The People and Islands of Lake Titicaca
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The baby blue clear waters of Lake Titicaca make up the largest body of water in the world above 12,000 feet. Its islands are windswept, rocky landscapes, reminiscent of the Greek Isles. The moment you expect to encounter the armies of Troy in a battle of conquest, you instead find unassuming ancient Andean inhabitants quietly collecting sea reeds, catching small fish, and planting scant agricultural fields among the lake’s shores. These people have learned to live in a harsh climate.
The lake itself is divided between Peru and Bolivia. Puno, which is the economic hub on the western Peruvian side of the lake, is a humble town quickly growing into a small city. The economic and social center on the southern Bolivian side of the lake is Copacabana. It’s a small quaint town that serves as a transportation center between La Paz and Puno, lying among the dry desolate altiplano that stretches between southern Columbia and Chile.
South of Copacabana you will find Tiwanaku. An ancient Incan legend places the creation of the first Inca at this site and it remains today a sacred shrine to locals. It is said the Incas originally immigrated from this harsh landscape to the more fertile valleys of Cuzco, due to its more welcoming climate and resources, in the first millennium AD. Despite these large-scale migrations and the later conquests in southern Peru, the island cultures and communities of Lake Titicaca have maintained their ancient fiefdoms and the people have been able to preserve their way of life.
Today, the most visited islands in Lake Titicaca are Taquile, Amantani, and a set of floating reed islands called Uros. Each island houses a unique culture that maintains a separate dialect and social structure, cultivated by each island’s distinctive development. Hand-woven textiles are sold by locals on Taquile where the men do the all the knitting and the women do the weaving, while the more isolated island of Amantani is typically visited by travelers interested in an authentic homestay experience. The unique Uros are floating islands built, maintained, and lived upon by Aymara-speaking locals.
For modern eco-travelers, Isla Suasi is another option. This private island boasts one of the continent’s most exceptional and eco-friendly accommodations, a rustic luxury retreat. Isla Suasi allows visitors to feel the immensity of Mother Nature, as opposed to the magnificence of her human creations, which are featured on the other islands. In serene isolation, guests can focus on the brilliance of the blues from the sky and the waters meeting uninterrupted.
Toward the southern portion of the lake, as one passes into the Bolivian side, you encounter the two popular Islands of the Sun and Moon. Both are home to important Inca complexes and are easily accessible by ferry from Copacabana.
This inland Andean sea has no comparison anywhere in the world. Its natural landscape of sparkling waters at the base Andean Mountains that soar up to 21,000 feet high is only half of its splendor; there is the additional living laboratory of the people among its shores, a truly unique cluster of distinctive, adaptive, and persevering indigenous cultures.
Thanks to Danielle Pereira for the images used in this blog.