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Lake Titicaca & The Islands

The lake is located in the La Paz department (state) just three hours in bus from the city of the same name. The lake reaches a maximum depth of 283 meters and measures roughly 176 by 70 kms. at its extremes. At 3,810 meters above sea level, Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable (by large boats) lake in the World. Part of the lake belongs to Peru and the other part to Bolivia. The lake is divided into two bodies connected by a narrow channel called the Straight of Tiquina, the larger lake is called Lake Chucuito and the smaller part is called Lake Wiñay Marka.
Lake Titicaca is famous for its stunningly intense blues, and its deep, fresh, cold waters fed by the melting ice of the Andes and local rainfall. Its dazzling islands are peppered with archeological remains, some dating back over 5000 years.
The smaller Wiñay Marka Lake is extremely close to the Andes and presents incredible views of the Cordillera Real mountain range. The lakeside and most of its islands are inhabited by rural farmers and fisherman who carry on centuries-old traditions. The coastline is ringed by fields of totora reeds that create habitat for hosts of ducks and other waterfowl and fish. It was on the shores of this lake that the first great South American civilization, the Tiwanakotas built their enormous metropolis Tiwanaku as early as 1500 BC.

Attractions

Islas del Sol and Isla de la Luna (Sun and Moon Islands)

These are one of the lake’s biggest tourist attractions and present beautiful views of the Cordillera Real mountain range across the lake. They both possess ancient archeological remains and more recent temple complexes built by the Incas.

Isla del Sol (Sun Island)

The island lies just off the tip of the peninsula that extends 14km. from the town of Copacabana. From the town it takes an hour and a half to be reached by motorboats which make two trips a day. The island hosts numerous archeological sites of great importance such as the Pilkokaina Palace y the Chinkana Temple (Sometimes misnamed the Laberinto or Labyrinth), The Escalinata del Inca (Incan Staircase), the Fuente Sagrada de la Eterna Juventud (Fountain of Youth) and massive Incan and pre-Incan terraces that line the hillsides of the island, showing that it once hosted a far larger population than today.

Las Mil Escalinatas de Saxamani (The 1000 steps of Saxamani)

Saxamani is the name for the small valley that is the primary port of Isla del Sol. Just a few meters from the docks begin an ancient set of steps that lead upwards for approximately 60 meters through swaying eucalyptus trees and verdant vegetation. Still functioning stone gutters line the sides of the steps (there are in reality far less than 1000). At the top a beautiful stone fountain built by the Incas provides three water spouts fed by ancient stone tubing from a fresh spring. Sadly cement has been added nearby to “restore” the fountain. These three springs are called Purification, Life and Youth and its said that each of the three has a different taste and that drinking a sip from all three provides eternal youth.

The "Chinkana" (Misnamed Laberinto or Labyrinth)

The island´s most impressive temple complex near the community of Challampampa is located roughly 200 meters from the Sacred Rock towards the lake. It is a semi-subterranean complex with a bewildering series of doors and narrow passages that open up into spectacular lake views. The roofs of the rooms have long since collapsed or deteriorated. La "Chinkana" is an unique example of an labyrinth in the world. Nobody knows for sure when the "Chinkana" was built or by what culture although many non-local guides erroneously site it as an Incan construction, though it shows many pre-Incan features. Excavation shows that settlement on Isla el Sol dates back at least 5,000 years and this temple was probably built in reference to the pre-existing cult of the Sacred Rock nearby.

Pilkokaina Palace

Pilkokaina means "The Birds´Resting Place" and when the Spanish arrived the Incas were using the palace as a residence however it was built at least 500 years before the Incas by Chiripa culture. It is located about 500 meters south of the Saxamani port near Yumani on the southern tip of the island. The palace once had two floors but the top floor has mostly disappeared. The doorways display classic the Chiripa trilogy of three step-like stones above the door symbolizing alakpacha (the future or heavens), akapacha (the present or earth) and mankapacha (the past or underworld). This palace displays a type of stone roof technique known only to the ancient Chiripas (Aymaras) and Mayas called Corbel arch.

Yumani

This is the principle port of the island and by far the most touristy town. It has a relatively lush climate with numerous gardens and of course the Saxamani fountain whose three spouts symbolize the 3 ancient Andean laws which are Quechua are: ama sua, ama llulla y ama khella (Don´t Steal, Don´t Lie, Don´t be Lazy). Yumani has a plethora of hostals, small restuarants, and even an internet café.

Isla de la Luna (Moon Island)

Koati or Isla de la Luna is located about 7 Kms. to the southeast of Isla del Sol, facing the ancient stone town of Sampaya. This was also a sacred island for the Incans and their predecessors and it houses a fascinating ruins complex. This small island is home to just six families but hosts an amazing view of the Cordillera Real. Iñak Uyu Palace (Or Moon Temple) is said to have been an "Ajllawasi" or "House of the Virgins of the Sun" and consists of three main wings encircled by a patio with finely carved facades.

Iñan Uyu Temple

Facing the mighty Mt. Illampu and ascending three levels of cultivated terracing, this ceremonial structure was built along a 55 by 24 meter rectangle. The building was made by Incan architects from un-worked stone and has a conjoined living complex. The rooms are roofed in a unique style known only to the Aymaras and Mayas called Corbel arch.

Attractions of Lake Wiñay Marka

Kewaya or Kalahuta Island

This ancient island town of stone is located some 3Km. from Suriqui Island and hosts the largest known pre-Hispanic necropolis in the Americas with chullpas (funeral mounds) up to two and three stories high. Here you can enjoy some traditional food with the local inhabitants. Kalahuta means “house of stone” in Aymara and many of the local stone houses have unique Aymara roofs that have lasted over 1000 years. The small town on the island is called Kewaya.

Pariti Island

Pariti was one of the most important ceremonial centers of Tiwanaku culture, and a host of objects have been discovered here dating to between 900 and 1050 AD which can now be viewed in the small museum on the island.

Suriqui Island

This is a small fishing island whose inhabitants are world famous for being the last remaining community that continues to practice the art of reed boat construction. They helped Norwegian Thor Heyerdal build his famous Kon Tiki in which he crossed the Pacific Ocean. The islanders also helped build the RA II, Tigris, and Spaniard Quitín Muñoz´s Uru which also attempted the Pacific crossing, to prove the thesis of the colonisation of the Americas by early Asian navigators which traveled the oceans till they arrived at the new continents.
The island is bordered by lush totora reed swamps from which the islanders build everything from baskets, and roofs to boats and handicrafts.

Other Attractions of Lake Titicaca

Sampaya

Near the northern tip of the Copacabana Península lies this incredible stone town of Sampaya that has been continually inhabited for over 1000 years. The houses are exclusively made from stone with thatch roofs. The streets are all paved in stone with elaborate stone gutters and canals that guide water through the nearby agricultural terraces. There are also many small trees with the kantuta, the national flower of Bolivia. From the town one can look out across Lake Titicaca to the Isla de la Luna (Moon Island) and from above the town to the Isla del Sol (Sun Island). In the distance the snow capped Andean peaks loom above the lake.

Pre-Hispanic Terraces

Terraces are a remarkable form of pre-Hispanic technology that permits the inhabitants of these rocky soils and steep slopes to maintain lush cultivation. All around the Lake Titicaca area observers can marvel at the quantity and quality of these ancient agricultural accomplishments, many of which are still in use. The terraces are built by hand using stones retaining walls to hold massive quantities of earth in place. The topsoil remains fertile in the terraces as the rock walls allow sufficient drainage and regulate the moisture balance in the soil.

Kallawalla Culture

The towns of Charazani and Curva near the lakeside are home to the famous wandering healers and naturalists the Kallawallas. The Kallawalla culture has obtained the “Patrimony of Humanity” status from the United Nations.

For information about tours to the Titicaca Lake and its islands, please visit our tours section.

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