At 12,500ft above sea level and with an average depth of 350ft, Lake Titicaca is oft referred to as the highest lake in the world which is navigable by large craft. Commercial boats and Peruvian and Bolvian navy vessels do sail its waters regularly, so it lives up to this description. To those who have not visited Titicaca, the lake may well be nothing more than an item on a Geography trivia list (it is also South America’s largest), but to those who have been, the numbers swiftly become irrelevant and it is remembered as a place of breathtaking beauty.
The port town of Puno is notable mainly for its lakeside location and the abundance of folkloric activity. The ruined funerary towers of Sillustani, just outside of town, are well worth a visit and a number of local peñas offer nightly performances of regional music and dance. Peculiarly, the hotel where Vaya Adventures guests stay has oxygen facilities in every room – convenient for those who are slightly apunado.
Pleasant though Puno may be, it is for the islands which most people visit Titicaca. The floating reed islands of the Uros are unique albeit quite touristy and the large island of Taquile offers spectacular views and great opportunities for walking.
But it is the privately-owned island of Isla Suasi which leaves the most lasting impression on visitors. Vaya Adventures guests usually spend two nights at the solar-powered ecolodge on this island, but if escape from the madding crowd is what you’re after I’d recommend a tailor-made itinerary which allows for even more time on Isla Suasi. Hiking, kayaking, bird- and wildlife-spotting and generally winding back the clock to a pre-industrial time are the island’s natural attractions, while the hotel itself features spacious rooms (many with fireplaces), panoramic views, excellent attentive service and tasty local fare. If the weather is kind to you, Suasi will be one of the highlights of your Peruvian adventure.
Most Vaya Adventures guests visit Titicaca as part of an itinerary which involves Cusco and the Sacred Valley, so logistically it makes sense to stay on the Peruvian side, but trips to the Bolivian side can be arranged on request.
The Bolivian town of Copacabana is delightful, and although the restaurants can be a bit samey (every single establishment on the water’s edge serves grilled trout as its speciality) there are one or two quirkier cafés and restaurants, my definite favourite being Ristorante Sapori d’Italia which offers real Italian food made by its real Italian owner.
Copacabana is also home to Bolivia’s patron saint, the Virgen de la Candelaria. Families and taxi drivers visit the church every weekend to bless their vehicles with beer and flowers – an interesting spectacle to say the least. The action really kicks during the first week of February when the Virgin celebrates her annual holiday: traditional dance and music troupes descend on Copacabana from all quarters, and four days of music, merriment and much drinking take place. It would take a brave person to join in, but merely spectating on a Bolivian festival is an experience in itself. (This festival is also celebrated in Puno, but I have not been there for it.)
The Isla del Sol, which is easily accessed by ferry from Copacabana, is said to be the birthplace of the Inca civilisation and as such it features some important historical sites. The scenery is not dissimilar to Isla Suasi or Taquile, but walking between the various ruins can be a very rewarding experience.
Although national boundaries now influence which parts of the lake you are able to see, it is important to remember is that Titicaca is not about Bolivia or Peru, but is instead about a people and a way of life which predates the European concept of nationality. Whichever parts you visit, Vaya Adventures will ensure that you get to experience this way of life.
By Nick Dall