Its name has a comical tone when pronounced but nothing about Lake Titicaca is amusing to the people living in one of its six unique islands. In fact, to the ancient cultures of Peru and Bolivia, the lake and its islands are sacred places that deserve the utmost respect. Isla del Sol on the Bolivian side is believed to be the birthplace of Inti, . The islands’ inhabitants also insist on preserving the traditions of ancient culture to which we, as tourists, are extremely grateful. Quechua and Aymara remain widely spoken and the community dynamics on the islands remain just as it was 500 years ago.
Visiting the Lake Titicaca Islands
There are several ways to explore Lake Titicaca islands. The majority of visitors come from Puno, located on the Peruvian side, and by far the largest city by the lake. Tour operators usually arrange a two-island excursion for day trips and all three of the major islands on the Peruvian side for overnight tours. On the Bolivian side, the main port is located in the town of Copacabana and the most accessible island is Isla del Sol. Isla de la Luna is also a popular stop and is often included on the Isla del Sol itinerary. Boat rates are cheap, starting at $6 for a round trip ticket.
Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world with an elevation of 3,800 meters above sea level. Altitude sickness is a common problem among tourists. The oxygen is thinner at this elevation and the amount of physical activity involved when visiting the islands can be taxing to some people. Ensure that you are hydrated to alleviate the effects of the altitude.
Lake Titicaca Islands: Peruvian
The closest and perhaps the most intriguing to tourists is the floating islands of Uros. Its inhabitants are descendants of the Uro tribe. These Lake Titicaca islands are made up of blocks of reed plants, or tortura in local language, dried up and weaved intricately to create everything from the houses they live in to the boats they use for transportation. Tourists usually get to watch a demonstration of how the islands are made and get a glimpse of the normal day-to-day activities of the families living there. One of the islands has a restaurant, a post office, and a few accommodation options should you decide to stay overnight.
Taquile is another one of the popular Lake Titicaca islands for tourists to visit. The main draws to the island include a couple of ancient temples and its UNESCO recognized textile art. Taquilenos are very proud of their heritage and are almost completely self-sufficient. Tourism is highly controlled by the elders of the island to preserve the community culture inherited from ancient Incan civilization. Guests who come to visit will enjoy some of the most beautiful views of Lake Titicaca and will likely be treated to a cultural presentation highlighting the traditions and customs of the Taquileno people. Overnight accommodations through family homestays are available but can only be reserved through travel agents in advance.
The residential island of Amantani is one of the bigger islands on the Peruvian side of the lake. Popular for the ancient temples atop two opposing hilltops, Amantani is also where the majority of tourists have overnight homestays. This Lake Titicaca island has ten communities that rotate to welcome visitors to their home. In addition to homestays, visitors also treated to a cultural show, giving them the opportunity to dress in traditional costumes, dance to local music, and mingle with their host families.
Lake Titicaca Islands: Bolivian
Isla del Sol
Perhaps the most sacred of the Lake Titicaca islands is Isla del Sol on the Bolivian side of the lake. Scarcely populated in comparison to its Peruvian counterparts, Isla del Sol is believed to be the birthplace of the Inca sun god, Inti and where the Inca dynasty was born. There are several ruins visitors can hike to but most visitors come here specifically for the gorgeous lake and mountain views and to partake in the same meditative isolation experienced by the ancient people several centuries ago. Overnight excursions to the island can be arranged from the town of Copacabana.
Isla de la Luna
This island is considerably smaller than its sister but it has one of the best-preserved archeological ruins in all of Lake Titicaca. Inaq Uyu, named after virgins of the sun, is made up of several terraces and a compound that housed a temple to the moon. A trip here is usually included in a daytime itinerary to Isla del Sol, however, if you choose to explore this island independently, you can charter a boat from the town of Yumani on Isla del Sol.
When visiting any of these Lake Titicaca islands, keep in mind that all of these islands are places of residence and that the majority of them are of religious significance to the people living there. Therefore, certain etiquette must be observed. Be respectful when exploring pathways and when taking photos of people and sights.
if you’re looking for accommodations around the Lake Titicaca islands, there are several on either the Peruvian or the Bolivian side.