Lake Titicaca is a large, deep lake located at the northern end of the Altiplano basin, on the border of Peru and Bolivia. Lying high up in the Andes at 12,500 ft, it is the world's highest navigable lake. By volume of water and by surface area, it is the largest lake in South America.
Titicaca sits 3,810 m (12,500 ft) above sea level and is situated between Peru to the west and Bolivia to the east. The western part of the lake lies within the Puno Region of Peru, and the eastern side is located in the Bolivian La Paz Department.
Titicaca is one of less than twenty ancient lakes and is considered 3 million years old. In addition, ruins on the lake's bottom (where the remains of a temple were discovered in 2000), on its shore, and the islands attest to the previous existence of one of the oldest civilizations known in the Americas.
Lake Titicaca covers 8,300 sq km (3,200 sq mi) and extends in a northwest-to-southeast direction for a distance of 190 km (120 mi). It is 80 km (50 mi) across at its widest point.
A narrow strait, Tiquina, separates the lake into two bodies of water. In the southeast, the smaller body of water is called Lake Huinaymarca in Bolivia and Lake Pequeño in Peru.
By volume of water and by surface area, it is the largest lake in South America. Lake Maracaibo, connected to the Gulf of Venezuela, has a larger surface area but is technically a tidal bay. The lake averages 140 - 180 m (460 - 600 ft) in depth.
Five major river systems feed into Lake Titicaca. In order of their relative flow volumes, these are Ramis, Coata, Ilave, Huancané and Suchez. More than 20 other smaller streams empty into Titicaca. The lake has 41 islands, some of which are densely populated.
One small river, the Desaguadero, drains the lake at its southern end. However, this single outlet empties only five percent of the lake's excess water; the rest is lost by evaporation under the fierce sun and strong winds of the dry Altiplano.
Lake Titicaca is home to more than 530 aquatic species. The lake holds large populations of water birds and was designated as a Ramsar Site in 1998. Reeds and other aquatic vegetation are widespread in Lake Titicaca.
Lake Titicaca has a borderline subtropical highland/alpine climate with cool to cold temperatures for most of the year. The average annual precipitation is 610 mm (24 in), mainly in summer thunderstorms. Winters are dry, with frigid nights and mornings and warm afternoons.
In 2003, "Sacred Titicaca Lake" (Bolivia) was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List due to its universal cultural and natural significance. Peru submitted "Lake Titicaca" to the list for consideration in 2005.
Forty-one islands, some densely populated, rise from Titicaca's waters. The largest, Titicaca Island (also called Isla del Sol), lies off Bolivia's tip of the Copacabana Peninsula.
Titicaca Island or Isla del Sol ("Island of the Sun") is situated on the Bolivian side of the lake with regular boat links to the Bolivian town of Copacabana. It is one of the largest islands of the lake. The terrain is harsh: it is a rocky, hilly island. No motor vehicles or paved roads are on the island.
The main economic activity of the approximately 800 families on the island is farming, with fishing and tourism augmenting the subsistence economy. Over 180 ruins remain on the island—most of these date to the Inca period around the 15th century AD.
Uros, the "Floating Islands," are small artificial islands constructed by the Uros (or Uru) people from layers of cut totora. Totora is a thick, buoyant reed that grows abundantly in the shallows of Lake Titicaca.
As of 2011, about 1,200 Uros lived on an archipelago of 60 artificial islands, clustering in the western corner of the lake near Puno, Titicaca's central Peruvian port town. The Uros harvest the reeds that naturally grow on the lake's banks to make the islands by continuously adding reeds to the surface.
The islands have become one of Peru's tourist attractions, allowing the Uros to supplement their hunting and fishing by conveying visitors to the islands by motorboat and selling handicrafts.
Amantani is a small island on Lake Titicaca, populated by Quechua speakers. About 4,000 people live in 10 communities on the roughly circular 15 sq km (6 sq mi) island.
Two mountain peaks, called Pachatata (Father Earth) and Pachamama (Mother Earth) and ancient ruins are on the top of both peaks.
The hillsides that rise from the lake are terraced and planted with wheat, potatoes, and vegetables. Most of the small fields are worked by hand. However, some families on Amantani open their homes to tourists for overnight stays and provide cooked meals arranged through tour guides.
Taquile is a hilly island located 45 km (28 mi) east of Puno. It is narrow and long and was used as a prison during the Spanish Colony period and into the 20th century. In 1970, it became the property of the Taquile people, who have inhabited the island since then (the current population is around 2,200).
Isla de la Luna
Isla de la Luna is situated east of the more prominent Isla del Sol. Both islands belong to the La Paz Department of Bolivia. According to legends that refer to Inca mythology, Isla de la Luna (Spanish for "island of the moon") is where Viracocha commanded the moon's rising. Ruins of a supposed Inca nunnery (Mamakuna) occupy the Oriental shore.
Suriki lies in the Bolivian part of Lake Titicaca (in the southeastern region, also known as Lake Wiñaymarka). Suriki is thought to be the last place where the art of reed boat construction survives, at least as late as 1998. Artisans from Suriqui helped Thor Heyerdahl construct several projects, such as the reed boats Ra II and Tigris.
Map of Lake Titicaca