— Lago Titicaca
Lago (Lake) Titicaca is the largest high-elevation lake in the world, by far. Our first view of the lake was from the road as we crossed the hills along its eastern shore (see the panorama above). The lake measures 190 km by 80 km, or about 115 miles by 50 miles. Although the lake is very deep and steep-sided, there are many islands within the lake (see photo #1, at left).
Lake Titicaca was originally part of an inland sea that has been raised up to its present elevation of 3800 meters by the rising Andes mountains. Researchers have found fossilized sea creatures in the lake bed. Today, the lake is still salty. Ninety percent of the water that enters it evaporates, leaving the salts behind. There is a small outflow through the Río Desaguadero, but that water also evaporates in the salt lakes south of Lake Titicaca.
The Lake collects runoff water from the surrounding area, and provides a tempering effect on the local temperatures. This extends the local growing season and allows increased crop yields. Lake levels rise and fall, sometimes dramatically, with changing rain and snowfall in the mountains. The lake has been a center of religious worship for all of the peoples who have lived here, including the Aymara, the Incas, and the Spanish. During our tour with Paul and Mary Lynn Engel, we visited Copacabana, the site of the most revered Catholic shrine in Bolivia, and the Isla del Sol, a center of Inca religious worship.