Lake Titicaca – Highest Lake in the World

Lake Titicaca is the largest lake in Peru and is located at an altitude of over 3800 m. The descendants of the Uros (the “sea people”) live and live on floating rush islands. There are numerous inhabited islands in Lake Titicaca, e.g. Taquile, the sun island belonging to Bolivia (birthplace of the Inca Empire). The place Copacabana – located on the Bolivian peninsula of the same name – is a well-known place of pilgrimage for Bolivians.

Location, size, origin and nature of Lake Titicaca

The Titicacasee (Figure 1) is located with an area of about 8560 square kilometers at an altitude of about 3812 m above sea level. It is often referred to as the highest navigable lake in the world (Fig. 2). This is not entirely true, because Lago de Junin in the Peruvian central Andes is over 4000 m high. With its length of 30 km and its area of ​​300 km² this highest lake is the second largest lake in Peru and part of a nature reserve for water birds.

In terms of area, Lake Titicaca is the largest lake in Peru and South America and the largest lake in the world above 2000 m. Overall, it is almost 13 times larger than Lake Constance.

The average width of the lake is over 50 km, at its widest point 76 km. It measures over 176 km in length and 272 m at the deepest point. Lake Titicaca is divided into a large lake (Lago de Chucuito) with 25 islands and a smaller lake (Lago de Huiñaimarca) with 11 islands by two peninsulas protruding into the southern lake.

The lake’s water is slightly salty and has an average annual temperature of 10–13 °C. Thus, the lake at this altitude serves as a source of heat for the Altiplano plateauso that agricultural crops such as potatoes, maize, barley, oca (earth fruit), quinoa (highland cereal cultivated by the Inca) can be grown around it.

The lake’s fish are an important source of food for the residents. In numerous bays you can see systems for breeding trout.

The origin of Lake Titicaca is controversial. It is probably a collapse zone in the Altiplano, that extensive and wide plateau between the western and eastern Cordillera, which is a weak zone in the mountainous formation of the Andes(Displacement of plates in combination with volcanic eruptions). But the activity of the Ice Age glaciers can also have been the cause of the lake’s formation (glacier basin, trough valley in connection with dead ice); at least the glacial forces contributed. The western cordillera with some snow-capped volcanoes extends over 6000 m above sea level. The Eastern Cordillera, on the other hand, forms a closed alpine high mountain wall with glaciated peaks around 6500 m above sea level (Cordillera Real, the Königskordillere).

The border between Peru and Bolivia runs almost vertically through Lake Titicaca. Of the area of ​​the lake, 57% (approx. 4870 km²) belong to Peru and 43% (approx. 3690 km²) to Bolivia. There are no border conflicts.

The largest port on Lake Titicaca is in Puno, the capital of the Peruvian province of the same name. The city, which has over 100,000 residents, is approx. 3827 m high. Because of the high altitude, the climate of this region is very extreme; During the day the highland sun burns, at night temperatures can drop below 0 °C.

Puno (Fig. 4) is a typical Spanish colonial city that emerged from a small settlement in 1668. This settlement was formed after the discovery of rich silver deposits.

On numerous festive days, Puno is transformed into the “Folklore Capital of Peru”. The residents of the city and the highlands dance through the city in colorful costumes.

Due to its location on Lake Titicaca, Puno is also the starting point for boat trips to the various islands and to Copacabana on the Bolivian side of the lake.

The floating islands of the Uros

In the bay of Puno there are about 80 larger and smaller floating islands of the Uros (Fig. 5). The Uro people are now extinct, the last genuine male Uro died in 1957, the last woman in 1970. The descendants of the Uros, the “sea people”, are a mixture of Uro, Aymara and Inca descendants. Up until a few decades ago, the Uro descendants ate themselves by catching birds and fish and by consuming the delicate rush stalks. Today’s islanders (approx. 1100 people) live almost exclusively from tourism. Since these islands are a “main magnet” for all travelers to the Puno region, the Uros try to sell souvenirs they have made themselves to all visitors, such as dolls and boats made from Totora rushes or colorful blankets, towels and wall hangings woven by the women (Fig 6).

The floating islands consist of approx. 80 cm thick bundles of Totora rushes, which are stacked crosswise and knotted until the entire layer is about two meters thick. This platform has to be renewed every six months, as it soaks up with water, becomes heavier and sinks or is otherwise damaged or begins to rot. This also applies to the simple huts made of rushes and the main means of transport – boats shaped like a canoe (Fig. 7).

The larger islands are permanently inhabited, and on a few there are even schools, restaurants and accommodation.

Taquile Island

The island of Taquile (Fig. 8), located about 35 km from Puno in Lake Titicaca, is about 5.5 km long and 1.5 km wide. On this mountainous island, agriculture is practiced on terraced fields – as in the Inca period (potatoes, oca, maize, barley). The approximately 2000 islanders also have cattle farming (sheep, cattle) and have been living from tourism since 1978.

Taquile Island is known for its textile work. Women weave colorful clothes, men knit hats with typical patterns (Fig. 9).

The sunny island

The bay-rich sunny island (Isla del Sol, Fig. 10) is the largest island in Lake Titicaca (approx. 10 km long and approx. 5 km wide). Currently about 1200 residents live on the island in several small towns, mainly from fishing, some agriculture on terraced fields and cattle breeding as well as from tourism. The island is located on Bolivian territory.

Originally the island was called Titicachi. The name Titicaca is derived from this. According to various Inca legends, the creator god WIRACOCHA, the first Inca MANCO CAPAC and his sister or wife MAMA OCLLO were born here. Therefore, the Inca descendants – the Quechuas and the Aymaras – the sun island and the whole lake are sacred. They consider the area to be the “birthplace” of the Inca Empire.

The settlement of the island by the Inca can be proven on the basis of several ruin complexes.

The ruins of Pilkokaina, a former Inca palace, are located near the southern tip of the island (Fig. 11). In the north there are several ruin complexes such B. the ruins of Chincana (translated “labyrinth”) u. a. with remains of a large temple, a sacrificial site, several small temples and living quarters for priests. Everything is dominated by an Incanotapa (palace of an Inca).

The Copacabana Peninsula

The Copacabana peninsula is part of Bolivia. It divides Lake Titicaca into the northern large lake (Lago der Chucuito) and the southern small lake (Lago de Huiñaimarca).

The place of the same name (approx. 20,000 residents) – located in a beautiful bay on Lake Titicaca (Fig. 12) – was an important place of worship during the times of the Inca and their descendants. Today the magnificent Cathedral of Copacabana (Fig. 13) with the famous miraculous “black Madonna” (Virgen de Copacabana, patron saint of Lake Titicaca), which was only completed in 1820 in the Moorish style with azulejos (patterned tiles), is an important pilgrimage destination for the Bolivians.

The place is surrounded by mountains. A steep path leads up to the summit of Cerro Calvario (Kalvarienberg), past 14 stone cross stations with holy images to the large summit monument (Fig. 14) with a Madonna.

Lake Titicaca - Highest Lake in the World