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At 12,507 feet above sea level, Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world. It is also the largest lake by volume in South America, with a surface area of 3,232 square miles, a maximum length of 118 miles, maximum width of 50 miles, and average depth of 351 feet (maximum depth 922 feet). Although Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela has a larger surface area, it holds less water, and also contains some saltwater.
Located in the Altiplano Basin of the Andes Mountains, Lake Titicaca is fed by 27 rivers, the largest of which is the Ramis, rainwater, and melting glaciers. The Desaguadero River flows out of its southern end and empties into Lake Poopó in Bolivia. Tiquina Strait separates the lake into two separate bodies of water. Forty-one islands are scattered throughout the lake, most of them populated. The largest of these are Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun), Isla del la Luna (Island of the Moon), and Suriqui, all of which are on the Bolivian side of the lake.
In addition to its natural beauty, Lake Titicaca is also famous for its wealth of Spanish, Incan, and pre-Incan ruins. According to Incan mythology, after a great flood, the god Viracocha arose from Lake Titicaca to create the world. After commanding Inti (the sun), Mama Kilya (the moon), and stars to rise, he went to Tiahuanaco to create the first human beings, Mallku Kapac and Mama Ocillo. These two humans subsequently gave birth to the Incan civilization. Most of the people who live on and around the lake today are descended from the Incas, and the lake is still considered sacred.
The name "Titicaca" comes from the Quechua words titi, which means puma, and caca, which means mount. This name is a reminder of the big cats that lived in the region centuries ago. Although puma are no longer found here, the lake and its shores still teem with water birds and fish, many of which are endemic to the lake. One of the most unusual animals is the Lake Titicaca frog, whose skin looks several sizes larger than its body.
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This page was last updated on October 27, 2017.