Primary sources: 27 rivers
Altitude: 12500 ft (3800 m)
Max length: 90 km (118 mi)
Max width: 80 km (50 mi)
Surface area: 8,372 km² (3,232 sq mi)
Max depth: 284 m (932 ft)
Lake Titicaca (Spanish Lago Titicaca; Quechua Titiqaqa qucha) is the largest freshwater lake in South America with an area of 8372 square kilometers. It is located on the Altiplano plateau in the Andes; the western part with 4916 km² of the lake belongs to Peru, the eastern part with 3372 km² to Bolivia. It is the eighteenth largest natural lake in the world by area; its area is about 15.5 times that of Lake Constance (including Untersee) and almost the size of Corsica. It's very dirty.
Lake Titicaca is South America's second largest lake that lies at an altitude of 12,500 feet (3,800 m). Due to its unique climatic condition the lake and its surroundings were settled since the ancient time. Islands of lake Titicaca and its shores are dotted with numerous archaeological remains.
Islas Uros on lake Titicaca is a man- made islands near Puno constructed from totora reeds. Local natives add new layers at the bottom of these structures slowly rot. Certain fine safety precautions should be followed while on the islands. After all it is combustible material and the whole island can burn in minutes. Locals solve this problem by burning fire on slabs of stone.
There is no definitive answer how and why people came to live here in such conditions on Lake Titicaca. Natives will tell a lot of legends how they are "chosen" to live here since the birth of the sun and the moon. The truth might be more trivial. Natives were simply forced by hostility on lands move to waters of the lake. Oldest island here is 160 years old, but no known date exists for "mother" island that gave start for this way of life.
Island Isla Taquile on Lake Titicaca is dotted by Inca and colonial ruins this island is still inhabited by some 350 Quechua- speaking people who live here by motto "Ama sawa, ama quella, ama llullav" (do not steal, do not be idle, do not lie). Needless to stay there is no need for police here.
Isla del Sol island or island of the Sun on Lake Titicaca gets its name from a local legend. Native tribes believed that this island was the birth place of the Sun. Two large holes that look like footprints are supposedly the footprints of the Sun- god who returned here to make the first Inca - Manco Capa. Among ruins of houses, temples and altars you might discover such marvels as the Fountain of Youth. According to local legends of Inca this fountain could rejuvenate the body and the mind of those who bathed here. Besides there is a fortress Plikokayha that was build to defend sacred holy ground from invaders and watch over virgins who lived on the island de la Luna.
Wiracocha or Viracocha is unique character in the mythology of ancient tribes of Western South America. Some tribes called him Apu Qun Tiqsi Wiraqutra, and Con Tici or Kon Tiki. Inca believed this god appeared from the waters of Lake Titicaca. He supposedly created the World and taught humans architecture, agriculture and other important aspect of lives. His description is somewhat similar to legends of Kukulkan, Quetzalcoatl, Gucumatz, Votan, Izamal, Bochica and others deities around Mesoamerica and Latin America. He was white, bearded and had incredible knowledge that he shared with the first Inca. Some archeologists speculate that this legend is actually based on the true fact. Survivors from some unknown civilization might have been the real teachers of the local people. The legends about this legendary leader are very different. Additionally some versions of the story there were several people under the same description. However their technology and general description is the same in many myths. Inca believed that Wiracocha left them traveling the raft of snakes (shown on the bottom) only to return when it is needed.
The most important structure on Isla de la Luna is aqlluwasi (monastery) where virgins dedicated to the Sun- god lived and worshipped their deities. They were cut from the rest of the World by waters of Lake Titicaca.
Lake Titicaca is the highest commercially navigable body of water on earth. It lies at an altitude of 3812 m above sea level, is 178 km long and up to 67.4 km wide and has an average depth of 107 m. Several peninsulas protrude into the lake, the Copacabana Peninsula is only connected by the narrow Strait of Tiquina the southern part of the lake, Wiñaymarka, with the northern part, Lago Chucuito.
More than 25 rivers flow into Lake Titicaca. The only outflow is the Río Desaguadero, which carries about ten percent of the excess water. The remaining water evaporates. There are a variety of large and small islands, some of which harbor relics of the Inca culture, for example Isla del Sol.
origin of the name
The origin of the name Titicaca, originally a name for the sunny island, is not known for certain. It is said to be based on two Aymara words: titi means "big cat" or "cougar" and kaka means "gray". According to legend, the first Inca, Manco Cápac, descended to earth over a rock on the island of the sun (“Titi-Karka” or “Puma Rock”; “karka” = stone, rock). This rock has the shape (with enough imagination) of a wildcat's head. A lying cat can also be recognized if the map with the lake is turned upside down. In Quechua, on the other hand, titi means "lead" or "lead-colored", qaqa means "rock", i.e. "leaden (lead-colored) rock".
Despite the relatively low average annual water temperature of 9 to 11 °C, Lake Titicaca is a large heat reservoir against frost, so that potatoes, barley, corn and quinoa thrive around the lake. The region around Lake Titicaca is considered to be the origin of potato cultivation.
Life on Lake Titicaca
An important source of food for the population on Lake Titicaca has always been the abundance of fish.
Among the attractions of Lake Titicaca are the floating islands of the Urus. Originally, the Urus began to build floating islands, for example to protect or hide from the warlike Incas. The islands are made up of criss-cross layers of totora reeds. Whenever an attack threatened, they would loose anchor and retreat to the lake with their islands. The Totora reed is an important livelihood. The boats for fishing and the mats for building the simple huts are made of it. It also plays a role in nutrition.
In the meantime, only a few hundred of the approximately 2,000 Urus live on the traditional islands. They discovered tourism as a source of income and today allow visitors to visit the pliable-swaying islands.
About 1,600 Quechua live on the island of Taquile (Quechua: Intika), which belongs to Peru. The people on the 5.5 km long and 1.6 km wide island were discovered late because they hid from strangers when they arrived. The islanders are famous today for their knitting men. The island is therefore also called "Island of the knitting men". Similar to Urus, a focus on day tourists can be observed on Taquile. However, since most of them have left the island by 2 p.m., travelers who are staying with a family on Taquile (there are no hotels, running water or electricity) have an insight into the original life, until the day tourists see the picture of the island in the morning change again.
Another island with a Quechua-speaking population on the Peruvian side is Amantaní, which is home to 800 families.
The Capachica peninsula also juts out into the lake from the Peruvian side.
On the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca are the sacred islands of Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) and Isla de la Luna (Island of the Moon). According to legend, the white bearded god appeared on Isla del Sol and created the first Incas, Manco Cápac and his sister-wife Mama Oclla. On both islands, many ancient ruins exist between small traditional villages.
Fauna of Lake Titicaca
Lake Titicaca is the habitat of a number of rare and sometimes endemic animal species.
There are 95 species of native and migratory birds, including (among others)
the Titicaca grebe (Rollandia microptera), a member of the grebe family. What is unusual about this bird is that it is unable to fly due to its small wings. When threatened, it flees with scuttling steps across the water, flapping its wings violently but unable to take flight.
All three flamingo species native to South America that are now threatened: the Chilean flamingo, the James flamingo and the Andean flamingo
The ibis, cormorant and heron
Mammals that live here include the vizcacha, which belongs to the chinchilla family, the chudi guinea pig and the Andean fox
There are 18 native species of amphibians, including
the endemic Titicaca giant frog or Titicaca sea frog (Telmatobius culeus). He breathes mainly through his skin, which is therefore very wrinkled to increase the surface area.
30 species of fish live in Lake Titicaca, 21 of which are endemic, e.g.
the Andean finfish (Orestias), to which the now presumably extinct Amanto belongs, and
the loach catfish (Trichomycterus rivulatus).
Threat and protection of Lake Titicaca
The water quality of the lake has decreased significantly in recent years. Julián Barra, President of the Peruvian Autonomous Region of Titicaca, blames the more than 30,000 illegal mines on the lake and its tributaries. The toxic waste water from the gold mines, which is heavily contaminated with lead and mercury, flows untreated into the lake. In 2006, the foreign ministers of Peru and Bolivia signed a memorandum in which they pledged to start activities to prevent further contamination. Barra described the division of labor between the Peruvian Ministry of Agriculture and the Environment as counterproductive, as it slowed down productive activities through bureaucracy.
Loss of vegetation surrounding the lake to overgrazing and erosion, reduction in aquatic vegetation, declining fish populations, and contamination of Puno Bay by biogenic runoff are other environmental issues at the lake. The contamination is mainly the pollutants from sewage from the city of Puno and heavy metals from the nearby mines. The algae problem is still limited to the bay of Puno. The European Union is trying to improve the living conditions of the riparians and to protect resources by supporting water regulation projects with small dams on the Río Desaguadero.
In 1978 the Peruvian government set up the Titicaca National Conservation Area off Puno. The entire lake falls under the Ramsar Convention for Protected Wetlands.
Since 2000, the water levels of Lake Titicaca have fallen steadily and are well below the previous average water level. In the period from April to November 2009 alone, the water level dropped by 81 cm - the lowest level since 1949. The reason for this drop lies in the shortening of the rainy season from six months to three months and the retreat of the Andean glaciers in the Altiplano area, which feed tributaries of Lake Titicaca.
The lake was named a Threatened Lake 2012 by the Global Nature Fund. In November 2016, the presidents of Peru and Bolivia decided to build 10 sewage treatment plants on the tributaries to the lake and reaffirmed this intention in 2017.
In 1980, Der Spiegel reported that underwater filmmakers sighted ruins attributed to the Tiwanaku culture. Archaeologists in 2000, at a depth of 30 meters, found the ruins of a Tiwanaku temple with an area of 200 × 50 meters, a terrace for grain, a road and a wall 800 meters long. In 1977 Japanese amateur divers found ceramic fragments and small andesite boxes containing miniature figurines from the shell of Spondylus. In 1988, research was continued by a Bolivian-Japanese expedition. More artifacts have been found. An expedition sponsored by the National Geographic Society took place in 1989–1992. Artifacts were found again. The expeditions brought to light a total of 385 artefacts, including gold plates, ceramic fragments, silver figurines, etc. The finds can be assigned to the Tiwanaku and Inca civilizations. In 2013, about a thousand ceramic fragments were found that once belonged to big cat-shaped vessels.