Lake Titicaca

Bolivia is a country of surprises and superlatives – it is the southern hemisphere’s highest nation with the world’s highest capital city. It has some of Earth’s coldest, hottest and windiest places. It is South America’s poorest country yet rich in natural resources.

Our final experience of this remarkable country was exploring yet another superlative: the world’s largest high altitude lake…with the world’s funniest name.

For fact fans:

  • 3810m above sea level
  • 8560m2 total area
  • 4996m2 on Peru side
  • 3564 on Bolivia side
  • 281 m maximum depth
  • 71km of islands
  • 896,000,000m3 volume of water

After a short minibus ride from La Paz, we had to hop on a ferry to cross a small stretch of water before we could arrive in Copacabana, a town on the shore of Lake Titicaca.

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We climbed on a tiny dinghy while our bus and all the luggage drove onto a larger barge. Luckily this system runs smoothly and we were reunited with our bags after a few minutes waiting on the other side – just enough time to buy some snacks from this little cutie.

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Thanks to Lake Titicaca’s bountiful supply of fish, we ate the best food we had in Bolivia in this area. Dinner in Copacabana was this grilled trout “a la inglesa” – apparently people in South America think we Brits smother everything in a cheese sauce.

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The quinoa fritters we ordered as a side dish were a treat I will definitely try to recreate in the UK.

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The next morning we took the 1h 30min boat trip to Isla del Sol, one of the most important areas for Andean culture. Inca mythology says the sun was born here and many people travel to see the footprints he left behind.

Andean/Amayran cultures believe there are three levels of existence: the lower level, often depicted by a snake, is where Pachamama resides. The upper level, portrayed by a condor, represents spirit life. The middle level, depicted by a puma, represents powerful human life.

Although it didn’t stop us giggling like the puerile idiots we are at any mention of “titicaca”, we learnt how “titi” is Quechua for “puma” and “caca” means rock – Isla del Sol is home to a famous puma shaped rock which gives the lake its name.

Isla del Sol was pretty close to my idea of paradise: gorgeous views, vibrant colours, fresh air and peaceful tranquility.

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We cheekily hijacked a guided tour and overheard a lesson about moonya, a local minty, citrussy herb which helps with altitude sickness and nausea when sniffed or brewed into tea to drink.

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Near to the puma rock or “titicaca” were pre-Inca structures, including a stone table used for sacrifice rituals – I was reminded of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

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We meandered along the path from the north to the south of the island, a lovely three hour walk with plenty of photogenic vistas along the way. But no trees along this route meant no shade from the sun, made fiercer by the 4,000m altitude!

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We realised we hadn’t eaten since early morning so decided to follow some locals to find a good spot for a late lunch.

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Our llama guides did well, leading us to a picture postcard spot where the specialty was, of course, fresh trout.

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Tummies full, we found a lodge to spend the night which had a wide terrace, perfect for watching the sunset along with a bottle of Malbec saved from Mendoza.

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I could easily while away days on end on this island – it is an ideal spot to get lost in some good books or take up painting. Sadly we had a bus booked from Copacabana to Cusco via Puno the next day, so had to get back on the ferry in the morning.

Puno let us see the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca. It is famous for the Uros community: several hundred people who live on floating islands made from layers of reeds, which you can visit by boat.

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While this was a good way to pass the few hours before the next leg of our bus journey, Mark and I felt a little uneasy about the blatantly touristic and voyeuristic setup.

Although some debate that the steady flow of visitors to these areas ensures that this way of life is preserved, to us it seemed forced, false and borderline exploitative. The villagers sang snatches of songs to please their international visitors; “row row row your boat” followed by “sur le pont d’Avignon” and then a Japanese ditty while I cringed inwardly.

It seemed a world away from the peaceful authenticity of Isla del Sol, where visitors mixed quietly and respectfully with the farmers and fishermen.

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