Lake Titicaca, the highest commercially navigable lake in the world bordering between Peru and Bolivia has its enchantment all its own. Amy Huang gives us some tips of where to go and what to do when visiting this incredible lake so high above sea level.
For a destination, Lake Titicaca is a geographical champion in this region. At 3811 meters above sea level, it is the highest commercially navigable lake in the world and it is the largest lake in South America. It borders Peru and Bolivia and is home to many indigenous communities of various cultures and traditions. No trip to the Andes region, whether you are on the Bolivian side or the Peruvian side, should be completed without a visit to Lake Titicaca.
Why we love it: Nothing is really ‘impressive’ on Lake Titicaca, but that’s the point. There are no luxurious hotels to rest in; no magnificent architecture to admire; no fancy restaurants and bars and definitely none of that fantastic boutique shopping. What Lake Titicaca has however cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world, and that is an environment where stunningly beautiful surroundings are mixed with traditional cultures, where life is slow, rustic and down to earth.
What to do: This is the time to embrace nature and appreciate this planet we live on. Depending on how you access Lake Titicaca, whether it’s through the Bolivian or the Peruvian side, you are able to access different communities that inhabit the islands of Titicaca. Each of its islands has a distinct culture and excellent walking tracks with scenic outlooks of the lake and its horizons.
Make sure you spend some time in one of port towns. Puno in Peru or Copacabana in Bolivia (not to be confused with its namesake in Brazil) are perfect bases to explore the lake’s surroundings, and have excellent markets for you to pick up supplies and donations to bring along on your trips to visit families in the communities.
Who to go with: Lake Titicaca is a fantastic destination to go with anyone. It may be difficult to travel solo in the region if you do not speak a bit of Spanish but any tour operator or travel agent on the mainland can help you arrange a privately guided trip. There are families that have brought their children to visit the families on Lake Titicaca to allow them to learn what life is like outside the comfortable western world, and it is also a perfect soul searching journey for a group of girlfriends to befriend local women and learn how they deal with many of life’s challenges.
How long to go for: Most people spend one night with a family on an island on the lake, then spend on average three to five days on the connecting port in a town along the shores of the lake.
How to get around: Boats can be hired from the harbors on any bordering town, and once on the islands, the only option is to walk. These islands are basic and do not have infrastructure for vehicles of any kind.
5 must dos:
1. Arrange an overnight stay with a family on Amantani or Taquile; enjoy basic home-cooked meals, join in a volleyball game at the local sporting ground and experience life as it is on Lake Titicaca.
2. Be amazed and learn how the locals maintain their reed islands and housing on the famous island of Uros.
3. Climb up to the summit of Amantani and enjoy the 360 degree view of the lake region. If you are spending the night, make sure you do this around sunrise and sunset for a breathtaking experience.
4. Shop in a fair trade cooperative on a larger island community for scarves, tablecloths, clothing, reed and wood products, bags and shoes. The textile arts on Taquile Island are especially amazing.
5. Sit and reflect on life. There is a sense of spirituality on Lake Titicaca that calms you when you are in the midst of it.
What’s it like to be a woman there: Women in the communities of Lake Titicaca do not have the same opportunities as those on the mainland from the same country. Many are left working on the land and cooking for their children while the men of the households head to the mainland for work. They rely on making crafts during their spare time and selling them to the occasional tourists that come their way.
Points of concern for women: Poverty and lack of education and opportunity are major concerns for women here on Lake Titicaca. Due to the remoteness of their communities and most not being able to afford a boat trip to go to the mainland for work, women are often isolated on the islands and only have other women around them for support. Vision and respiratory conditions are the main health concerns from cooking in kitchens without sufficient ventilation, and the hard work means most of them look at least ten years older than they really are.
What to wear: Climate on Lake Titicaca can be extreme. Days can be extremely hot and nights get icy cold. Pack practical clothing along with a good thick jacket. Don’t bother with the nice clothing as there will be no opportunity to wear it. Wear things that you are not afraid to get dirty in or even to lose. Make sure to wear comfortable walking shoes and avoid revealing clothing in respect of the local culture.
When to go: The Lake is fantastic to visit year round. Most of the festivals are celebrated on mainland towns; however it is possible that you may happen to come across a local island festival from time to time around the Christian religious calendar. Check locally to see if you might be able to witness the colorful celebrations.
Prices: A two day home stay program can be booked locally for around US$60 per person. A simple meal costs around US$3 per person and a cup of instant coffee about US$2. There are expensive and fancier options available on mainland towns such as Puno and Copacabana.
Have you been to Lake Titicaca? Were you also able to spend time with the local communities and women? Do you have a story to share with us about your stay there? Comment below and tell us of your experiences!