LAKE TITICACA IS the highest commercially navigable lake on Earth located at 2.4 miles (3.8 kilometers) above sea level. The lake is located in the high Andean Altiplano on the border of Bolivia, with a port at Guaqui, and Peru, with ports at Puno and Huancane. It is the largest lake in South America and has a surface area of 3,205 square miles (8,300 square kilometers) with a length of about 121 miles (195 kilometers) and an average width of about 31 miles (50 kilometers). Lake Titicaca is a deep lake with a maximum depth of 922 feet (281 meters) and an average of 351 feet (107 meters). The mean water temperature of the lake remains about 51.8 degrees F (11 degrees C).
Lake Titicaca is fed by rainfall and water from numerous streams and rivers that originate in the snow-capped contiguous mountain ranges. Lake Titicaca is drained by the Desaguadero River, which flows south throughout Bolivia. The lake has more than 40 islands, including human made floating Uros islands, some of which are very densely populated. The extenuating effect of Lake Titicaca to the surrounding climate coupled with its water allows for irrigation of such crops as potatoes, barley, and maize. Trout farming and herding of alpacas and llamas are also common agriculture practices.
The basin of Lake Titicaca is one of the few intact and undisturbed areas in the Americas where indigenous societies and cultures developed. The Urus people, an indigenous ethnic group that appeared on earth about 8000 b.c.e. and today is extinct, originally settled the territories of Lake Titicaca basin. Later, Lake Titicaca was conquered by Aymara warlords, Quechuas of the Inca Empire who considered the lake a sacred place, and finally by the Spanish conquerors. The banks of the lake territories were dominated by the culture of Tiahuanaco (Tiwanaku) people whose descendants went north and founded the Inca kingdom after their kingdom was destroyed. As evidence of a flourishing ancient civilization, the Tiahuanaco culture left behind ruins of megalithic constructions, statues, and a temple to the sun. The territory of the Lake Titicaca basin is one of the very few places in the world where the craft of balsas (reed boats) building, which was practiced by the Urus people, still exists.
Poverty remains one the core causes of many social problems experienced by the population of the Lake Titicaca basin. The poor condition of education and health care systems in the Lake Titicaca region are the major socio-economic characteristics of living conditions. Major health problems are linked to the problems of malnutrition, lack of sanitation, and ecosystem fragility with regard to flooding. The major economic activities of the population inhabiting the lake basin are focused on food production activities, agriculture, and cattle herding. Only small-scale subsistence agriculture is possible due to rural property fragmentation land reforms, limited machinery and fertilizer supplies, natural drought, floods, and frosts. Providing very low crop yields, subsistence agriculture encourages over-harvesting and overexploitation of the fertile lands of the lake basin causing soil degradation and further environmental problems. Irrational use and mismanagement of natural resources has caused serious organic and bacteriological contamination, particularly poor waste disposal, and mining of the important urban cores in the basin.
Basin; Bolivia; Indigenous Peoples; Lakes; Peru; Poverty.
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