Known as the Sacred Lake of the Incas Lake Titicaca’s islands and shores are dotted with archeological ruins. Surrounding the lake is the Titicaca National Reserve, home to rare aquatic wildlife, such as giant frogs.
The lake’s name is thought to come from the Aymara words Titi Khar’ka, meaning ‘Lake of the Pumas’, due to its unique shape which is said to resemble a puma hunting a rabbit. Other legends say the name comes from the titis (cats) that once lived on the rocky islands of the lake and swam to the mainland in search of food.
Nestled between the two cordilleras of the Andes on the Bolivian altiplano, the lake sits 8,310 metres (12,500 feet) above sea level and is the world’s highest navigable body of water. The gigantic freshwater inland sea covers approximately 8,000 square kilometres (3,089 square miles); it is approximately 175 kilometres (109 miles) long and 75 kilometres (46.6 miles) wide. The lake has an average depth of 60 metres (187 feet), however at its deepest point the water is 283 metres (928.4 feet) deep.
Titicaca is a geological wonder which was formed during the pre-Ice Age, around sixty million years ago. It was created when a massive earthquake shook the Andes mountain range, splitting it in two and forming a hollow that eventually got filled with the water from the melting glaciers.
Known for its deep blue waters, the lake is actually divided into two sections; the largest part is known as Chuchito and the smaller part is Huayñamarka. These two sub-basins are also commonly known as ‘Lago Grande’ (big lake) and ‘Lago Pequeño’ (small lake).
Approximately 25 rivers deposit their water into the lake, although only one, the Desaguadero River, drains it there. It is home to 41 islands, the largest of which is Isla del Sol.
The lake is steeped in mystery and was considered to be the birthplace of the Incas. According to ancient myth, the God Viracocha came out of the lake and then created the sun, the stars and the first people. Another legend tells of the first Inca, Manco Capac, and his wife, Mama Ocllo, emerging from the depths of the lake to form the Incan Empire on Sun Island.
Today, the local population continue to believe that the lake has mystical properties, as it is surrounded by fertile land in an otherwise dry and windswept altiplano.
Stories of lost Incan treasures in the depths of the lake have attracted many expeditions and, at the beginning of the 21st century, a large temple was found at the bottom of Lake Titicaca. Earlier, in 1968, a French explorer Jacques Cousteau, undertook an underwater exploration that lasted half a month and found animal varieties that have not been found anywhere else in the world.
It is possible for visitors to enjoy one-day or overnight cruises on Lake Titicaca, which are considered to be a memorable highlight of a visit to the Andes.