Brilliant, almost ethereal blue, Lake Titicaca resides in the clouds, at a thin Andean altitude of 12,464 feet (3,812 meters). It is sacred to half a dozen indigenous nations, and is shared today between Bolivia and Peru. It is often called the “highest navigable lake in the world,” though many of the boats sailing calm, cold waters are made of bundled totora reeds, as they have been for untold centuries.
Visitors to this rarefied dream-scape generally begin their voyage in either Puno, Peru, or Copacabana, Bolivia, connected by a rough but scenic lakefront road that takes about four hours (including time at the border crossing) to traverse. Each city has its charms, and offers access to different islands floating (sometimes literally) in the shimmering waters of this lovely lake.
Overlooking Lake Titicaca, the “Folkloric Capital of Peru” is a convenient, and fascinating, base for visiting some of the most interesting islands in the lake. Just six hours from Cusco by bus, Puno has pretty churches, fascinating museums, great hiking, wonderful festivals and all sorts of accommodation options, just six hours by bus from Cusco. Of course, you’re really here to organize excursions out onto the islands.
2) Uros Islands
Titicaca’s most famous destination is the Uros Islands, constructed of floating reeds. Just 3 miles (5 km) from Puno, it’s an intriguing excursion sure to put a spring in your step as you explore a world made almost entirely of this buoyant natural resource.
3) Isla Taquile
A bit farther from Puno 28 miles (45 km) away is Isla Taquile, famed for its startling beauty, community-operated tourism collective and extraordinary textiles, declared “UNESCO Masterpieces of Intangible Human Heritage,” and available for sale by the weavers right at their homes. Most travelers spend one night there, but folks pressed for time can make it a day trip on a Taquile and Uros Islands combo tour.
4) Isla Amanti
Less touristy than Taquile, but offering similar community-based tourism and fine weavings, Isla Amanti is popular with more adventurous travelers. Hikers will enjoy climbing the isle’s two sacred mountains, Pachatata (Father Earth) and Pachamama (Mother Earth), topped with pre-Columbian temples still used on traditional feast days.
5) Isla Suasi
Best known for Isla Suasi Eco-lodge, Lake Titicaca’s only luxury island hotel, this private island is primarily a destination for well-heeled travelers planning to stay a while.
Wrapped within this stunning setting, between the Andes and the lake, Copacabana is considered the more beautiful of Titicaca’s two port cities, and was once a sacred site for several different peoples. It is less accessible than Puno, unless you’re traveling between Peru and Bolivia, and only offers easy access to a few of Titicaca’s islands. Nevertheless, it will make for a memorable stay.
7) Isla del Sol and Isla de la Luna
At the heart of the Andean creation myths is Isla del Sol, the largest of the lake’s islands and home to ancient temples and stone “footprints” where the god Viracocha created the first man and woman. There is much to explore along the ancient stone trails from Yumani, the major town, including fountains, temples and a stone labyrinth that predate the Inca by millennia. Most boats from Copacabana also stop at neighboring Isla de la Luna (Island of the Moon), home to what many think was a pre-Columbian convent.
It’s possible to book an overnight tour from Puno, spending the night on the island, though most independent travelers come from Copacabana.