Did you know that one of the highest navigable lakes in the world is located in South America?
In this post, you’ll discover the ultimate list of facts about Lake Titicaca, one of the most amazing lakes in the world!
1. It’s located on the border of Bolivia and Peru
Lake Titicaca is located in South America and runs along the border of Bolivia and Peru. It lies on a plateau referred to as the “Altiplano,” a high area in the most famous mountain range in South America, the Andes.
The major cities in the area are Puno on the Peruvian side in the west of the lake, and La Paz, the capital of Bolivia which is located near the southeastern corner of the lake.
2. It’s the largest lake in South America
Lake Titicaca has a maximum length of 190 kilometers, a maximum width of 80 kilometers, and a total shore length of 1,125 kilometers (699 miles). With a total surface area of 8,372 square kilometers (3,232 square miles), it’s the largest lake in South America.
It’s, however, far from being the largest lake in the world. To give a reference, it’s about 4 times smaller than Lake Baikal in Russia and 10 times smaller than Lake Superior in the United States and Canada!
3. Is it really the highest navigable lake in the world?
The lake has often been referred to as the “highest navigable lake in the world.” With a surface elevation of 3,812 meters (12,507 feet), it’s indeed one of the highest lakes in the world!
This doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t other lakes that are navigable that are located at a higher elevation. The term is used about large commercial vessels such as the 2,200-ton (2,425 short tonnes), 79-meter (259 feet) SS Ollanta, a steamship that was built in 1931 in England which navigates the lake today.
4. Lake Titicaca is a very deep lake
Lake Titicaca isn’t just South America’s largest lake by surface area, it’s also the largest by volume as it has a total volume of 893 cubic kilometers (214 cubic miles).
The reason is that it’s also a very deep lake with an average depth of 107 meters (351 feet) and a maximum depth of 281 meters (922 feet).
5. There are a lot of inflows, but only one major outflow
One of the most interesting facts about Lake Titicaca is that it has a total of 27 inflows, of which 5 major ones, but just 1 outflow. The major inflows are the rivers Ramis, Coata, Ilave, Huancané, and Sanchez.
The one single outflow is the Desaguadero River, which eventually releases in Lake Poopó in Bolivia, a relatively large saline lake located at a similar altitude in the Altiplano Mountains.
6. Only 10% of the lake’s outflow is through the river
One of the most fascinating facts about Lake Titicaca is that the outflow through the Desaguadero River only accounts for about 10% of the total outflow. 90% of the lake’s outflow is done by Evapotranspiration as the sunlight and strong winds evaporate the lake’s water.
This also means that the residence time of the lake’s water, also known as the water cycle, is extremely long. It takes about 1,343 years for water that enters the lake to flow out of it!
7. The water level of Lake Titicaca is dropping fast
What’s even more remarkable is that the lake’s water level is dropping fast, even though the residence time is so long. One of the most astounding facts about Lake Titicaca is that it’s one of the most affected lakes by global warming on the planet!
In the year 2009, the water level dropped by 81 centimeters (32 inches), which means the lake is literally evaporating away.
The main reasons for this phenomenon are that the rainy seasons are getting shorter and shorter and that glaciers in the area are melting, resulting in less water flowing into the lake through its 27 tributary rivers.
8. The biodiversity of Lake Titicaca is under severe pressure
The water level isn’t the only major problem that the lake faces, it also faces immense disturbances in its biodiversity. The two main reasons are both man-made.
The first major problem is water pollution caused by the growing cities along the lake’s shores and an inadequate sewage treatment network. The second problem is the fact that people have introduced different types of species into the lake.
These issues made Lake Titicaca the “threatened lake of the year” back in 2012 according to the GNF (Global Nature Fund).
9. Lake Titicaca never freezes over
Lake Titicaca is located in the Andes mountains at a high elevation, so you would assume that winters are freezingly cold. That’s not exactly true because its climate is a combination of a subtropical highland and alpine climate.
This means that without the elevation, the area would probably have a subtropical or even tropical climate!
The average temperature near the lake’s surface is around 10 to 14 °C (50 to 57 °F) with only the nights and mornings in the winter cold. The maximum temperature remains constant all year round just above the yearly average, meaning the lake can never freeze over.
10. The lake has various other names locally
Nobody really knows how the lake got its name and it’s believed Titicaca is a name derived from Native people living alongside the lake at the time that the Spanish arrived.
Locally, the name differs as well, as the Bolivians call the smaller part of the lake in the southeast, which is only connected through the Strait of Tiquina, “Lago Huiñaymarca,” while they refer to the larger part as “Lago Chucuito.”
On the Peruvian side of the lake, they simply refer to these two parts of the lake as “Lago Pequeño” and “Lago Grande” which translates to “Small Lake” and “Big Lake.”
11. There are dozens of islands on the lake
The lake has a total of 41 islands on it, many of which are populated. Some notable are “Amantani,” which is home to about 4,000 people and has an area of 15 square kilometers (6 square miles).
Another one is a rocky and hilly island named “Isla del Sol,” home to about 800 families who make their living as farmers. This island doesn’t have paved roads and contains about 80 Inca ruins dating back to the 15th century.
Similar ruins can be found on “Isla de la Luna,” but here of the “Tiwanaku People” who lived here between 650 and 1,000 A.D. and built a major temple on the island.
12. There are numerous man-made islands as well
One of the most amazing facts about Lake Titicaca is that there are about 60 artificial islands located on the lake as well, made by the Uru People from a thick type of reed that grows along the lake’s shore.
These islands are referred to as “Uros” and can be anywhere from 15 by 15 meters (50 by 50 feet) to 25 by 50 meters (82 by 164 feet)!
These islands contain small houses where these people live in. About 1,200 people live in the 60 islands and have attracted a lot of curious eyes from tourists over the last few decades!
13. One of the islands was used as a prison by the Spanish
Another hilly island on the lake is called “Taquile” and is most famously known for its history as a prison during the Spanish colonial times. It finally became the property of the Taquile people who inhabit the island.
This amazing looking island has an area of about 5.72 square kilometers (2.21 square miles) and a population of around 2,200 people It’s famously known today for its “Textile Art” which was recognized by UNESCO as one of the “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.”
14. Lake Titicaca once consisted of 5 separate prehistoric lakes
The lake is located in the “Tinajani Basin,” a basin that was pulled apart for millions of years, a process that ended in the late Miocene period about 6 million years ago.
Within this basin, there used to be 5 separate, smaller lakes. These eventually came together and now form the massive Lake Titicaca
15. A huge ancient temple was found at the bottom of the lake
The area of Lake Titicaca has been inhabited for thousands of years. proof of this came in the year 2000 when a group of archaeologists found the ruins of an ancient temple which are believed to be between 1,000 and 1,500 years old.
What’s even more remarkable is that they found this temple, which is believed to have been built by the Tiwanaku people, at the bottom of the lake!
The complex was massive, as the temple covers an area of 200 by 50 meters (660 by 160 feet). The ruins also included a village, roads, terraces for farming, and a wall that ran for about 800 meters (2,640 feet).
The entire complex of this lost civilization has been completely absorbed by Lake Titicaca!