On the borders of Peru and Bolivia lies Lake Titicaca, the highest commercially navigable lake in the world (3,820m./12,532 ft.). With a surface area of approximately 8,300 square kilometers (3,204 miles2) Titicaca is South America's largest freshwater lake. It is magical, sacred and serene and the most beautiful lake I have ever seen.
The water of Titicaca has an amazing dark cobalt blue color. Wonderful islands such as the Floating Islands and the Island of the Sun are scattered throughout the tranquil lake and can be visited from the nearby towns of Puno and Copacabana.
Lake Titicaca has long been considered a sacred place among indigenous Andean peoples. In touch with the spirit of Mama Qota, or Sacred Mother, they believe that powerful spirits live in the lake's depths.
According to Andean legend, Lake Titicaca was the birthplace of civilization. Viracocha, the creator deity, lightened a dark world by having the sun, moon, and stars rise from the lake to occupy their places in the sky.
Worthy of such mystical associations, Lake Titicaca is a dazzling sight. Its deep azure waters seemingly extend forever across the altiplano, under the monstrously wide sky at an elevation of more than (3,820m./12,532 ft.). The lake covers more than 8,500 sq. km (3,315 sq. miles); it is 176km (109 miles) long and 50km (31 miles) wide.
The sun is extraordinarily intense at this altitude, scorching off 600 cubic meters of water per second. Daybreak and sunset are particularly stunning to witness.
Uros Floating Islands (Islas Flotantes)
The floating islands are a strange sight. They are made by hand from tortora reeds and there are some 45 floating islands on lake Titicaca in the Bay of Puno, Peru. Isolated for many years the Uros Indians first came into contact with the outside world in the mid-1960s. Today tourists have become a welcome source of income and a few islands have been set up to receive tourists.
The largest island, Huacavacani, has not only homes, but also a floating Seventh-Day Adventist church, a candidate for one of the most bizarre juxtapositions you are likely to find in Peru. Others have schools, a post office, and souvenir shops. There is no electricity on the islands. Power is generated through sun panels.
Amantani Island (Isla Amantani)
Amantaní, a circular island located about 4 1/2 hours from Puno, is home to a very different, although equally fascinating, Titicaca community. Also handsomely terraced and home to farmers, fishers, and weavers, in many ways Amantaní is even more rustic and unspoiled than Taquile. It is a beautiful but barren and rocky place, with a handful of villages composed of about 800 families and ruins clinging to the island's two peaks, Pachatata (Father Earth) and Pachamama (Mother Earth).
The island presents some excellent opportunities for hikes up to these spots, with terrific views of lake Titicaca and the sparsely populated island landscape. The agricultural character of the island is perhaps even more apparent than on Taquile. Long, ancient-looking stone walls mark the fields and terraces of different communities, and cows, sheep, and alpacas graze the hillsides.
The Island of the Sun (Isla del Sol)
The Island of the Sun takes it place in history where the Inca empire, and consequently the sun, was born. It is not too far away from the rustic town Copacabana (Bolivia). It is sparsely populated and you can walk around the island in about 8 hours.
On the hike you get rewarded with some spectacular views from lake Titicaca and some fascinating Inca ruins. Highly recommended is spending the night on the island. I got rewarded with the most spectacular starry night I'd ever seen.
Yumani, on the south end, is the largest town on the island and the place to spend the night. I got rewarded with the most starry night I have ever seen, just amazing. If you arrive by boat to Yumani, your first encounter awaits you with the Inca Steps. There are 206 steps to be climbed. These steps are original Inca constructions, and they lead up to a sacred stone fountain with three separate springs, which are said to be a fountain of youth.
Challapampa -- A visit to Challapampa will be the highlight of your visit to the Sun Island. Here, you will find the ruins of Chinkana (labyrinth). It is a huge stone complex full of mazes, believed to be a seminary for Inca priests. A natural spring here runs under the island and appears again in a sacred stone fountain in Yumani.
On the path back to the town of Challapampa, about 100 meters (270 feet) from Chinkana, you will pass by the sacred rock, carved in the shape of a puma. As you continue along this path toward Challapampa, look down: You will soon see two very large footprints, said to have been created when the sun dropped down to earth to give birth to Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo.
Titikaka, Titcaca, Titacaca, Titicacasee
*Photo of "Floating Islands" by Martin Vansteenkiste