Lake Titicaca is the world´s largest high-altitude body of water. At 284 meters deep and more than 8300 square kilometres wide, it is fifteen times the size of Lake Geneva in Switzerland and higher than Lake Tahoe in the U.S.A. The Titicaca Basin makes most people feel like they are on top of the world. Usually placid and mirror-like, the deep blue water reflects the vast sky back on itself. All along the horizon, the lake appears to bend away from you and the green Andean mountains can be seen raising their ancient backs towards the sun. The high altitude (3827 m above sea level) means that recent arrivals from the coast should take it easy for a day or two, to acclimatise, though those coming from Cusco will already have acclimatized, so this will be necessary for them.
A National Reserve since 1978, the lake has over sixty varieties of bird, fourteen species of Native fish and eighteen types of amphibian. The villages that line its shores depend mainly on grazing livestock for their livelihood, since the altitude limits the growth potential of most crops. These days, Puno is the largest settlement and port in the whole of Lake Titicaca. Densely populated well before the arrival of the Incas, the lakeside Titicaca region is also home to the curious and ancient tower-tombs known locally as Chullpas; rings of tall, cylindrical stone burial chambers, often standing in battlement-like formations.
There are more than seventy islands in the lake, the largest and most sacred being the Island of the Sun.
On the Peruvian side of the lake, you can visit the unusual Uros islands. These floating platform islands are built from reeds – weird to walk over and even stranger to live on, they are now a major tourist attraction. Also visit the populated, fixed islands, Amantani and Taquile, where the traditional lifestyles of these powerful communities give visitors a genuine taste of pre-Conquest Andean Peru.
The scattered population of the region descended from two very ancient Andean ethnic groups or tribes – the Aymara and the Quechua. The Aymara´s Tiahuanaco culture predates the Quechua´s Inca civilization by over three hundred years and this region is thought to be the original home for the domestication of a number of very important plants, not least the potato, tomato and the common pepper.
Lake Titicaca is the border that separates Peru from Bolivia, the lake spreads over the Altiplano with 3,200 square miles, it has a height of 12,500ft above sea level, this makes it the highest lake in the world to navigate.
Puno borders the Peruvian side of the lake.
With an altitude of 12,500 ft. (3,800m) above sea level.
On the northwestern edge of the lake is Puno.
All islands including Uros, Taquile and Amantani are a short boat ride away.
Scattered all around Lake Titicaca you´ll find chullpas, white-stone towers up to 10 m in height in which the ancient Colla tribe, who dominated the region before the Incas, buried their dead. Some of the most spectacular lie in the SILLUSTANI region, set on a little peninsula in Lake Umayo overlooking Titicaca, 30 km northwest of Puno. This ancient temple/cemetery consists of a ring of stones estimated to be over five hundred years old – some of which have been tumbled by earthquakes or more recently, by tomb robbers intent on stealing the rich goods (ceramics, jewellery and a few weapons) buried with important mummies.
The man-made floating UROS ISLANDS have been inhabited since their construction centuries ago by Uros Indians retreating from more powerful neighbours like the Incas. They are now home to a dwindling and abused Indian population. Although there are about 48 of these islands, most guided tours limit themselves to the largest, known as Huacavacani.
The islands are made from layer upon layer of totora reeds; the dominant plant in the shallows of Titicaca and a source of food, as well as the basic material for roofing, walling and fishing rafts. During the rainy season months of November to February, it´s not unusual for some of the islands to move about the surface of the lake.
One of Titicaca´s non-floating islands, TAQUILE is a peaceful place that sees fewer tourists than the Uros. Located 25-30 km across the water from Puno, it lies just beyond the outer edge of the Gulf of Chucuito. Taquile is arguably the most attractive of the islands, measuring about 1 km by 7 km. The horizontal striations are produced by significant amounts of ancient terracing along the steep-sided shores. Such terraces are at an even greater premium here in the middle of the lake where soil erosion would otherwise slowly kill the island´s largely self-sufficient agricultural population, which consists of corn, broad beans and hardy quinoa as the main crops. Today, the island is still very traditional, there is no grid-connected electricity on the island, though there is a solar-powered community loudspeaker and a growing number of individual houses with solar lighting.
The island has two main ports: Puerto Chilcano Doc and El Otro Puerto used mostly by tour boats. Arriving via Puerto Chilcano Doc, the main heart of the island is reached via 525 gruelling steps up a steep hill from the small stone, this can easily take an hour of slow walking. When you´ve recovered your breath, you will eventually appreciate the spectacular view of the southeast part of the island where you can see the hilltop ruins of Uray K´ari, built of stone in the Tiahuanaco era around 800 AD. Looking to the west, you may glimpse upon the larger, slightly higher ruins of Hanan K´ari.
Like the nearby Taquile island, AMANTANI; a basket-weavers´ island and the largest on the lake, has managed to retain some degree of cultural isolation and autonomous control over the tourist trade. Amantani is the least visited of these two islands and consequently has fewer facilities and costs slightly more to reach by boat. The ancient agricultural terraces are excellently maintained, and traditional stone masonry is still practised, as are the old Inca systems of agriculture, labour and ritual trade. The islander’s diets consist predominantly of vegetables, with meat and fruit being rare commodities, and the women dress in colourful clothes, very distinctly woven. The island is dominated by two small hills: one is the Temple of Pachamama (Mother Earth) and the other is the Temple of Pachatata (Father Earth).
Cultural Melting Pot
Before there was any sort of division in the lake, separating Peru and Bolivia, ancient civilizations established themselves in the region. During some years ago, the communities were able to live together peacefully, but some periods were tainted by turf wars. Agriculture and building methods have been adapted and improved over the years. All the cultural differences are what make the Lake Titicaca community and culture so unique and interesting and seeing similarities between the islands is a fun learning experience. For example, the clothing worn on each island has differing significance. A man on the Taquile island will show his marital status by the colour of the hat on his head. Make sure to pay close attention to your guide while touring the islands, you are likely to hear other Native languages like Quechua and Aymara.
The best way to show appreciation for a job well done is to reflect it in a tip. Here we have a tipping range for your guide, depending if it’s a full or half day.
10-30 soles per person for a half day tour.
20-60 soles per person for a full day tour.
Go Island Hopping
The reed islands of Uros is a great place to visit and the Taquile island, famous for its textile traditions, is only a boat ride away. You can learn about traditions that are centuries old by the people that actually live on the islands.
Andean Island Getaway
Planning a vacation to an island in the middle of a lake may seem a little odd, but the Suasi Island can provide a very luxurious getaway, in an extremely quiet area with the best features. With activities like hiking and exploring the island during the day, unwind and relax with a massage and finish the day with cocktails while watching the sunset.
The best way to get to know this amazing lake is by sailing on a traditional, handmade torta, reed boat or kayak, which are all available for rent. For those who are feeling courageous enough, take a dip in the freezing 50-57’F (10-14’C) water. For those who prefer land, there are hikes on Taquile and Amantani islands.
Lake Titicaca Climate
The Altiplano or high plain, (where Lake Titicaca is located) has a semi-arid climate. Daytime temperatures average between 60-65ºF (15-18ºC) throughout the year. On a clear day, the sun’s rays are strong – especially reflecting off the lake surface – and sun protection is a must. Night temperatures dramatically drop around Lake Titicaca, so pack a jacket to keep warm. Snowfall is very unlikely.
Dry Season Vs. Rainy Season
The dry season starts in April and ends in November, there is usually warmth and sunlight during the day, however, at night in June and July the temperatures are borderline freezing.
Rainy seasons starts in December until March, during the morning clouds accumulate over Lake Titicaca to create massive showers in the afternoon. The heaviest rainfall in Lake Titicaca will occur during January and February.
When is the best time to visit Lake Titicaca?
June, July and August are the busiest times of the season for tourism, because these months fall within dry season.
During April-May and September-November, there are fewer tourists and these months will experience rainy and dry season but will mostly be dominated by pleasant weather. One of the best times to visit Puno is after the rainy season, this is when plants are in full bloom and the landscapes are greenest.
Lake Titicaca tour packing checklist
Sunglasses, sunscreen and a hat are recommended for sun protection.
Comfortable and appropriate footwear to prevent injuries.
With icy temperatures on the lake, make sure to take a warm jacket.
A camera with spare battery packs.
Motion sickness medicine in case (for the boat ride).
A poncho, rain jacket or an umbrella.
Altitude sickness can be a concern for your trip. Upon arrival, you will have time to adjust to the altitude, but be aware that it can affect everyone differently, some symptoms include, headaches, nausea, loss of appetite and difficulties breathing. Serious reactions are rare but it is best to be precautious.
At such high altitudes, the suns potency can increase, combined with the sunlight that reflects off the lake, it can be very easy to get sunburnt without the proper protection. For a tour on the lake, never forget your essentials for sun protection, hats, sunglasses and sunblock (50+ is recommended.
Here we will list the multiple options for transportation to and from the main cities. Transportation to the lakes islands is usually by small motorized boats.
Peru is easily reached by multiple forms of transportation, including buses which are available in all other major cities including Cusco, Arequipa and Lima. Another option is train travel, PeruRail has a luxurious Andean explorer train which travels between Cusco and Puno. Flying is also a great option for travellers that want to go directly from Lima, with a short of less than 2 hours, flying is definitely the easiest option. The airport, Inca Manco Capac, is only a 30-minute drive away from Puno.
To fully experience the lake, you must also visit its islands, numerous boat tours are available daily, only a short 30-minute boat ride away is the Uros island and close by is the Taquile island.