Like an immense slate of deep blue, straddling the borders of Bolivia and Peru at almost 4,000 metres above sea level, Lake Titicaca is one of the most incredible places I’ve ever seen. Five major rivers flow into this smooth 190km by 80km body of water, while scattered beneath vast skies, across the lake’s 41 islands, you’ll find kind, yet hardened faces living a largely agrarian existence.
Exploring the Peruvian side, I arrived in Puno – a sizeable town perched on the western shores of Lake Titicaca. Home to around 100,000 people, Puno has plenty of hostels, restaurants and tours heading onto the lake. If you’re ever in town, try the ceviche – raw fish marinated in a citrus bath of lemon and lime, flavoured with chili. As roughly 90% of the fish caught on the lake are endemic, this dish tastes sublime.
Before you head off into the blue void, take the time to acclimatise, as Puno sits just over 3,800 metres above sea level. Lots of water and a couple of days should do it. A fascinating first stop is the floating islands of Uros, an ancient group of people who were forced onto islands made of living reed after the Incas encroached upon their land. Here they make a living fishing and selling handicrafts to tourists.
Further afield are the islands of Amantani and Taquile. I stayed with a family on Amantani for a couple of nights. Early one evening, looking out across the expansive blue from a stone wall, a pink comet-like cloud danced across the sky. Then came the stars, scintillating vividly, shooting across vast swathes of darkness with a clarity unlike I’d ever seen. They glimmered and shot right down to the horizon, 360 degrees around us. It was absurdly wonderful.
While walking around Amantani and Taquile, through the luna-esque landscape, what struck me most were the people. Old, barefoot, powering up steep staircases with ludicrous amounts of timber. Then there were the young, with cheeks scorched by the high altitude, their kind, hardened faces filled with curiosity.
This was a life so different from my own, yet they let me in freely. I wandered far, across fields, through villages, up staircases, wondering what it would be like to spend my entire life in this unearthly world of simplicity. For me it was like a land I’d discovered at the top of a beanstalk.
One I’ll never forget.