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Top 20 Lake Titicaca Facts You Should Know

  |   Peru

You’ll quickly recognize Lake Titicaca from the mesmerizing photos: deep blue sky mimics the rich blue color of the waters below, fringed by yellow grass reeds that are used to construct the traditional boats and homes floating upon it. Stretching through the Andes Mountains of both Bolivia and Peru, it is the highest navigable lake in the world and the largest lake in South America by volume of water , making it an iconic destination unlike anywhere else.

The immense body of water creates a warmer and more humid microclimate that amazingly makes the cultivation of potatoes and quinoa possible at this altitude, sustaining the population of the surrounding area, approximately 228,000. Locals also keep herds of alpacas, llamas, sheep, and cows.

A visit to this lake, claimed the “birthplace of the Incas” is sure to include stunning nature, glimpses of how local indigenous peoples live, and visits to the Inca ruins that continue to tell an enthralling story unique to the region.

Lake Titicaca (ph.  Wanderlust by Laura Grier )

Lake Titicaca (ph. Wanderlust by Laura Grier)

10 Key Facts About Lake Titicaca

  • Surface Area – 3,230 square miles (8,370 square km). For comparison, Lake Ontario has a surface area of 7,340 square miles.

  • Length – As you can see from this map of Lake Titicaca, the lake stretches from the northwest to the southeast for a distance of about 120 miles (190 km).

  • Width – At its widest point, the lake measures about 50 miles (80 km).

  • Average Depth – 107 meters

  • Maximum Depth – 920 feet (280 meters). The deepest part of the lake is in the northeast corner; some sources put this maximum depth closer to 1000 feet (305 meters).

  • Transport – Numerous small passenger and fishing boats. The largest boat is the Manco Capac car float, owned by PeruRail. 

Reed boat on Lake Titicaca (ph. Thomas Quine)

Reed boat on Lake Titicaca (ph. Thomas Quine)

  • Major Islands – Amantani, Taquile (Peru), Isla del Sol, Isla de la Luna, Suriki (Bolivia). Also on the Peruvian side are the famous artificial floating islands of the Uros people, which are made of totora reeds.

  • Economy – Fishing and tourism are both hugely important to the local economy.

  • Weather – Lake Titicaca and the surrounding highland plateau experience cool to cold temperatures for most of the year. The wind coming off the lake can make things feel a lot colder. Mean average temperatures are around 11.5°C, with average highs of 18.5°C and average lows of 1°C.

  • Protected Status – Lake Titicaca is protected by Peruvian law (national reserve status). It was also designated as a Ramsar Site in 1998. Lake Titicaca is currently one of seven Peruvian sites waiting on UNESCO’s Tentative List; if approved, it will become one of the official UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Peru.

Lake Titicaca from Isla del Sol (ph. Anthony Lacoste)

Lake Titicaca from Isla del Sol (ph. Anthony Lacoste)

Top 10 Interesting Facts About Lake Titicaca

Wondering what makes the nature, history, people and culture of Lake Titicaca so unique and why you should visit? Here are 10 interesting facts that will convince you to add it to your travel list:

  • The Name – Local communities believe that the shape of the lake depicts that of a puma hunting the rabbit. Thus the name, Titicaca, comes from the word “Titi Khar’ka” meaning Rock of the Puma in Aymara (a local indigenous language).

  • Inca Mythology – Lake Titicaca is called “The Birthplace of the Incas”, and “The Birthplace of the Sun”. Incan mythology says that the first Inca king, Manco Capac, was born at Lake Titicaca. The Gods later created a wife for him and they began a tribe that later blossomed into the Inca Empire, making Lake Titicaca "The Birthplace of the Incas." An ancient Incan myth also tells the story of the God Viracocha coming out of the lake and creating the sun, the stars, and the first people.

  • World Records – The highest navigable body of water in the world, Lake Titicaca sits 3,800 meters above sea level. At 12,500 feet above sea level in the Andes Mountains of South America, it sits astride the border between Peru to the west and Bolivia to the east. This is higher than Cusco (11,152 feet) but lower than the highest point on the Inca Trail (13,780 feet).

  • Island Hopping – Over forty islands are sprinkled throughout Lake Titicaca, hosting a mix of rolling hills, various populations and ancient ruins begging to be explored. A majority of them are inhabited, the largest of which is the Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) on the Bolivian side. On this one island alone you will find over 180 ancient Incan ruins.

  • Archaeology – In addition to Inca ruins found on the islands and shore of Lake Titicaca, a temple structure was recently found at the bottom of the lake. In the area surrounding the great body of water there are more than 180 ruins of ancient monuments that belonged to the civilizations that once lived in the region. Not far from the lake is Tiwanaku, the "Stonehenge of the Americas", a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

  • Incredible Depths – The deepest part of Lake Titicaca is 1,000 feet deep, and the highest point on the lake is on Isla del Sol at 13,400 feet above sea level. It is the largest of all the islands (5.5 x 3.75 miles) and used to be regarded as the home of the supreme Inca sun god Inti. The town of Challapampa on the north end of the Island of the Sun is home to the intriguing Chinkana labyrinth, possibly a training center for Inca priests. The sacred rock near the labyrinth is carved in the shape of a puma. It was used for rituals and sacrifices. Nearby is the Isla de la Luna, home to the ruins of a convent for virgin priestesses. Both islands are on the Bolivian side of the lake.

  • Unique Ecology – The ecology of Lake Titicaca may not get as much attention as that of the neighboring Amazon rainforest but certainly deserves recognition. More than 530 aquatic species can be found in Lake Titicaca, as well as many species of water birds. Threatened species than can be found here include the enormous Titicaca water frog and the Titicaca grebe. Approximately 90% of the fish found in the basin are endemic species not found anywhere else.

  • Number of Tributaries – More than 25 rivers and many glaciers empty into Lake Titicaca, but only one drains from it. This river is the Desaguadero, and it only drains 5% of incoming water (the other 95% is lost through evaporation).

  • Ancient Civilizations – Before the Inca civilization, three other peoples resided at Lake Titicaca and left their marks on the culture: the Pukara, Tiwanaku, and Collas.

  • Indigenous Populations – The Uru people, descendants of a much more ancient culture, continue to live on Lake Titicaca on floating islands. These islands, along with their homes and boats, are made entirely of reeds that grow along the shore of the water.


Lake Titicaca culture

Visit One Of The Most Famous And Wondrous Lakes In The World

Lake Titicaca is a stunning and inspiring place, a windswept, high altitude body of water surrounded by the impressive landscapes of the Peruvian Altiplano (Andean Plateau). Many visitors feel a spiritual connection here, or a palpable sense of the wonder of nature, a feeling that transcends their physical surroundings.

Serene, sacred, and steeped in rich cultures past and present, the beautiful Lake Titicaca is easily one of South America’s most alluring destinations. If you're impressed with these Top 10 Lake Titicaca Facts and would like to start planning your Lake Titicaca and Machu Picchu tour, or have any further questions, contact us today.

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