed. As the bottom layers rot, the island layers are constantly being added to by stacking more reeds on top of the layer beneath. Because of this, the islands change in size and more are created or existing ones moved as the need arises. The reeds aren’t only used to make the islands but also to make their huts and traditional boats (although these days they add a modern touch by filling the boat hulls with plastic bottles for prolonged buoyancy). The reed boats quite often have an animal face or shape on the prow and are a favourite site with tourists.
The Islands and nearby Puno and are home to approximately 2000 of the Uros tribe who call themselves ‘people of the lake’ and consider themselves the owners of the lake and its waters. They make a living from fishing and weaving (both for themselves and to sell on the mainland) and now tourism. The tourist trade is shared amongst the population on a roster basis so even the most outlying islands are not missed. They also catch shore birds and ducks for eggs and food and sometimes flamingos are kept for natural medicines. Occasionally, if the level of the lake decreases, they may plant potatoes in soil created by the decaying reeds, but as a norm, they are not agricultural.
Furthermore, the Uros Islands are part of the Titicaca National Reserve, created in 1978 to preserve 37 thousand hectares of marsh reeds in the south and north sectors of Lake Titicaca. The reserve is divided into two sections; Ramis in the provinces of Huancané and Ramis; and Puno, in the province of Puno. The reserve protects over 60 species of native birds, four families of fish and 18 native amphibian species as well as the floating islands themselves.
By the way, the lake is divided 60% to 40% between Peru and Bolivia and it is worth visiting both sides if possible. Copacabana is the place to stay when you are in Bolivia, and this small city has an unbelievable view both of the gateway to Isla de la Luna y Isla de la Sol and the lake. It is also home to Basilica of the Virgin de la Candelaria and although quiet most of the year, the city explodes a couple of times a year for major festivals – Festival de la virgin de la Candelaria, in the beginning of February, and Bolivian independence day over the first days of August.
It is possible to stay on two of the islands on the Peruvian side, Taquile and Amantaní, where you will be lodged in the home of a local resident. Uros, another community on the lake, is made up of a collection of articifial, reed islands. The Uros are an ancient society who existed well before Incan times and constructed their homes on reed islands as a defence mechanism. It is possible to visit these islands by a day trip, or otherwise the ferries stop there on the way to Amantaní or Taquile.
The most developed and largest island is Taquile, and while there are some modern customs life is simple – always think about the cold and be suitably prepared for weather like this; all year round the temperature drops very low at night. The community on Taquile functions in a collectivist fashion, with everyone sharing the islands work and the tourism is similarly managed as families takes turns hosting guests. A most admirable old Incan moral code ama sua, ama llulla, ama qhilla, (do not steal, do not lie, do not be lazy) is still a firm part of the community.
It is an unforgettable experience exploring the island’s rocky terraces and deserted strips of beach and as the evening falls, watching thunder storms build up and explode spectacularly over the lake. The herb, muña which grows wildly makes an excellent tea, which along with some mate de coca (tea of coca leaves) will alleviate the effects of the altitude. It also makes a perfect finish after you have lunched what is quite likely to be the best trout you have ever tasted.
Other interesting holiday destinations and sites around Lake Titicaca and the town of Puno to explore are:
- Sillustani Burial Towers are situated at 34 km north of Puno. It is one of the world’s most important necropolises. At over 4000 m above sea level, you will find here burial towers in cylindric form.
- Juliaca is a town close to Lake Titicaca. It hosts the region’s main airport, but the city is worth visiting because of its architecture.
- Arequipa is the 2nd largest city of Peru. It has many attractions worth to visit like the Goyeneche Palace or the Santa Catalina Monastery. It is situated at a bit over 300 km from Puno.
- Colca Canyon is one of the deepest canyons in the world, twice as deep as the famous Grand Canyon. It is very colorful, and you will find here the untouched nature.
- The Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun), located on the Bolivia side near Copacabana. The largest of all the lake islands (but still only 5.5 by 3.75 miles in size) , Isla del Sol was regarded as the home of the supreme Inca god Inti.
- On the north end of the Island of the Sun is the town of Challapampa, home to the fascinating Chinkana (labyrinth). A huge stone complex full of mazes, it is thought be a training center for Inca priests. Unusually for the Incas, the construction is a bit sloppy—some archaeologists theorize that they must have been in a rush to build it. A natural spring here runs under the island and appears again in a sacred stone fountain in Yumani (see below).About 270 feet from Chinaka on the path back to the town of Challapampa is a sacred rock carved in the shape of a puma. Further along the path toward Challapampa are two very large footprints. These are said to have been created when the sun dropped down to earth to give birth to Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo, the “Adam and Eve” of the Incas.
- On the south end of the Isla del Sol is Yumani, the largest town on the island and the site of the Inca steps. Here, 206 steps built by the Incas lead up into the town and to a sacred fountain. Made of stone and having three separate springs, it is said to be a fountain of youth.Sunset on the Isla del Sol is magical and best appreciated from the lighthouse on the highest point on the island at 13,441 feet. The sun bathes the sacred mountains in bright colors, and reflects its light in the deep blue of the sacred lake, before sinking below the horizon.The Island of the Moon (Isla de la Luna) is the legendary home of the Inca goddess Mama Quila. The structures on this island were originally built by the pre-Incan Aymara culture, but the Incas left their mark on the architecture as well (such as the typical trapezoidal doors). During Inca times, the Isla de la Luna housed chosen women known as the “Virgins of the Sun,” who lived a nun-like lifestyle. They wove garments from alpaca wool and performed ceremonies dedicated to the sun.
Before leaving the islands, and despite the 10 – One of the essentials is swimming in the 14 degree lake. Many locals believe that the water holds various healing powers, and while this may seem far-fetched – and isn’t scientifically proven – you will feel a healthy crispness in your body for many days after.
To sum it all, the lake is situated on a very mountainous region, it is truly unique, western people will find this place simple yet very mystique. You can get accommodations for $3 a night. You can also see the traditional dances of the people that live their life on the lake, as people on some islands dance every night in the open.
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