Let’s begin with a bit of trivia. Lake Titicaca is the 18th largest lake in area worldwide and the largest lake in South and Central America. It is sandwiched between Peru in the north which possesses 60% of the lake’s area and Bolivia in the south and is located on the Altiplano basin of the Andes Mountains. It also has a claim on being the world’s highest navigable lake at 3845 metres/12,500 feet above sea level. The dimension of the lake is 190 kilometres/118 miles long and 80 kilometres/50 miles wide. Regardless of all these statistics, it is a lake which has a number of unique offerings for the visitor.
The Lake’s Principal City, Puno
Most visitors who begin their visit on the Peruvian side will probably start in the port city of Puno which is situated on a picturesque hillside overlooking Lake Titicaca. It is a gateway to many of the lake’s tourist attractions. Puno is a melting pot of the Aymara and Quechua cultures and offers a mixture of modern life and the traditional Andean life. You will see people, women mainly, dressed in traditional ethnic clothing. In November, the city celebrates the anniversary of its founding and, for a week, the streets come alive with traditional music and dancing plus there are many concerts, processions and marching bands throughout the town. It is a great time to be there and it’s all free.
However, the most important festivity to the locals is “La Candelaria”, a catholic feast in honour of the Virgin Mary which takes place in February and lasts for two weeks again with dancing and parades.
The Unique Uros Floating Islands
When in Puno, it is almost certain that you will visit the nearby Uros Floating Islands. These are a group of around 44 man made islands within Lake Titicaca which are actually made of tortora rushes as are the houses and the residents’ boats. This is probably the Peruvian section of the lake’s major attraction. The original purpose for these islands being built was defence – they could be moved if a threat arose. Now they are a major tourist attraction which is important to their economy. Until recently the only option for visiting the islands was in the daytime on a tour. Recently, there has arisen an opportunity to stop over on the islands to get a better experience of life here. The biggest island has several buildings including a school, post office and…souvenir shops. The people of the Uros Islands, who predate the Incas, speak the Aymara language.
The Archaeological Aspects of the Lake Titicaca Region
There are 3 interesting sites in the area. Sillustani is a pre-Inca burial ground not far from Puno. The tombs here, which are built above ground in tower-like structures called chullpas (funereal towers), are the remains of the Colla people, a warlike Aymara-speaking tribe who predate the Inca and were conquered by them in the 15th Century. The towers of Sillustani stand out for miles against the desolate Altiplano landscape. The cylindrical structures housed the remains of complete family groups along with plenty of food and belongings for their journey into the next world. It is one of the world’s most important necropolises.
Another similar site not far from Puno is Cutimbo offering the same chullpas, smaller but better preserved and located on top of a table-topped volcanic hill.
Chucuito is an ancient site where there are 86 phallic stones in the Temple of Fertility. According to legend, this temple was frequented by women trying to get pregnant. Under the guidance of a spiritual leader, women would climb aboard the mushroom rocks and be doused in chicha, a traditional Peruvian corn beer which allegedly helped them become pregnant. Although no definitive answer has been discovered, the rocks resemblance to male genitalia remains uncanny.
Other Places of Interest
Amantani is an island on Lake Titicaca. It has two mountain peaks, Pachatata (“father earth”) and Pachamama (“mother earth”) with ancient Inca ruins on top of both. The inhabitants of Amantani are known for their textiles as well as their ceramics. Most of the inhabitants live in houses made of adobe. There are no hotels but some of the families on Amantani open their homes to tourists for overnight stays and provide cooked meals
Taquile is another island on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca. What is interesting about this island is that it is strictly controlled by the old people who will direct you where to eat and where to sleep if you plan to stay there overnight. There are daily cruises to the island from Puno and usually these cruises will also stop by a floating island too. The locals here are known for their fine hand woven textiles and clothing which are regarded as among the highest-quality handicrafts in Peru. Knitting is exclusively performed by males. Women spin wool and use vegetables and minerals to dye the wool to be used by the community. The inhabitants run their society based on community collectivism and on an Inca moral “do not steal, do not lie, do not be lazy”. Life on Taquile is still largely uninfluenced by the outside world. There are no cars on the island and no hotels, just a few small stores that sell basic goods. On clear nights, Taquile is a perfect place for star gazing and you furthermore experience much lightning due to the electric activity in the area.
Do take a trip into an unusual and different part of Peru and home of ancient civilizations.
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