Big Lake with a Funny Name

After hiking out of Colca Canyon, we boarded a bus to climb even higher onto the Andean Plateau. We passed high-altitude herds of domestic alpaca and their wild vicuña cousins grazing on the great pampa plain. Set on this vast altiplano, we finally arrived at mythical Lake Titicaca, the big lake with a funny name.

Girl and her baby alpaca with father looking on

Lake Titicaca in the aboriginal Quechua language means “grey puma” and is pronounced “Titi HAHA”. Maybe, even they think the name is comical? If that isn’t silly enough, Lake Titicaca’s only outlet flows through western Bolivia and discharges into murky Lake Poopó!

Puno, the largest city on Lake Titicaca

Once we stopped giggling, we found Lake Titicaca to be one of the most sacred places in pre-Hispanic Andean culture. In legend, the Inca believed that the lake was the birthplace of the sun and the origin of their civilization. Here, the sun god Inti sent his son and daughter, who emerged from the lake to establish an empire in his honor.

Funeral Tower of Sillustani

The Inca also believed that when they died, their souls would return to the shores of Lake Titicaca. To sense the mystical energy of the lake, we made a spiritual journey to the Sillustani funeral towers. In the light of the late afternoon sun, we admired these towers of rock entombing worthy ancients, whose souls only needed to travel mere footsteps to reach the afterlife.   

Tour Boats on Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca is the largest freshwater lake in South America by surface area and volume. Straddling Perú and Bolivia, at an elevation of 12,507 feet (3,812 m), it is also the highest lake in the world navigable by commercial craft. We boarded one such vessel (e.g., tour boat) to visit two of the lake’s most remarkable islands.

Uros Floating Islanders transporting tortola reeds

Just three miles offshore, the Uros Floating Islands, made entirely of cut tortora reeds, are anchored to the lake bottom and buoy like houseboats. Stepping off onto one of these small manmade islands felt like plodding around on a big spongy waterbed.

Uros Floating Islands (photo credit:

On the floating island, an extended family of raft dwellers greeted us, demonstrated their lifestyle, and pushed overpriced souvenirs. Evidently, these floating families depend on both tortola reeds and tourist dollars! The island itself and most everything we saw was made of golden-colored plant stalks, including their homes, furniture, and flat-bottomed barges used to give sightseers amusing boat rides.

The Island of Taquile on Lake Titicaca

Disembarking the floating islands, we continued twenty miles toward the middle of the lake, and the hard rock island of Taquile. This hilly 1,400-acre natural island, covered in ancient agricultural terraces, supports a collective society of 2,200 inhabitants. Also beholden to tourists, these intriguing people performed a ritual dance and showed off their fine hand-sewn textiles.

Traditional dance performed by Taquile Islanders

Recognized by UNESCO, the woven handicrafts of Taquile Island are among the highest quality in Perú. Strangely, it is the men who are taught to knit at an early age, and use colonial era pedal looms to weave intricate wide belts worn traditionally by the islanders.

Trout lunch on Taquile Island

Before saying goodbye, the gentle denizens of Taquile Island served us lunch of freshly-caught trout and locally-grown vegetables. Fully satisfied, we sailed back across the clear waters of mythical and cultural Lake Titicaca, the big lake with a funny name.

Underdressed on Taquile Island

Feature Photo: Wearing our alpaca souvenir sweaters on Uros Floating Island

14 thoughts on “Big Lake with a Funny Name

  1. Those names are an immature blogger’s dream, Joe. I’ve got to get myself down there. 🙂 I never even considered that trout lives in such warm water environs (such is my ignorance!), but that meal looks absolutely delicious. Looks like a lot of fun, and you’ll always have those sweaters as a wonderful souvenir. Great post. – Marty

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Marty! Just the thought of visiting Lake Titicaca incited silly grade-school memories. Besides its funny name, it is a large and beautiful lake, with interesting inhabited islands. Even though it is located in the Tropics, it is quite cold given the extreme altitude. Because the mornings were below freezing, we really needed those alpaca sweaters! These conditions also support growing of potatoes, which originated in the Lake Titicaca region, and paired nicely with the fresh trout lunch.

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  2. Joe, you guys are having a fantastic adventure. Lake Titicaca is a fascinating place, although very touristic visiting the UROS people and learning about their way of life is so interesting. I remember the strange feel of stepping into their island made of reeds.
    I struggled with the altitude in this region, but looks like you guys are doing very well indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is nice to compare our experiences and opinions, Gilda. The Uros Floating Islands are a must-see when visiting Lake Titicaca. We were excited to have a look at them and prepared for the hard-sell tourism. I too was surprised at the mushy feel while walking around and found the island construction and way of life very interesting. I was much more excited to visit Taquile Island, and was not disappointed. It had a much more relaxed and natural feel, and the people were quite reserved and unassertive. The altitude is a definite strain. It tends to give me occasional headaches at the back of my head. Thankfully, we are traveling slowly and have had time to acclimatize gradually. Here in Perú, there is no place to go, but up!


    • Lake Titicaca was an excellent addition to our itinerary, Phil & Michaela. In drawing up our travel plan, we considered crossing the border into Bolivia, but decided to spend the extra days visiting Inca ruins around Cusco. Due to your own extensive experiences in these situations, your insights into tourism’s effect on indigenous and tribal peoples are right on target. It is so educational to visit these places and meet these people, but uncomfortable when they eventually make their sales pitch. Hopefully, these unique and colorful cultures can sustain the tourist onslaught and the inevitable technological vices of the outside world.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Janis! On the surface, the lake does look clear and beautiful, but water pollution is a huge problem. Communities surrounding the lake have not adequately controlled their residential and industrial waste, and the aquatic life is strained and suffering. It doesn’t help that the dissolved oxygen in the water is much lower due to the high altitude. I’m sure that the freshly-caught trout lunch wasn’t as pristine as it appeared! Like you, we are not big on souvenir shopping. Who needs more useless keepsakes? We knew we would use the sweaters on the trip, so we figured they would be practical and fun to bring home. We also purchased a beautiful hand sewn belt on Taquile Island. It won’t keep my pants from falling down, but it is small, lightweight, and should be a good reminder of our visit to Lake Titicaca.

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    • The floating islands certainly were unique, Ann. On another topic, can you please read this message to Finn? Hey Finn! You would love it here in Perú. Dogs like you are allowed to roam freely in this country. Your parents just let you out the door in the morning and you can do whatever you want. A lot of you guys like to head over to the outdoor market and see what’s cooking for breakfast. Others will drop into the indoor market and lie down in the meat section, hoping that the butcher is in a good mood. The less discernible will just rip open trash bags left outside for the garbage man. If its cold outside, your parents will put your sweater on before you go out for the day; but, most of you guys just like to lounge around in the sun after some tasty “street food”. Love ya! Joe

      Liked by 1 person

      • I will absolutely pass it on to him, although it will make him very jealous…and might just give him ideas! Seriously, though, it sounds as if dogs in Peru live a very nice life. I do wish that the dogs here could have more freedom like that.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. As I sit here I’m wearing my Peruvian Alpaca/Sheep’s wool sweater (comfy, aren’t they?), having my memory bounced back to our visit to Puno and Lake Titicaca. One thing that really struck me way up there at 12,000 plus feet was the quality of the light – very, clear, sharp edged, and harsh at midday. As for my impressions of the lake and the Uro islanders, it’s probably best to refer you to my post on it – my last from Peru and one of the most popular.

    I’m a bit wistful about it, but thanks for the vicarious trip.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for steering me to your Uros post, Dave. I didn’t realize you had blogged about your Perú adventures back in 2016. Your thorough treatment of the subject matter would have been helpful in my pre-trip planning. I regret that I failed to appreciate the Uros island lifestyle, as you did. I carelessly found the place to be interesting, but gimmicky and contrived. The quality of the light is remarkable on Lake Titicaca, especially now with the oblique sun angle around the winter solstice. Happy to hear you are still enjoying your alpaca sweater. A good warm layer like that never goes out of style!

      Liked by 1 person

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