viernes, 2 de marzo de 2018

Sailing on Lake Titicaca

We arrived to one of the most mystical places in Peru and even in the world, Lake Titicaca, whose dark waters -according to the Andean worldview- emerged the sun and the parents of the first Incas: Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo.

Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world (3812 meters above sea level) and with a surface area of 8,562 km² - 56% of which corresponds to Peru and 44% to Bolivia - ranks 19th in the world in terms of territory. As a joke, Peruvians often say that they kept "Titi", leaving the Bolivians "caca" (poop).

The first thing that surprises visitors to reach these spots of Puno is the enormous contrast that exists between the rest of Peru and a place where the Andean culture of the altiplano (shared with Bolivia) is brimming with color and is reflected in the clothes of the women with skirts, small pumps and sandals made of rubber.

On the shores of Puno and the Bolivian border, the Catholic tradition is fervently mixed with the Andean rituals of paying the' Pachamama', in rituals and dances that last until dawn, as in the famous Festividad de la Virgen de la Candelaria -which is celebrated every 27 November- and which was declared Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO since 2014.

Lake Titicaca Travel Guide

Whether we come by bus from the White City of Arequipa or if we land at the Inca Manco Cápac International Airport (5 km away) in Juliaca, we recommend not stopping too long in this city and continue to Puno. We can take a bus at the same airport for about S/ 20 or from Plaza Bolognesi. The journey from Juliaca to Lake Titicaca takes about an hour.

Lonely Planet's warnings are sometimes alarmist, but in this case we agree with Juliaca's definition of "an ugly, dirty city and, outside the downtown shopping area, dangerous". It is the entry point for most of the smuggling that arrives from the southern border to Peru, so there is a great trade movement on both sides of both countries.

By the way, we will be arriving in a city at 3,826 mnsm, so we recommend caution against altitude sickness. If this is the first visit to Lake Titicaca, we recommend a soft diet based on soup with cooked chicken and mate de hoja de coca (recommended for the altitude), which can be found in all the lodgings in the area.

It is important to know that we are at a point where the minimum temperatures in the winter months (May-August) reach -0 ºC. Note: Remember to wear warm clothing, use sunscreen, sunglasses and Vaseline, cocoa butter or similar for lip care.

In the Juliaca´s surrounding - to mention just a few - we have some very charming points of interest, such as Lampa (36 km northeast), in whose church of Santiago Apostol there is a replica of Michelangelo's Piety that the Vatican used to reconstruct the original after the 1972 bombing; Pucará (60 km northwest), known for its colorful handicrafts and famous ceramic toritos; Ayaviri (100 km northwest) with a lively market and its hot springs of Pojpojquella, open to tourists; and Abra la Raya (100 km), mountain pass to 4.470 mnsm and the highest point of the route to Cusco.

In this post we will focus on the islands on the Peruvian side of the Titicaca, leaving the well-known Sun and Moon Islands on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca for the next post.

Uros floating islands

These islands are the main attraction of Lake Titicaca. They are easily accessible in about 30 minutes through several organized tours or by a ferry departing from the port to Uros every hour from 6am to 4pm. The most striking thing about these islands is that they are built with totora, a reed that grows under the waters and with which the settlers also make their houses, their totora horses (small boats that cross the lake) and even the craftsmanship they sell to tourists.

Nowadays these islands are inhabited by Aymara people, after the almost disappearance of the Uru ethnic group, one of the oldest pre-Inca civilizations, which is said to have settled in Titicaca to escape the invasion of the Inca Pachacútec. If you wish to stay in Uros you can contact a small company run by Cristina Suaña, which offers sleeping with her and her family, as well as other traditional activities with the community.

Taquile Island

The small Taquile Island has about 7 km² and a population of about 350 families. Unlike the rest of the Lake islands that are Aymara, its inhabitants speak Quechua, which differentiates them and gives them a greater group identity. They manage their own tours, host tourists and try to preserve their ancestral customs. From Puno to Taquile it will take us about 3 hours to reach Taquile Island.

It is known worldwide for its textile works, the main economic source of its inhabitants. Among the island's traditions, men wear wool hats that they weave themselves, where red means they are married and red and white means they are single. The women also embroider delicate embroidered blouses, girdles and costumes that can be purchased at the Taquile cooperative store.

To climb up to the top of the village you have to climb 567 steps - which in good physical condition will take 20 minutes to climb - and from whose heights you can have a beautiful view of the lake. To get in or out of the island there are ferries that leave from Puno at 6.00 and 7.45 am and return at 5.30 pm.

Amantaní Island

Also known as the "Island of Love", it is the largest island in Lake Titicaca and is located north of Taquile. Amantaní Island has no hotels and lodging is accomplished by the own settlers, who welcome tourists with dancing, music and local gastronomy. The price of accommodation is usually around S/40 and rotates between the houses of the islanders.

This experience is without doubt the best way to feel the local lifestyle. The island has no cars, motorcycles or any other type of vehicle, and you must walk up the 300 meters of the slopes that will take us to the sanctuary of Pachatata (Father Earth) and Pachamama (Mother Earth), which remain from the culture Tiahuanaco, a mainly Bolivian culture that took places between 200 BC and 1,000 AD.

Suasi Island

This tiny island located at the other end of the lake is the only private island of Titicaca and is perfect if you want to rest, enjoy nature, walk or raft. It is famous for its exclusive Hotel Isla Suasi******* of Casa Andina, the only lodging in the area, which offers all the comforts to fully enjoy a luxury experience in Lake Titicaca. The double room rounds the S/ 740 (€ 200), but guests' opinions are unanimous in describing their stay as a "magical" moment in a paradisiacal setting.

In the next post we will discover the city of Puno and its peculiar festivities like the Virgen de la Candelaria, in which bands of music play all night while its inhabitants stomp and drinking beer until dawn.

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