Lake Titicaca lies on a plateau known as the Altiplano which is made up of multiple basins. The western part of the lake lies in the Puno region of Peru (approx. 56 % of the lake) while the east part lies in the La Paz department in Bolivia (approx. 44 % of the lake). The southern lake basin, known as Lago Huinaymarca or Minor Lake, is connected to the larger basin, known as the Lago Chucuito or Major Lake, by a 800 m wide waterway, the street of Tiquina.
With its 8,300 sq. km, it is the second largest lake in South America. Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela is the largest. Lake Titicaca lies approximately 3,820 m above sea level and is the highest, commercially navigable lake in the world. The lake is 284 m deep at its deepest point located in the northeastern section of the lake.
The lake is fed by 27 tributaries and through rainfall. The Desaguadero River is the only river that flows from the lake. It flows from the south of Lake Titicaca and empties into Poopó Lake.
In the desolate Andes plateau, Lake Titicaca serves as a source of drinking water and food for the surrounding population and, as such, is vital for their existence. The body of water creates a beneficial microclimate that makes the cultivation of potatoes and grains (barley, corn and quinoa) possible at that altitude. Next to farming, animal husbandry of alpacas, llamas, sheep and cows is also of great significance.
The first settlements around Lake Titicaca date back to around 1,500 B.C. the Aymara had their religious and administrative center here. In the 15th century A.D., the Incan empire stretched until Lake Titicaca. During the Incan period, the indigenous peoples called the Urus who still exist today would flee from violent conflicts with the Incas onto swimming islands they built from Totora reeds. The Urus place great importance on their traditions and to this day live on their “islands". However, ever since the Urus discovered tourism as a source of income, it has been possible for tourists to visit the islands. The Quechua people inhabit the Peruvian islands of Taquile and Amantaní. Traditional villages and many ruins can even be found on the two “holy islands” on the Bolivian side of the lake, the Isla del Sol (Sun Island) and the Isla de la Luna (Moon Island).
Today approximately 2 million people live in the immediate vicinity of Lake Titicaca. This has put high demands on all of the resources of the lake, the shore areas and the adjoining land. Settlement pressure has risen enormously in the past years. The water requirements and the amount take from the larger tributaries (Ramis, Ilave, Coata, Huancane, Suchez and Katari) have risen dramatically, causing the lake’s water level to drop continually. Dry shore areas mean a loss of habitat and spawning and nesting places for many animal species.
The “Reserva Nacional del Titicaca” nature preserve was founded in October 1978 and covers an area of 362 sq. km north of the city of Puno in Peru. The entire lake is a Ramsar protectorate with the Peruvian section designated as such in 1997 and the Bolivian section in 1998. Crucial to the designation were, on the one hand, the significant biodiversity and the rich artistic heritage and, on the other hand, the lake’s importance for the migratory birds and water birds of the Andes, including three flamingo species.
Despite the existence of these designated nature preserves, rare and endemic species including numerous bird, fish and amphibian species are threatened. For example, the Titicaca Grebe (Rollandia microptera) is threatened by the lack of nesting sites. The number of Titicaca Water Frogs (Telmatobius culeus) is also shrinking significantly.
The biodiversity of the Andes Carp genus (Orestias) is also in danger. Their numbers are threatened both by water pollution and by the introduction of foreign fish species by humans. The likely extinct Amanto (Orestias cuvieri) belongs to this genus.
The Bolivian nature conservation organization Trópico has been working with the Global Nature Fund since December 2011 to implement a climate change project at Lake Titicaca. The local population is informed about climate change and its effects through an environmental education campaign. A climate protection concept will also be developed in close collaboration with the municipal authority of La Paz.
The Peruvian environmental organization CEDAS (Centro de Desarrollo Ambiental y Social) headquartered in Puno and the Bolivian conservation association TRÓPICO based in La Paz have represented Lake Titicaca since its admission into the Living Lakes Network. The lake has been a member of this international network since 2003.