Set in the Andes at 12,500 feet above sea level, legendary Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world and, at 3,200 square miles, it is the continent’s largest. Ancient myth holds that Manco Capac and his sister-consort, Mama Ocllo, emerged from these magical Andean waters, known for their luminescence and calm, to found Cuzco and the Inca Empire. The Uros Indians first created the lake’s 50-odd floating islands and their boats of totora reeds as early as the 15th century to escape conflicts with the land-dwelling Inca. The two natural islands of Taquile and Amantani are people by Quechua-speaking Indians, whose brightly colored, handwoven textiles fill the markets in the islands’ main plazas. There are no cars here, no bicycles or roads.
The lakeside town of Puno, while not big on charm, is Peru’s capital of folklore. Its mythical founding is the reason for November’s fascinating Semana de Puno (Puno Week) festivities, with ornate and imaginative costumes, wild dancing, masks, and music that are rooted in Inca culture. But February 2 marks the beginning of the biggest event of the year, the festival of the Virgen de la Candelaria. It ostensibly figures on the Roman Catholic calendar, but witness the famous diablada (devil’s dance) and the kallahuaya (medicine man’s dance) before deeming the celebration strictly Christian. The flamboyant Trajes de Luces (Suits of Lights) dances are considered the festival’s main draw.
The gleaming white Hotel Libertador sits on its own island, connected by causeway to Puno. Most of its 120 comfortable and spacious rooms offer views of the lake, as does the hotel’s popular restaurant. Well off the beaten path, about 45 minutes by boat from Puno, the new, all-inclusive Hotel Titilaka looks stark and almost Scandinavian in design. Each of its 18 stylish Lakeview suites is labelled Dusk or Dawn, depending on whether its windows open to the rising or the setting sun.
Peru shares the ancient lake wit Bolivia; regular boat service links Puno to that country’s picturesque shore side town of Copacabana. The Andean Explorer, one of the world’s highest railways, runs along the shore of Lake Titicaca, connecting the ancient Inca capital of Cuzco to Puno. Jointly overseen by the Orient Express and Peru Rail, the 10-hour scenic journey carries passengers in luxurious 1920s Pullman cars, some with open-air observation cabins.
WHERE: 243 miles/389 km southeast of Cuzco.
BEST TIME: May – Nov for pleasant weather; early Feb for Festival de la Virgen de la Candelaria; 1st week in Nov for Puno Week.
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