Lake Titicaca

Bolivia Photo.

March, 2006

— 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.

— Copacabana

The town of Copacabana is located on the western side of Lake Titicaca. This is the Peruvian side of the lake, and only a small portion of land here belongs to Bolivia. We took a small barge across a narrow stretch of water called the Estrecho de Tiquina to the Copacabana Peninsula. Our tour bus (a small van) then followed the winding road along the cliffs and into the town. Here we spent the night at the Hotel Rosario del Lago. The rooms are small but modern and comfortable, and the restaurant was great.

The big draw for Bolivians who come here is the Virgen de Copacabana. Her statue was created to displace the Aymara goddess of the lake that had been part of the pre-Spanish religion of the area. The Cathedral (photo #2) was built during 1589-1669 to house the statue, and today it is the destination of religious pilgrimages from all over the southern Andes. We tried to avoid intruding into people's worship, so did not spend much time inside the Cathedral, and did not take any pictures of the statue itself. Here are some photos of the exterior details:

crosses   |   entrance   |   statue   |   balusters

The plaza in front of the Cathedral is a main gathering point for pilgrims coming to view the Virgin, and we saw busloads of Bolivians arriving. In addition to the Virgin and the annual fiestas, people bring their vehicles to the Plaza to be blessed by a priest and annointed with beer in a ceremony called ch'alla. All of these people create a market for numerous vendors who set up shop along the edges of the plaza.

— Isla del Sol

The Isla del Sol and the neighboring Isla de la Luna, or Islands of the Sun and Moon, were considered to be the birthplace of both the Sun and the Moon, and of the Inca people. During Inca times, these islands were visited by large numbers of pilgrims who came to visit the many temples and holy places. The Spanish tore down the temples, partly to destroy the local religions and partly for the dressed stones that they contained. Many Spanish buildings were built with these stones. Only a few Incan sites remain.

We traveled on a small power boat from Copacabana to an Inca site on the Isla del Sol called Pilco Kayma. We got off the boat onto a rickety looking dock, while the boat waited for us offshore. We then climbed about 60 feet (20 m) straight up the hillside. The building here is a traditional Inca design, with trapezoidal doors looking out to the Isla de la Luna. It has small interior rooms, which are accessible from the side of the building. It is unkown what the building was used for; it was probably not terribly important. The views from the ruins were great, and certainly worth the effort we made to climb the hill. Even though the climate seemed rather arid, we found moss and beautiful flowers growing around the site.

Next we motored around the edge of the island to the village of Yumani. Most of the village is high on the hill; we stayed down near the water's edge. Many local women were selling handicrafts (photo #3) along a small stream which flows from 3 springs that together are reputed to have magical powers. After a short time in Yumani we got back onto our small boat and returned to Copacabana. It was a great day on the water, and a beautiful location.

— return to the 2006 Journal Archive.