A great and interesting place to visit is Lake Titicaca on the border of Peru and Bolivia. It is claimed by many to be the highest navigable lake in the world at approximately 12630 ft. The Inca believed that their first ruler and his sister emerged from a cave on an island in the lake, and that at creation the sun itself rose from the waters of the lake.
From the Peruvian side the lake is best visited by making a base in the city of Puno. Puno is a fairly large city with many tourist facilities and you can book tours from here as well as just acclimatize to the elevation. Puno itself is not particularly scenic, but its lakeside setting is very pretty.
Two nice places to stay are Hotel Pukara and Joya del Titicaca. Both have heated rooms which is a concern nearly all year at this elevation. On Calle Lima there are many restaurants to choose from a couple to try are La Casona, Keros, and Restaurante Don Piero. Puno is a great place to try fish dishes as the fish is fresh from Lake Titicaca. Most of the restaurants have Andean music. The musicians will do a set, pass the hat and then move on. And yes, the do know ‘El Condor Pasa’, which per one musician is their most requested song.
To really experience Lake Titicaca you need to get outside and visit some of the various sites on the lake. One of great interest is La Isla del Sol, or the Island of the Sun. The Inca believe that this is the birthplace of the founder of their empire, Manco Capac and the sun itself. Nearby is the Isla de la Luna or the Island of the Moon. Both islands have hiking trails and many Inca ruins.
One fascinating place to Visit is Isla Taquile. Isla Taquile is an island with a population of about 2000 people. Its inhabitants live a very traditional life. Interestingly enough although the area around Lake Titicaca is Aymara speaking, the Taquiles speak Quechua. The Inca moved entire populations as a method of control. The Taquiles are a remnant of these movements. The ancestors of the Aymara people, the Collas were warlike enemies of the Inca until conquered and absorbed into the Inca empire.
The residents of Taquile for the most part wear their traditional clothing. From the clothing it is possible to tell the social status of the wearer. Women weave the distinctive waist sashes the men wear. Single men wear red and white caps, while the married wear red. The Inca and many native American groups in the Inca empire were known for their fine textiles. The Taquiles continue this tradition and their work is available for purchase in the village cooperative.
The islanders live a very traditional life, farming their island for produce, fishing and raising some stock animals. The money they earn from their cooperative goes to the things they need from the outside world. The islanders have actually worked together to handle tourism and they own many of the boats which bring visitors to their island. There are small cafés where basic food such as fish, potatoes, rice, etc. are available. Some islanders also rent rooms in their homes, be forewarned that the accommodations are very basic! Taquile has a surreal beauty with it’s terraced fields, red dirt and the blue water surrounding it.
Another very interesting tour is visiting the floating villages of the Uros. The Uros are a small tribe who were constantly conscripted for forced labor by the Collas, Inca, and Spanish. As a result they began making their villages on floating islands of reeds in lake Titicaca. To make an island they cut reeds and pile them about 6 feet thick in the water. The reeds form a spongy bit of ground on which the Uros live and work. Entire islands can be moved. The Uros originally spoke their own language, but after many years of influence and intermarriage with the Aymara are now all Aymara speaking.
The Uros also have embraced tourism as a way to get some basic material goods. Most work in the tourist trade or as fisherman. The people are very friendly and are happy to speak with you about their lives and culture. A great souvenir of their islands is a small replica of their canoe like reed boats. They don’t mind being photographed, but do ask permission first. On some of the larger islands there are even schools and post offices. The Uros are a fascinating picture of a people determined to remain independent.
Lake Titicaca is only a few hours by bus from Cusco and is a great addition to a trip to Machu Picchu. Plan to spend several days as there is quite a bit to do here.