Latin America

Lake Titicaca into the Heights

written by | Posted on July 1st, 2009

Few places in Peru offer such easy access to the adventure of cultural discovery as the 3,200-sq.-mile Lake Titicaca region, which straddles the Peru-Bolivia border at the breathtaking height of 12,500 ft.

Here, in Lake Titicaca—the ancestral homeland of the Aymara and Quechua—visitors will enter a world of living legends and dramatic cultural experiences, as well as amazing newfound comfort.

This is a place alive with human pageantry, and because of its full calendar of festivals, Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca, is considered the capital of Peruvian folklore. Consider Puno Week (taking place the first week of November), an instant mix-with-the-people occasion that features a major costumed procession from the shores of the lake to town, celebrating with music and dances the legend of Mano Capac, who rose from the waters to establish the Inca Empire. Other spectacles include the Candlemas on Feb. 2, honoring the Virgen de la Candelaria with colorful processions of priests and pagans, including La Diablada, the dance of the demons. Another festival adventure is the Immaculate Conception held on Dec. 9 in the colonial town of Lampa, complete with authentic folkloric highland dances.

Puno, the major town on Lake Titicaca, is most normally accessed by train—three times weekly aboard a special and rather spectacular train run jointly by Peru Rail and Orient-Express—overland from Cusco, or by hydrofoil from Bolivia. Puno is no beauty, but it has many good hotels in and around the city, and such attractions to visit as the Cathedral with its silver altar; the San Juan Bautista church containing the Virgen de la Candelaria, Puno’s patron saint; and the Dreyer Museum with a good collection of pre-Inca and Inca ceramics, gold, weaving and stone sculptures. Outside of town by the lake, one should not miss Sillustani with the best examples of pre-Inca tomb towers, as well as the Yavari ship, a restored steamship built in 1862 in Birmingham, England, that sailed Titicaca for 100 years and has been converted into a small museum.

It is the islands of Lake Titicaca that offer some of the region’s most adventurous outposts. Easy to reach are the Uros floating islands whose brightly dressed residents welcome visitors with handicrafts and offer opportunities to go out in decorative boats made of totora reeds or even spend a night in rustic lodges. Farther offshore is Taquile, a traditional island inhabited by the Quechua people, as opposed to the majority of the population of Puno who are of Aymara origin. The more adventurous travelers will relish the fact that islanders maintain their ancient traditions against a backdrop of the snowcapped mountain ranges of Cordillera Real in Bolivia. On the higher part of the island are the remains of ancient stone buildings, and one can also view stone tombs. A couple of miles away is the beautiful island of Amantani, the largest on the Peruvian side of the lake.

Because “all-inclusive” here means tours are included, staying at gorgeous Titilaka is a good way to capture many authentic and adventurous experiences in this little-trafficked corner of Peru. Recommend spoke with Michele Shelburne, president of Ladatco Tours, who recently traveled to the Lake Titicaca region and stayed at Titilaka, the new upscale lodge that she says, “…is going to transform not only why the lake is visited, but for how long the stay will be. The lodge provides a variety of half- and full-day options to explore the lake, its islands, its birdlife, the countryside and culture of the Indians. They’ve creatively developed enough options that one can easily fill three days, which means a 4-night stay.”

On the touring agenda, for instance, guests at Titilaka can go rowing through the reeds in their own paddleboats; go birdwatching in the protected wetlands; hike among the farmlands of the local communities; take off by speed boat to Taquile or Amantani islands; go mountain biking to Inkanatavi; and mix hiking and local transport on a full-day visit to the beautiful colonial churches of Juli and Pomata.

And according to Shelburne, Lake Titicaca, Titilaka-style means a spectacular private peninsula-based lodge with a 270-degree panorama from the dining room, lounges, bar, and wrap-around terraces, as well as massage rooms, sauna and heated swimming pool. There are five Dusk Suites (537 sq. ft.) and 13 Dawn Suites (494 sq. ft.), all with exceptional lake views and all the amenities one could want: plasma TV, personal safe, iPod, wireless Internet access, minibar, and bathrooms with heated floors, overflow bathtub and separate shower. Lest we forget: staying 2.36 miles into the heights means the lodge provides portable oxygen bottles.