Lakes of the World Lake Titicaca

About Lake Titicaca the largest lake in South America, history, size, and geography of the lake.



Lake Titicaca is South America's largest lake and the world's highest navigable lake.

Known as the Lake of the Clouds, Titicaca is 130 mi. long and averages 35 mi. in breadth (the widest distance is 50 mi.). Total lake area is 3,500 sq. mi., including its more than 30 islands. Its maximum depth is 1,200 ft., but it generally doesn't go any deeper than 900. It is the highest of the large lakes, at 12,500 ft.--2 1/2 mi.--above sea level. The cloud-scraping, 21,000-ft. Mt. Il-limani, 40 mi. away, presides over its cobalt-colored waters.

Partly in Bolivia, mostly in Peru, the lake occupies the deepest part of a trough formed by a structural depression in the central Andes about 60 million years ago, when volcanic convulsion heaved them into the air. Ancient Titicaca filled up with water when the glaciers melted.

Titicaca is fed by numerous streams and rivers, the largest of which descend from the nearby snowy peaks. At its southern tip, the lake overflows through the Desaguadero River to the salty Lake Poopo. Over the last couple of thousand years, a natural deepening of the Desaguadero has increased this overflow and lowered the level of Titicaca.

Puno, Peru, population 150,000, is Titicaca's largest, most important port. La Paz, Bolivia's capital, lies 40 mi. away by rail. The peninsula of Copacabana, one of the lake's promontories, is a shrine where thousands gather from all over the continent each year. And one of its islands is considered to be the spot where the gods founded the old Inca civilization about 1230 A.D. A few miles south of the lake are the ruins of ancient Tiahuanaco, South America's Stonehenge. Descendants of the Tiahuanaco civilization, the Aymara Indians, now make their homes all around the lake and tend the world's largest flocks of llamas.

Pre-Inca megalithic tribes once lived on Lake Titicaca, when it was larger. In 1535-1537, the Spanish explorer Diego de Almagro led an illfated expedition into the Andes and skirted Titicaca's shore.

The lake takes its name from the wildcats (titi) that live on its rock (karka)-like islands and swim to shore for food. Its cold waters have become home to the Great Lakes rainbow trout, transplanted there in the 1930s; they grow to sizes up to 30 lb. In 1969 oceanographer Jacques Cousteau made an underwater survey of Titicaca with sonar-equipped submarines and discovered a species of deep-water toad that is 2 ft. long.

Titicaca's main industry, besides fishing, is smuggling between Peru and Bolivia.

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