Monday, February 20, 2012

Lake Titicaca

In the middle of January, I had the opportunity to finally visit one of the most famous sights in Peru - Lake Titicaca.   I had been waiting anxiously to go on this trip for a number of reasons.  I have been selling vacations to Peru, which almost always include the beautiful Lake Titicaca, yet I had never even seen it myself!  Also, last August, I was lucky enough to have won 2 free nights at the 5*Libertador hotel located on a peninsula stretching out into the lake.  I had made our reservations and bought the plane tickets for Julio and I back in October, so I was excited the day was finally here! 
Lake Titicaca is considered the highest navigable lake in the world at over 12,500 ft..  It is a massive body of water boarding both Peru and Bolivia.  The Lake is over 100km in width and 60km across.  The habitat around the lake is very unique as well.  You can see the views of the beauitful mountains all around the lake, but it is also located at the dividing point were the vegetation really changes from a mountainous region into the Amazon rainforest.  If someone had the time, I think it would be an amazing trip to trek around the lake and visit the local communities and historical sights. 

Our journey began early on Friday morning to catch our flight to Juliaca.  (city 40 minutes from the lake)  We had a bit of a delay getting to our destination which caused a long layover in Arequipa, but finally we did arrive to Juliaca about 3 hours later than expected.  We had no real plans in place for this first day, so all was well and good =).  We took a combi from the airport along with a couple other travelers and headed on our way to Puno. (Lake Titicaca)  Every time I travel outside of Lima, I am still surprised at what I see.  Even though I know that the rest of the country lives in much different conditions than I do in Lima; it is like you forget how different it really is when you don't see it everyday.  I guess that explains how a small 15% or 20% of the population in Lima's modern districts can live completely modern, almost luxury lifestyles while the majority of the people in the country live with hardly anything.  I will save some of these comparisons of economic class for another post.  Back to the trip, the ride through the Andes was absolutely beautiful as we made our way up and down the curvy roads until we reached our destination.  It was wide open countryside, green, animals, farm houses, I guess you could say it kind of made me feel like I was back home! 

We finally reached Puno and were dropped off at our hotel, just outside the city limits.  We quick checked in and explored our hotel.  We had an amazing room with a perfect view out to Lake Titicaca, along with all the perks of staying in a 5* hotel.  Julio and I are pretty used to traveling on a budget and finding whatever cheap hostal we can, so this was definitely new to both of us!   I was anxious to get out and see the city, so we got a cab and headed back into the city center.  We were able to walk around and see some of the hisoric buildings on the main plaza, check out a couple of hotels, and grab a bite to eat at a market next to the lake.  The weather was good with fair temperatures and clear skies, which was lucky as normally January begins the rainy season.  So we took advantage of this by going out on the lake a little bit after renting a paddle boat.  After a couple races with some kids up and down the lagoon, we docked our paddle boat just before the rain began.   It was time to head back to the hotel and relax for the evening.  When traveling from sea level to such high elevation, it is important to allow yourself some down time to avoid getting altitude sickness, and we had already reached our limit.

We were woke up very early by the sunrise at about 4:30am, but I can't complain as it was probably the most beautiful sight I have ever seen. We had an amazing breakfeast buffet and then were picked up for our full day boat tour of Lake Titicaca. We met up with our tour group and got into our seats at the front of the boat, and off we went.  Our guide told us all about the history of the Lake and the development of different tribes that lived and still live in the area today.  If you are looking to learn about native cultures still living the way their ancestors did 100s of years before, this is a great place to visit.  Our first stop was at the Uros Islands where we got invited onto the island by the president of the native tribe.  These islands are very unique, as they are completely man made floating islands.  The islands used to be located out in the center of the lake, but have recentely been moved a little closer inland due to the profits they receive from allowing tourism.  The culture still lives in the native form that they did; however they are not completely seperated from society as they do need to occasionally come inland for goods and local events.   The islands, homes, and boats, are all constructed from the reeds and boyant soil in the lake.  The construction process, as you can imagine, is very time consuming and tidious work done with very few tools available to them.   The second stop on our trip was quite a trek out to a real island, Taquile Island, located in the middle of the Lake.  The people of this Island are completely self sufficient and live as a community working together to support each other.  They have pretty much everything they need on the Island, including stone homes/buildings, terraces for agriculture up the sides of the island, livestock living on the island, and a organization of government on their own.  Obviously the society has been touched by some modern advantages as well from tourism, but for the most part, they still live as an independent community.  The views from this island were amazing.  You can see across the lake in each direction and the shadows of the mountains in the distanct background.  After learning about their culture and enjoying a nice lunch, it was time to head out on our journey back to Puno.  It took about 2 1/2 hours to return to Puno, and I think everyone had a nice nap on the way back from the trip.

We returned to our hotel and enjoyed a relaxing evening with a nice small dinner at the restaurant, then relaxing in the hot tub.  I was surprised to learn that Julio had never been in a hot tub before.. haha.. I guess this is not something that really exists in Peru.  The only place you are likely to find this would be in a 5* hotel.  I definitely enjoyed the busy weekend, but I was exhausted and ready for bed.  The next morning we enjoyed a quiet morning with another amazing breakfast (this breakfast buffet was amazing!) and walking around a little to enjoy the grounds outside of the hotel.  It was then time to head out in route back to the airport so we could get our flight home.  The flight back home was without incident and we arrived back to Lima at about 2:30pm.   It had definitely been a quick weekend, but we enjoyed our time at Lake Titicaca.  The only sight we didn't have time to really visit that I was hoping to see were the Chulpas (Towers for funeral/burials).  They are historical burial tours located outside of Puno dating back to the pre-Incan culture.  I guess that gives me another reason to return again someday!!

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