Lying at the northern edge of the Altiplano, or highlands, and straddling the Bolivia-Peru border, Lake Titicacaâ€™s intense blue waters are sacred to many cultures. The lake was the cradle of Andean civilization and remains known as the mystical birthplace of the Inca Empire. When viewed through the crystal clear light of the Altiplano, beneath the snow-crowned peaks of the Cordillera Real, itâ€™s easy to understand how the lakeâ€™s crystalline waters became associated with mystical events.
The lakeâ€™s original name was Khota Mamma (â€śMother Lakeâ€ť), and was only renamed Titicaca after the Spanish conquest. The lake has two sections. The smaller southern section, known as WiĂ±ay Marka (â€śEternal Cityâ€ť), is comparatively shallow, which led to the legend of a city lying beneath the lake. The discovery of remains of a settlement and an ancient temple on the lake bed in 2000 bolstered this theory. Whether or not the legend is true, one need not look far to find a bizarre city resting peacefully on the surface of the lake.
Originally constructed by the Uros in an attempt to escape the brutality of Spanish forced labor, the â€śfloating islandsâ€ť known as Islas Uros are composed of matted tortora reeds and are home to a truly unique local culture. Carrying on the traditions of their ancestors, the Uros fish, hunt birds and ply the lakeâ€™s waters in traditional reed boats made of lashed-together bundles of totora.
In the south of Lake Titicaca are two islands of unique importance to Andean history: the Island of the Sun and the Island of the Moon. The Incas revered these islands and built religious shrines and facilities on both, converting them into a great pilgrimage destination and shrine complex.
The beautiful and tranquil Island of the Sun is prominent in Andean mythology and littered with Inca ruins. Few places can match the island for capturing the overwhelming solitude that so characterises Lake Titicaca, surrounded by glorious vistas rimmed by snow-capped peaks.
The island is a delicate patchwork of steep fields and terraces of different hues of green, yellow and brown, criss-crossed by stone terraces and zigzagging walls tumbling down to sand beaches and the lakeâ€™s intense blueness. Inca emperors would visit the island each year and stay at the palace of Pilko Kaina in the south, close to the islandâ€™s largest community of Yumani.
Today, most visitors to the island still climb the Inca Steps to Yumani, beside which spring water cascades down the Inca Fountain. Yumani perches on the island ridge and enjoys superb views across the Island of the Moon to the Cordillera Real beyond.
The ruins of the Chincana labyrinth (thought to be an Inca monastery) hug the islandâ€™s northern tip. The nearby Sacred Rock marked the conclusion of the most important Inca pilgrimage. According to the creation legend, the first Incas, Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo, rose from the lake near here to begin their ministry to bring civilisation to the world.
Even knowing nothing about its history and mythology, visiting the Island of the Sun is an intensely serene experience. With the Inca legends added in, the experience verges on the spiritual.