Lake Titicaca lies at the northern edge of the Altiplano, straddling the Bolivia-Peru border. Its intensely blue water spreads over an area of some 58,000 sq km – an area larger than Switzerland – and is particularly striking viewed through the crystal sharp light of the Altiplano. The lake’s mysterious, gemlike waters were sacred to many cultures. Lake Titicaca was the cradle of Andean civilisation and remains enduringly known as the birthplace of the Inca empire.
The lake’s original name was Khota Mama (“Mother Lake”), and was only renamed Titicaca after the Spanish conquest. When viewed from the north, the lake’s outline resembles the shapes of a puma, fish and man, forms also found in Peru’s mystifying Nazca lines.
The lake has two sections: small and large. The smaller southern section is called Wiñay Marka (“Eternal City”), and is comparatively shallow. This has led to the legend of a city lying beneath the lake, which was strengthened in 2000 when the remains of a settlement and ancient temple were discovered beneath the lake’s surface.
Lake Titicaca has 41 islands, many of which are populated. Small groups of Uru people still live on artificial floating “islands” made from matted totora reeds, and ply the lake’s waters in traditional reed boats made of lashed-together bundles of totora.