On to the lake of Gods.... Titicaca

Isla del Sol Travel Blog

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Titicaca boat
We woke up early to meet our next guide, Gonçalo that would take us on to the next part of our voyage to Lake Titicaca. However, before our 3 hour drive to the lake we decided to do a last minute trip to Tiwanaco which wasn’t initially on our planned itinerary, but worthwhile.

Tiwanaku is an important Pre-Columbian archaeological site in southern Bolivia. Tiwanaku is recognized by Andean scholars as one of the most important precursors to the Inca Empire, flourishing as the ritual and administrative capital of a major state power for approximately five hundred years. The ruins of the ancient city state are near the south-eastern shore of Lake Titicaca, about 72 km (44 miles) west of La Paz, Bolivia. Some have hypothesized that Tiwanaku's modern name is related to the Aymara term taypiqala, meaning "stone in the centre", alluding to the belief that it lay at the centre of the world. However, the name by which Tiwanaku was known to its inhabitants has been lost, as the people of Tiwanaku had no written language.

The site of Tiwanaku was founded in approximately 1200 BCE as a small agriculturally-based village, with a number of similar neighbours.

Many faces
The high altitude Titicaca Basin required the development of a distinctive farming technique known as "raised-field" agriculture, which are only found in today's South America as experimental, government-funded projects. In antiquity, they comprised a significant percentage of the agriculture in the region, along with irrigated fields, pasture, terraced fields and cocha (small lake) farming. Artificially raised planting mounds (known as "suka kollus" in the local Aymara language) are separated by canals filled with water. The canals supply moisture for growing crops, but they also absorb heat from solar radiation during the day. This heat is gradually emitted during the bitterly cold nights, providing thermal insulation. Over time, the canals also were used to farm edible fish, and the resulting canal sludge was dredged for fertilizer. The use of various agricultural techniques allowed local communities to grow and population to increase.

Though labor-intensive, suka kollus produce impressive yields. While traditional agriculture in the region typically yields 2.4 metric tons of potatoes per hectare, and modern agriculture (with artificial fertilizers and pesticides) yields about 14.5 metric tons per hectare, suka kollu agriculture yields an average of 21 tons per hectare. Significantly, the experimental fields recreated in the 1980s by University of Chicago´s Alan Kolata and Oswaldo Rivera suffered only a 10% decrease in production following a 1988 freeze that killed 70-90% of the rest of the region's production. This kind of protection against killing frosts in an agrarian civilization is an invaluable asset. For these reasons, the importance of suka kollus cannot be overstated.

The community grew to urban proportions between AD 600 and AD 800, becoming an important regional power in the southern Andes. According to early estimates, at its maximum extent, the city covered approximately 5.

Tiwanaku statue
0 square kilometers, and had as many as 40,000 inhabitants. However, satellite imaging was used recently to map the extent of fossilized suka kollus across the three primary valleys of Tiwanaku, arriving at population-carrying capacity estimates of anywhere between 285,000 and 1,482,000 people.

Tiwanaku's unique art style is found in vast areas covering modern highland Bolivia, Peru and Argentina. It is difficult to tell, however, whether these areas were part of an empire in the political sense, under cultural and commercial influence, or independent trading partners.

Tiwanaku collapsed around AD 1000, possibly due to environmental reasons, from an invasion of new people from the south, a loss of faith in the Tiwanaku religion, or a combination of all three. The area around Tiwanaku was not abandoned, but the city fell into decay and its characteristic art style vanished.

Tiwanaku monumental architecture is characterized by large stones of exceptional workmanship. In contrast to the masonry style of the later Inca, Tiwanaku stone architecture usually employs rectangular ash blocks laid in regular courses, and monumental structures were frequently fitted with elaborate drainage systems. Bronze or copper "double-T" clamps were often used to anchor large blocks in place. The stone used to build Tiwanaku was quarried and then transported 40 km or more to the city. They were moved without the aid of the wheel, though much of the distance was over water. The monumental architectural core of the city has been looted for treasure and mined for building stone for centuries, and buildings are in an advanced state of decay. Some of the more important buildings have been excavated and at least partially restored.

Copacabana
These include the Akapana and Puma Punku stepped platforms, the Kalasasaya and Putuni enclosures and the Semi-Subterranean Temple. These are the structures that are visible to the modern visitor.

The Tiwanaku art style is distinctive, and, together with the related Huari style, defines the Middle Horizon of Andean prehistory. Significant elements of both of these styles (the split eye, trophy heads, and staff-bearing profile figures, for example) seem to have been derived from that of the earlier Pukara culture in the northern Titicaca Basin.

Much of the architecture of the site is in a poor state of preservation, having been subjected to looting and amateur excavations attempting to locate valuables since shortly after Tiwanaku's fall. This destruction continued during the Spanish conquest and colonial period, and during 19th century and the early 20th century, and has included quarrying stone for building and railroad construction and target practice by military personnel.

Detailed study of Tiwanaku began on a small scale in the mid-nineteenth century. In the 1860s, Ephraim George Squier visited the ruins and later published maps and sketches completed during his visit. German geologist Alphons Stübel spent nine days in Tiwanaku in 1876, creating a map of the site based on careful measurements. He also made sketches and created paper impressions of carvings and other architectural features. A book containing major photographic documentation was published in 1892 by engineer B. von Grumbkow. With commentary by archaeologist Max Uhle, this was the first in-depth scientific account of the ruins.

In the 1960s, an attempt was made at restoring the site, but by very uninformed parties.

We arrive at lake Titicaca
The walls pictured to the right, of the Kalasasaya, are almost all reconstruction. The original stones making up the Kalasasaya would have resembled a more "Stonehenge" like style, spaced evenly apart and standing straight up. Unfortunately, the parties that made the reconstructions decided to make the Kalasasaya be enclosed by a wall that they themselves built. Ironically enough, the reconstruction itself is actually much poorer quality stoneworking than the people of Tiwanaku were capable of. It should also be noted that the Gateway of the Sun, that now stands in the Kalasasaya, is not in its original location, having been moved sometime earlier from its original location, which is unknown.

Modern, academically-sound archaeological excavations were performed from 1978 through the 1990s by University of Chicago anthropologist Alan Kolata and his Bolivian counterpart, Oswaldo Rivera. Among their contributions are the rediscovery of the suka kollus, accurate dating of the civilization's growth and influence, and evidence for a drought-based collapse of the Tiwanaku civilization.

Today Tiwanaku is a UNESCO world heritage site, and is administered by the Bolivian government.

Recently, the Department of Archaeology of Bolivia has been conducting excavations on the Akapana pyramid. The Proyecto Arqueologico Pumapunku-Akapana (PAPA, or Pumapunku-Akapana Archaeological Project) run by the University of Pennsylvania, has been excavating in the area surrounding the pyramid for the past few years, and also conducting Ground Penetrating Radar surveys of the area.

After the visit of the Museum and archaeological site we finally headed for lake Titicaca during a 3 hour drive through beautiful scenery.

On our way to Isla del sol
Lake Titicaca is a lake located on the border of Bolivia and Peru. It sits 3,812 m above sea level making it the highest commercially navigable lake in the world. By volume of water it is also the largest lake in South America.

The lake is located at the northern end of the endorheic Altiplano basin high in the Andes on the border of Peru and Bolivia. The western part of the lake lies within the Puno Region of Peru, and the eastern side is located in the Bolivian La Paz Department.

The lake is composed of two nearly separate sub-basins that are connected by the Strait of Tiquina which is 800 m (2,620 ft) across at the narrowest point. The larger sub-basin, Lago Grande (also called Lago Chucuito) has a mean depth of 135 m and a maximum depth of 284 m. The smaller sub-basin, Lago Huiñaimarca (also called Lago Pequeño) has a mean depth of 9 m and a maximum depth of 40 m. The overall average depth of the lake is 107 m. Lake Titicaca is fed by rainfall and meltwater from glaciers on the sierras that abut the Antiplano. Five major river systems feed into Lake Titicaca in order of their relative flow volumes these are: Ramis, Coata, Ilave, Huancané, and Suchez.

Isla del Sol
More than 20 other smaller rivers empty into Titicaca, and the lake has 41 islands, some of which are densely populated. Having only a single season of free circulation, the lake is monomictic and water passes through Lago Huiñaimarca and flows out the single outlet at the Rio Desaguadero, which then flows south through Bolivia to Lake Poopó. This only accounts for about 10% of the lake's water balance. Evapotranspiration, caused by strong winds and intense sunlight at altitude, balances the remaining 90% of the water input. It is nearly a closed lake.

We arrived in Tiquina, where we had to cross the strait by boat to reach the Copacabana peninsula.

We start our trek to our Eco Lodge
We drove to Copacabana and were transported by boat to our final destination, Isla del Sol where we would stay for the next 3 days.

Isla del Sol, situated on the Bolivian side of the lake is one of the lake's largest islands. The chronicler Bernabé Cobo documented two versions of an Inca origin myth that took place on the northern part of this island. The first Inca Manco Capac is said to have emerged from a prominent crag in a large sandstone outcrop known as Titikala (the Sacred Rock). Manco Capac is the son of Inti the Andean deity identified as the sun. In one version of the myth, the ancient people of the province were without light in the sky for many days and grew frightened of the darkness. Finally, the people saw the Sun emerge from the crag and believed it was the Sun's dwelling place. In another version related by Cobo, others believed the crag was dedicated to the Sun because it hid under the crag during a great Flood. Isla del Sol was the first land that appeared after the flood waters began to recede and the Sun emerged from Titikala to illuminate the sky once again. A temple was built at this rock and later expanded by the 10th Inca Tupac Inca Yupanqui. He built a covenant for mamaconas (chosen women) and a tambo (inn) for visiting pilgrims.

 

Excavations at the archaeological site of Ch'uxuqullu, located on a small peak above the Bay of Challa, led to the recovery of Archaic Preceramic remains that radiocarbon dated to about 2200 BC.  Eight obsidian flakes were recovered from this context, and Neutron Activation Analysis of three of the flakes revealed that all of them were from the Chivay obsidian source which is located in the Colca Canyon, Department of Arequipa.

A view of lake Titicaca
The presence of Chivay obsidian is clear evidence that inhabitants of the island were participating in a wider network of exchange.

 

According to one bathymetric model, there is no path between the shore edge and the Island of the Sun that does not pass over areas where the lake bottom reaches a depth of 200 m (660 ft) or greater. Paleoclimate studies indicate that around 3100 BC the level of Lake Titicaca would have been as much as 85 m (279 ft) lower than modern conditions, but that it had reached near modern levels by about 2000 BC. Thus, at 2200 BC lake levels were probably lower than at present. Data from Ch'uxuqullu could suggest that lake shore cultures were using well-developed watercraft technology during the Archaic period.


Underwater archaeological investigations conducted off the Island of the Sun from 1989-92 led to the discovery of both Inca and Tiahuanaco artifacts. These are now on display at a site museum in Challapampa. Today the economy of the island is mainly driven by tourism revenues, but subsistence agriculture and fishing are widely practiced.

 

We landed near the Pilkokaina ruins and had a typical aptapi lunch with a beautiful view of Isla de La Luna.

Our first dinner at the Eco lodge
While we hiked to our ecolodge called La Estancia our luggage was transported on donkeys. The ecolodge is an amazing spot located in the southern part of the Island of the Sun in Lake Titicaca, near the Aymara native community of "La Estancia", from where the name was taken. It was built preserving the Andean architecture and it combines with the modern comfort, always respecting the harmony of the surrounding nature and habitat. The cabins were constructed with adobe brick and thatch roofs, and were set between pre-Inca terraces, also using solar energy. The community work is an important goal and slowly more people are involved in the project using their boats for the lake transportation, native bands play music, etc.

 

After sleeping in some horrible hotels it felt like we were in paradise. We had dinner with our guide, played some cards and went to bed for a good night’s rest.

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Titicaca boat
Titicaca boat
Tiwanaku Complex
Tiwanaku Complex
Many faces
Many faces
Tiwanaku statue
Tiwanaku statue
Copacabana
Copacabana
We arrive at lake Titicaca
We arrive at lake Titicaca
On our way to Isla del sol
On our way to Isla del sol
Isla del Sol
Isla del Sol
We start our trek to our Eco Lodge
We start our trek to our Eco Lodge
A view of lake Titicaca
A view of lake Titicaca
Our first dinner at the Eco lodge
Our first dinner at the Eco lodge
Tiwanaku microphone
Tiwanaku microphone
Tiwanaku microphone
Tiwanaku microphone
A sho shiner in La Paz
A sho shiner in La Paz
On our way to Tiwanaku
On our way to Tiwanaku
Our entrance to the Tiwanaku compl…
Our entrance to the Tiwanaku comp…
Tiwanaku in small scale
Tiwanaku in small scale
Tiwanaku
Tiwanaku
Tiwanaku face
Tiwanaku face
Tiwanaku
Tiwanaku
Tiwanaku sun door
Tiwanaku sun door
Leaving Tiwanaku
Leaving Tiwanaku
A small village next to Tiwanaku
A small village next to Tiwanaku
Tiwanaku statue
Tiwanaku statue
We cross Titicaca to Tiquina
We cross Titicaca to Tiquina
We arrive in Tiquina
We arrive in Tiquina
Our bus crosses Titicaca
Our bus crosses Titicaca
Copacabana harbor
Copacabana harbor
Copacabana harbor
Copacabana harbor
Tiwanaku diggers
Tiwanaku diggers
Isla de la Luna
Isla de la Luna
Tiwanaku diggers
Tiwanaku diggers
Ilha de la Luna
Ilha de la Luna
Ilha de la Luna
Ilha de la Luna
Up we go!
Up we go!
Our bungalow beds
Our bungalow beds
Tiwanaku
Tiwanaku
Our Eco Lodge room
Our Eco Lodge room
Inca Ruins at Isla del Sol
Inca Ruins at Isla del Sol
Our Eco Lodge room
Our Eco Lodge room
Nice lantern
Nice lantern
Waiting for dinner
Waiting for dinner
Isla del Sol
photo by: Paulovic