For those unfamiliar with Lake Titicaca, first of all, it’s not made up, that’s really the name of the lake. The lake is located in the Andes Mountains, on the border of Peru and Bolivia, with a portion of the lake residing in each country. It rests at 12,000 feet above sea level and is one of the highest lakes in the world. The origin of the name Titicaca is unknown, but some of the indigenous people say it is roughly translated to mean “rock puma” or “hunting puma” as the lake’s shape somewhat resembles a puma hunting a rabbit.
At the journey’s end, we arrive at Puno, a bustling beach-front city on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca. Home to around 100,000 people, Puno is one of the most popular spots for tourists to visit along the Lake.
Our first day on the lake we took a trip out to the Uros Islands (las islas artificiales) which have been hand-built from reeds, mud, and peat. Wait… hand-built islands? Yep! And they’re strong enough to hold homes and entire families on each one. The Uru people who live on the islands are a pre-Incan tribe that was forced to move on to the lake after the Incans came through in a bit of a “let’s destroy everything” mindset.
After fleeing their villages, the Uru people originally lived on their boats (being fishermen by trade), and began building simple houses on top of their vessels. Eventually, that processed evolved into full-on island creation, weaving hundreds of thousands of reeds together to build stable islands, which they anchor to the lake floor.
We spent 2 or 3 hours on one of the islands, meeting the people who lived there, learning about their history, and exploring the island. It was, to say the least, and incredible experience.
The next day we took a bus to Copa Cabana on the Bolivian side of the lake (Turns out it’s not the same Copa Cabana as the song, I was sorely disappointed when Barry Manilow never showed up).
The border crossing between Peru and Bolivia turned out to be one the least sketchiest in recent memory, but if you ever go, make sure you have fresh, crisp dolla billz for the visa, because if you've got anything that’s even slightly wrinkled they will laugh at you and throw it in your face. Or hand it back to you politely. It depends on who is working the desk.
We didn’t have much time to spend in Copa Cabana, but it was one of my favorite stops along the journey. It’s a much smaller, quieter town than Puno, and if you stray a block or two from the main tourist street, you can see what local life is all about. We spent our day here hiking up the nearby mountain, which offered spectacular views of the city.
The next day, we packed our bags and set off for the last series of stops on our journey… La Paz, Uyuni, and the Salt Flats of Bolivia!