Author Meriel Larken reveals the top five places you simply shouldn't miss on a trip to the iconic lake
In Puno don't miss the MS Yavari (150ft). Built and disassembled in Victorian Britain (1862), the vessel was transported in boxes to Peru, then piecemeal by mules, over the Andes to Lake Titicaca (12,500ft), rebuilt and launched on Christmas Day 1870.
In 1914 her dried llama dung fired steam engine, was replaced by a Bolinder 4-cylinder hot bulb semi diesel which is, today, a collector’s piece.
The vessel, berthed behind the Sonesta Posada hotel, is open daily and Bed & Breakfast aboard, on the highest lake in the world, is an unforgettable (if slightly shaky) experience. Take a look at www.yavari.org.
Although the Uros floating islands are somewhat touristy, they are definitely amusing to visit; walking on a bed of matted totora reed is like walking on a soggy, spongy trampoline. Annually, totora is harvested and a fresh layer laid on top.
The colony of islands lies 30 minutes offshore from Puno port where boats are readily available. The Uros first built their islands to escape the Incas but have since become cheerful hosts eager to show off their totora homes, schools, church, shops and boats, and to sell their wares of which their embroideries are the most interesting.
In the north-eastern corner of the lake lies a jewel of an island called Suasi. After the pace and exertions of a typical Peruvian tour, this is the place to relax. Five acres of ecological perfection, where roses and dahlias flourish beside the native flora and the shy vicuña can be seen at close quarters.
From the highest point you can look out over the dark blue tranquil and sparkling lake, while at the shoreline it is clear blue and irresistible to the venturesome swimmer. Accessible by boat or road, the island’s Casa Andina hotel can arrange transport.
The road from Puno to Bolivia runs along the lake between colourful smallholdings of russet-coloured quinoa, blue-flowering tarwi (lupin) and purple-flowering potato plants, many also supporting a donkey and a handful of cows or sheep.
On the way, the town of Juli boasts four noteworthy mestizo-baroque churches of which San Pedro, in the main square, is the best preserved. Inspired by the Dominicans and Jesuits in the 16th and 17th centuries and built by the Indians they are a stunning showcase of indigenous art. Further along, the 18th century church in Pomata is exceptional for its translucent alabaster windows and ornately carved doorway.
Entering Bolivia via the little lakeside town of Copacabana, the ‘must-see’ is the spectacular and snow-white basilica of the Virgin of the Candelaria and its beautiful courtyard.
For the energetic, a quick run up the Cerro Calvario is rewarded by a grand overview of the lake and a first sighting of the Island of the Sun, the legendary birthplace of the Incas.
It is worth staying overnight on the island to explore its Inca sites and visit the neighbouring Island of the Moon. Pick up a hire car and with a few days to spare, explore the villages on the eastern shore, which are rarely visited and a real joy for that.
Author Meriel Larken reveals the remarkable story of the Victorian vessel – the MS Yavari – in her new book The Ship, The Lady and The Lake. Meriel is also founder of the The Yavari Project – an organisation working towards restoration of the MS Yavari, including improving the standards of safety and accommodation to fit 40 passengers for an alternative experience on the highest lake in the world.
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