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LAKE TITICACA

The story of the birth of Andean man has been forever associated with Lake Titicaca’s deep blue waters. On its shores arose the Tiahuanaco culture and out of the lake itself came forth the legendary founders of the Tahuantinsuyo, or Incan Empire. Its presence makes life possible on the Altiplano since the water is like a huge heater, storing up warmth during the day and releasing it at night so the average temperature surrounding the lake is 10°C. The totora reed beds are the habitat for more than sixty species of birds, one being the Titicaca grebe. There are four families of fish that swim in it, two of them being the carachi and suche (both endangered because of trout and silverside introductions). Also, eighteen native amphibian species have been catalogued, one in particular the Titicaca water frog. All this biological wealth is protected within the Titicaca National Reserve, formed in 1978 on 36,000 hectares, between Puno Bay and Huancane Bay.

FLOATING UROS ISLANDS

In reality, these floating islands are not exactly islands and are not inhabited by the Uros. They are man-made islands of totora reeds that are anchored to the lake bed, and the islanders are Aimaras. The last of the Uros died in the 1950’s. The current inhabitants, grouped around the community of Uros-Chulluni, have an interesting rural tourism project in which visitors can lodge on the islands and participate in everyday activities. It is a rather unique way of accessing their way of life. There are around forty islands, each with about fifty inhabitants. Their houses are but one room, they cook out in the open, and almost everything is made from totora reeds, which is the most abundant plant on the lake. The Uros make their living from fishing, gathering, and tourism. The experience is quite fascinating and full of color; given their proximity to the city, you really have to go and check them out.

HOMESTAY TOURISM (LLACHON AND ANAPIA)

The circuit that carries you across Capachica Peninsula and the northern lakeshore is unquestionably one for the five senses as it provides you a glimpse into some of the most beautiful countryside in the Andes. Along the way, there are natural observatories (Huerta Huaraya) and Colonial churches (Paucarcolla) and very traditional villages (Huatta and Coata). The end of the road is the small community of Llachon, a village with an interesting community-based tourism project that involves its fishing and farming inhabitants and provides them additional income. Here, you can walk along the lakeshore and admire the incredible natural setting, take part in daily agricultural chores, or sail around the lake on a sailboat or a kayak. Each day ends with a traditional dinner at one of the community member’s homes, which rounds out an unforgettable and truly human experience.

Another homestay choice is found at the opposite end of Lake Titicaca. There, the Yuspique, Patahuata, Suana, Ccaño, and Anapia Islands form the Anapia Archipelago within Lake Wiñaymarka, and upon them travelers will find a different form of tourism, brought to them by the islanders who have launched an ecotourism enterprise for traveling about this wonderful place. Anapia has several homestay options, and each family is responsible for supplying the food, while a partnering travel agency organizes the excursions. We suggest you try sailing the lake on a sailboat, enjoying a lovely snack of fresh picked potatoes, and visiting small Yuspique Island where you can see vicuñas being bred.

MOST VISITED LAKE TITICACA ISLANDS: TAQUILE AND AMANTANI

Taquile Island is a charming place, barely 7 km long, and home to a unique population of Quechua people from the Altiplano region. What really stands out in this farming and fishing community, though, is the people. The islanders strictly live according to their ancient traditions, a vivid expression being their clothing and accessories; for example, women wear a black skirt called llicllas, and men wear embroidered belts called chumpis, upon which you can read their family histories. The men also knit and wear cute wool hats to show they are single. UNESCO has recently inscribed Taquile textile art on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. There are no roads on the island, no bothersome noises, no dogs, and no electricity, either. What you get in return is very hospitable attention - services are provided in the islanders’ homes - and the chance to live in this unbelievable island setting surrounded by the immensity of the lake.

Amantani Lake is a small island north of Taquile Island, another perfect getaway spot and even more peaceful than its neighbor. There are also options for homestay here, with local homes having been outfitted to receive guests. The families guide them and share food and daily activities with them. The island sits across from Capachica Peninsula, and there are 4000 inhabitants divided into eight agricultural communities. It possesses two natural observatories, interesting trekking circuits, and Tiahuanaco archeological sites (Pacha Tayta and Pacha Mama).

LAMPA

It is proudly said by the members of this beautiful Andean district that “those who come to Lampa fall victim to its charm” and for good reason. It is known as the “pink city” for the color of clay used in its buildings (locally called chocorosi) and is one of the loveliest towns in all of Peru’s southern Andes. Among this Colonial city’s many landmarks is the spectacular Santiago Apostol Church, built entirely of stone by the Jesuits from 1675 - 1685. The rays of the newly risen Andean sun striking its glass tiles will be forever engraven in your memory. Yet, the church also holds a distinctive surprise: in one of its side chapels is the famous Michelangelo sculpture La Pieta! Actually, it is one of only two replicas in the entire world commissioned especially for the church in Lampa by the influential Enrique Torres Belon. His tomb is also in the church, decorated by 1000 skulls and thirty-seven skeletons (a macabre yet spectacular sight).

Until 1901, the Province of Lampa was Peru’s largest. Estimates of when the city started to consolidate itself date back to 1540 as a response to the first Spanish arrivals to the region, attracted by the mines found on the western slopes of the mountains. Interestingly, though, the city’s main monuments and mansions are decorated with beautiful designs fashioned from small, round, black and white stones. The curious thing is that the white stones were brought from the distant Soto Island, whereas the black ones from Amantani Island.

TINAJANI STONE FOREST

A scene straight out of a science fiction movie. The stone forest is on 100 hectares and features dozens of gigantic rock formations carved by the erosive action of wind and rain on the soft reddish stones. Some of them look like giant chess pieces awaiting their next moves, while others animals, limbless bodies, a train puffing smoke, or a spinning top. Amidst the stones lives an interesting assortment of wildlife: bushes with multicolored flowers and natural springs where alpacas and vicuñas that wander freely on the puna come to drink. The moss and families of greenish-yellow lichens point to the area’s purity. There are also Colla archeological remains from the 9th century A.D. nearby as well as a puya Raimondi forest, a relative of the pineapple which boasts the largest flower in the world (growing over 80 m in height!).

SUASI ISLAND

This island, lost in the middle of the lake, belongs to the sociologist Martha Giraldo, a nature and cultural heritage advocate, who has turned this place into one of the most peculiar and lovely in the Altiplano. Since 2005, part of the forty-three hectares of the island has been under the management of the Casa Andina hotel chain, which built a charming hotel, whose comfort is equaled only by the beauty of the countryside. Suasi Island is an unpolluted world (noise pollution included). Everything in the hotel is environmentally friendly; it generates electricity for the showers, kitchens, and lighting through solar panels. And, the view of the lake on this small island is truly impressive. We strongly recommend it.

SILLUSTANI

This archeological complex on the shores of Lake Umayo is comprised of 90 chullpas or “ayawasis” (houses of the dead): funeral towers made of large, polished blocks of volcanic rock extracted from two nearby quarries (Samari Pampa and Samari Pata). The entire complex is spread out upon 150 hectares, and the individual towers stand about 12 m tall with a downward taper (upper diameter is greater than the lower). Most of them are on the top part of a low hill that overlooks the lake, granting a more dramatic feel to them. On account of their preferential spot, it is possible that the people buried nobles, rulers, or priests here and later paid them homage.

LA CANDELARIA

Every year, in the midst of the splendor of Lake Titicaca, the people celebrate the most important festival on the Andean calendar: La Candelaria. The Virgin is affectionately referred to here as the Mama Candela. The celebrations are an impressive colorful affair with music and dancing and expressions of faith that only the Altiplano can offer up. It lasts three days and during that time you can see the more than 300 dances that officially exist in Puno. Experts say this is the best way of understanding the Andean world view. In the afternoon, the image of Mary is brought out into the streets in procession, and the festival reaches its climax. The “alfereces” or sponsors, chosen the year before to preside over the celebrations, give out food and drink, and in the streets, the people dance, and the music is all that really matters.

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