Lake Titicaca is a freshwater body of water located in the highlands of the Andes. It is considered the largest in South America, attracting attention not only because of its location, but also because of the richness of the flora and fauna. Thanks to the unique landscape and scenic beauty of the area, the lake attracts thousands of tourists every year, which contributed to the development of infrastructure and the development of a large number of excursion routes.
Characteristics of Lake Titicaca
The lake is large enough to be considered the largest natural freshwater reservoir in South America. It is located at an altitude of 3,593 meters above sea level. Its area is approximately 8,370 km². It is 66 km wide and 176 km long.
The length of the winding coastline is 1,125 km. It is formed by about 40 bays and peninsulas. The average depth of the reservoir is 107 m, and the maximum is 281.
The lake is located in the mountains, where the air is quite thin. This, combined with strong winds, allows for 90-95% evaporation. The salt content of the water does not exceed 1%.
Titicaca is considered a low-yielding body of water because it is low in nutrients and oxygen.
The lake receives only meltwater and rainwater, so it is quite cold. Surface water temperature averages +10 … +14°C. This does not create conditions for the rapid development of aquatic flora and fauna.
Why was the lake called that?
There were several Indian tribes living near the lake before the discovery of the continent. The Quechua and Aymara peoples called this body of water Mamacota. In addition, there are mentions that in ancient times the lake had the name “Pukina”.
In addition, there were at least 15 other names given to this body of water by the people who lived on its shores. The lake got its final name when it was discovered by the Spaniards. It included the 2 words “tiki” and “caca. The former translates as “lead” or “cougar,” and the latter as “gray,” “mountain,” or “crack.”
Some researchers believe that the exact translation of the lake’s name is “gray cougar” or “mountain cougar.”
There is a possibility that this name was given to the body of water because of an ancient rock painting of the predator found on the island of Isla del Sol.
In addition, it is believed that the name Titicaca is a distorted version of the phrase “taxi-cala,” used to refer to the sacred mountain on Isla del Sol for the indigenous peoples.
The Spanish had difficulty remembering local names, so they used the distorted name of the shrine, which had important religious significance to the inhabitants, to refer to the lake.
Geographically, the lake is located in the northern part of South America. Its coordinates of location on the mainland are: 15°49’30 “S. 69°19’30 “W.
The two components of the lake
This body of water includes two almost isolated basins connected by the Strait of Tiquin, the width of which at its narrowest point does not exceed 800 m. The largest part, Lago Grande, has an average depth of about 135 m. The smaller component is called Logo Pequeño. It is shallow, so it warms up better.
Location of Lake Titicaca on the map of South America
The lake is located between two ridges of the Andes. It is located in the northern part of the Altiplano Endorheic Basin on the border of Bolivia and Peru. Thus, the lake belongs to two countries at once. That said, most of the reservoir is in Peruvian jurisdiction. The nearest large city is Puno, an important tourist center.
Bolivia owns a smaller portion of the lake. It is more intensely populated. Here is the main tourist center of this part of Bolivia, La Paz. On the northeastern shore of the reservoir is Cordillera Real, a mountain that is considered the highest peak of the Andes. In the Bolivian part of the lake, its depth increases sharply.
The ecological situation in the lake area deteriorates every year. For a long time, there has been a decrease in the volume of water in his pool. This is due to a decrease in precipitation and melting glaciers.
The rapid urbanization of the coast also worsens the ecological situation.
The problem lies not only in the growing population, but also in the large number of tourists who visit the area every year. More and more sewage, as well as solid debris, is entering the water.
The situation is exacerbated by the slow flow, which causes pollution to accumulate in the lake basin. The decomposition of large quantities of industrial and sewage effluent in it produces a large volume of methane.
This, combined with the accumulation of heavy metals and other harmful compounds, negatively affects the local flora and fauna. Many species living in the waters of the lake and its coastal zones are on the verge of extinction.
Climate in the lake area
The area where the lake is located is characterized by a high-mountain subtropical climate. Low temperatures, ranging from -7.5 to +18.8°C, persist throughout the year.
At the same time, the amount of rainfall does not exceed 610 mm per year. Most of it falls during the summer rains. Winters are fairly dry, with cold nights and fairly warm days.
Major rivers that flow into the lake
The Ramis River is considered the largest artery that feeds the lake. It flows into Titicaca from the northwest side. No less than 2/5 of the total volume of water that fills the lake basin comes through it.
This artery is fed only by high-altitude glaciers, so it is quite cold. In addition, four relatively large rivers flow into the lake, which do not dry up during the year.
The other waterways are shallower, shallow streams that dry up in winter when the glaciers freeze. The lake’s only outlet is considered to be the Rio Desaguadero. Up to 10% of water is lost this way. The remaining 90% is evaporated by evaporation caused by strong winds.
Attractions in Titicaca
Many ancient indigenous civilizations originated and developed near the lake, so there are many historical monuments in the coastal area, as well as on the islands. Some sites are considered especially valuable and protected.
The Burial Towers of Silustani
The burial towers of Silustani are an ancient cemetery located near the city of Puno. It is believed to have been created even before the Inca civilization was built.
It is attributed to the period of the Kolla Empire, created by the Aymara people. This state formation was conquered by the Incas around the fifteenth century.
On the territory of the ancient cemetery there are a large number of towers used as family tombs. Many of the tombs were severely damaged by “black diggers,” who blew up these structures with dynamite to gain access to possible treasures. In addition, there are a number of unfinished towers in the cemeteries.
The Aymara culture was characterized by a special reverence for the cult of ancestors and the connection of the existing generation with the previous one. Studies have shown that the inside of the tower is shaped like a womb.
The dead man was mummified and only then was he placed in the tomb in the fetal position. It was believed that it contributed to the rebirth of man in the afterlife.
Engraved drawings of lizards are often revealed on tomb ruins. In Aymara culture, these animals are a symbol of reborn life, as. are capable of growing a lost tail. The architecture of the tombs is quite complex. The Aymara used worked stones that were rectangular in shape.
The Acapana Pyramid
The Pyramid of Acapana is located near Lake Titicaca in Bolivia and is considered the main attraction of this country. The complex is relatively well preserved.
It is a mound, reaching a high point of 15 m. The base is about 200 m. The structure has a 3-stage shape. Its broad side faces east and its narrow side faces west. The pyramid was erected before Columbus discovered the continent.
The structure is made of earth, externally lined with heavy slabs.
Only 10% of these stones have survived into modern times. The study of this pyramid revealed a network of zig-zag channels carefully connected with each other inside it. They were used to bring water down from the pool upstairs.
The exact purpose of this pyramid is unknown. There is a suggestion that religious rituals were held here and sacrifices to the gods were made. The restoration of the Akapana pyramid is underway.
Shrine of Santo Domingo
The temple of Santo Domingo was erected by the Spaniards during their exploration of the territory. It is located near the city of Puno. The complex of buildings is fairly poorly preserved, but even the ruins are quite popular with tourists.
Islands on the water and the Uros tribe
There are 41 islands in the lake. Most of them are quite small and uninhabited. The largest islands are densely populated. The most settled one is called Amantani. It has a rounded shape and an area of about 15 km².
It is inhabited by people who speak the Quechua language. About 4,000 people live here. There are two mountain peaks on the island, Pachatata and Pachamama. There are ancient ruins on both peaks.
The slopes are terraced and used for growing crops. The use of cars is prohibited on this island. There are no hotels here. The infrastructure is underdeveloped. Tourists stay with locals who rent rooms in their homes.
Takile is a relatively large island, reaching a length of about 5.5 km and about 1.6 km wide.
The highest point of the island is at an altitude of 4050 m above sea level. At the top of the largest hill there are ruins dating back to the heyday of the Inca civilization. The slopes are terraced and used for agricultural purposes.
Another island that deserves attention is Isla del Sol. Up to 800 families live there permanently. The island is located in the Bolivian part of the lake. There are about 180 ruins of interest to archaeologists and tourists.
To the north of Isla del Sol is the island of Isla de la Luna. It is located in Bolivian waters. In its eastern part are the ruins of the Inca convent of Mamacuna.
In addition, there are man-made “floating” islands in the lake, which were built by the Uros people. They are made of cut torus, i.e. varieties of floating sedge.
Uros are constantly adding plant-based building material on top to ensure that the islands are buoyant. According to legend, this people came from the Amazon basin even before the geographical discoveries of Columbus. The size of the islands is approximately 15X15 m. They have a characteristic golden color.
Fauna of Lake Titicaca
Titicaca is included in the list of wetlands of international importance. It is home to 18 species of amphibians. The frog of greatest interest is the Titican whistler.
It lives under rocks and rarely comes to the surface. It has small lungs, so scientists believe that the animal consumes most of its oxygen through its skin underwater.
Many species of fish live in the lake. Some of them have been put into the body of water by humans. On the shores of Titicaca there are about 60 species of native and migratory birds. Of particular interest to ornithologists are the Titican non-flying grebes, which are endemic to these places.
Among the frequently encountered birds are:
- thin-billed dovecote;
- andean swallow;
- Chilean flamingo;
- common kwakwa, etc.
Not many mammals are found around the lake. The most common are wild guinea pigs, whiskers, alpacas, llamas, Andean skunks, foxes, and wolves.
The llamas that live near Lake Titicaca are domesticated. They are quite large. An adult animal is about 1.3 m tall. They weigh up to 200 kg. The llamas are hardy and tolerate the cold well.
They are a source of meat and wool for the local population. In addition, the lamp is often used to move loads on hilly terrain.
Alpacas are close relatives of llamas, as. descended from the same wild ancestor. These creatures are more stunted. Adults rarely exceed 0.9 m in height. The weight of the animal is 90 kg. Alpacas give a finer and higher quality wool. In addition, their meat is characterized by a better taste. Locals often breed these animals.
Vicuñas are wild relatives of alpacas and llamas. They are adapted to the mountainous terrain, eat scarce vegetation and survive even severe cold.
Unlike their domesticated relatives, vicuñas have small ears, thicker red hair, and sharp teeth that allow them to bite shoots even off shrubs.
The average height of an animal is 150 cm. Their population is declining as. They often fall prey to poachers who harvest the meat and wool of these fauna.
Interesting facts about the lake
There are many interesting facts about Lake Titicaca.
Some of them are:
- The lake is considered the most highly navigable body of water in the world. Ships sail through it throughout the year.
- In 2000, the ruins of a temple dating back to 500-1000 AD, i.e. before the Inca civilization, were discovered at the bottom of Titicaca.
- The most cultivated piece of land is on this lake. Here the crops are grown at an altitude of 4,700 meters above sea level.
- The entire Bolivian fleet of 173 small vessels is moored on Lake Titicaca.
- According to one legend, there is an ancient city at the bottom of the reservoir, where the Incas hid their treasures from the conquistadors.
Tours of Titicaca
Tourism on Titicaca is growing rapidly, so every year there are more and more new hotels, as well as excursion routes. It is now possible to visit attractions in both the Bolivian and Peruvian parts of the lake.
There are no hotels on the islands, where tourists can comfortably accommodate, so the most popular day trips. Guests have the opportunity to visit the attractions of the lake and its surroundings, followed by a return visit. Tours are provided by local guides.
Multi-day tours have also been developed. They allow you in a short period of time to see all the sights of the lake. Visiting most of them involves stopping on the islands and staying in local houses or tent cities.
During the multi-day excursions there is an opportunity to watch impromptu performances and indigenous dances, which take place in the evenings for the entertainment of the tourist.
Ticket prices for tours
The average price for lake tours ranges from $1,200 to $2,500. The cost of excursions ranges from $10 to $500 per person.