The highest navigable lake in the world, and the largest lake in South America, Lake Titicaca lies on the border of Peru and Bolivia. Lake Titicaca is a sacred place to Incans. It is where the god Viracoca came out of the lake and created the sun, the stars, and the first people. It is also regarded as the birthplace of the first Inca king, Manco Capac.
The lake contains 41 artificial islands made of floating reeds of varying sizes, (known as the Uros) a few of which are densely populated. Along the shore, one can find rolling hills, checkerboard valleys and Bolivia’s highest mountains. Many cultures lived in this area, and one can find deserted monuments from the pre-Inca Pukara, Tiwanaku and Collas peoples.
Today, you can still see peasant women in their bowler hats tending their llamas. The people have managed to retain their language, customs, beliefs and art until today. Part of their continued tradition is following the three golden rules of the Empire of the Sun: “do not steal, don’t be idle, and do not lie”. Locals grow barley, potatoes and quinoa (a millet like grain) on the fascinating terrace gardens visible on the surrounding hills.
The Uru peoples still live on floating mats of a reed-like papyrus that grows on the shores of Lake Tititcaca. Their dwellings and boats are also made from dried reeds lashed together in crescent shaped “balsas”, or boats. Their strong community and ability to create and market their colorful textiles have helped them survive and retain their culture to this day.
One of the most notable islands is the Island of the Sun. On the north end is the town of Challapampa, famous for it’s huge stone complex. This features a labyrinth, Chinkana, with a huge stone complex featuring mazes. Not far from this is a sacred rock carved in the shape of a puma, (the origin of the name Titicaca has been translated as “Rock Puma”).
Elsewhere on the islands are two mountains: Pacccha Mama (Mother Earth) and Paccha Tata (Father Earth), honored as sacred sites. Each year in January, pilgrims dress in traditional garb and come to offer coca leaves, alcohol and gifts of grain as offerings to the Earth. Isla Del la Luna (Island of the Sun) is also a holy place, once housing the convent for the virgins of the Sun. The entire Lake was considered holy by its’ inhabitants, and to many it still is.
One interesting legend comes to us from the time of the Spanish conquest. According to the story, when the Spanish forces reached Cuzco, the Incas took a two-ton gold chain (dedicated to Inca Huascar) from the temple at Koricancha and threw it in the lake. Years ago, Jacques Cousteau used a mini-submarine to explore the lake in search of this gold, but never found it.
At one time, pre-fabricated steamboats were transported to the lake from the United Kingdom. These were laboriously carried to the site as hundreds of pieces, riveted together, and then launched upon the water. Only one is available today for special charters. In their place, we see today picturesque reed boats of ancient design.
Lake Titicaca has its honored place in legend, crystal blue waters surrounded by snow-capped peaks, and a thriving traditional culture residing on floating islands. Climb aboard with us in a reed boat for an adventure you will not soon forget.