Facts About Lake Titicaca

Fishing on Lake Titicaca
A Peruvian fisherman on Lake Titicaca. Cultura Travel/Matt Dutile/Cultura Exclusive/Getty Images

Lake Titicaca is a stunning and inspiring place, a windswept, high altitude body of water surrounded by the impressive landscapes of the Peruvian Altiplano (Andean Plateau). Many visitors feel a spiritual connection here, or a palpable sense of the wonder of nature, a feeling that transcends their physical surroundings.

Here, however, we’ll be keeping one foot firmly on the ground (or maybe the shore) as we look at some of the most interesting facts about Lake Titicaca: the largest freshwater lake in South America and the highest navigable lake in the world.

Lake Titicaca in Numbers

  • Surface area – 3,200 square miles (8,300 square km). For comparison, Lake Ontario has a surface area of 7,340 square miles.
  • Length – As you can see from this map of Lake Titicaca, the lake stretches from the northwest to the southeast for a distance of about of 120 miles (190 km).
  • Width – At its widest point, the lake measures about 50 miles (80 km).
  • Average depth – 107 meters
  • Maximum depth – 920 feet (280 meters). The deepest part of the lake is in the northeast corner; some sources put this maximum depth closer to 997 feet (304 meters).  
  • Altitude – Lake Titicaca has a surface elevation of 12,507 feet (3,812 meters) above sea level. This is higher than Cusco (11,152 feet) but lower than the highest point on the Inca Trail (13,780 feet). See this altitude table for Peruvian cities and tourist attractions for more comparisons.
  • Catchment area – Lake Titicaca has a catchment area of 21,726 square miles (56,270 km2). That’s slightly smaller than the total area of the state of West Virginia (24,230 sq mi) and about the same size as Croatia (21,851 sq mi).
  • Number of tributaries – Between 25 and 27 tributaries normally flow into Lake Titicaca. Some of these rivers are prone to decline due to shortened rainy seasons and the melting/retreating of glaciers feeding the rivers and streams of the Lake Titicaca basin.
  • Number of outflows – One: the Desaguadero River. The lake loses most of its water through evaporation.
  • Coordinates – 15°45′S 69°25′W (roughly centered in the middle of the lake). See more maps showing the precise global and continental location of Lake Titicaca.

Lake Titicaca Past and Present

  • Age – According to the UNESCO World Heritage Center, Lake Titicaca is one of less than twenty ancient lakes on Earth, and is believed to be approximately three million years old.
  • First human inhabitants – The shores and islands of Lake Titicaca have been inhabited since ancient times, at least as far back as the origins of the first Andean societies. Notable societies to have inhabited the region include the Pukara, Tiwanaku, Colla Lupaka and Inca civilizations.
  • Current human inhabitants – Lake Titicaca is split between Peru (west) and Bolivia (east). Major settlements on the shores of the lake include Puno in Peru and Copacabana in Bolivia.
  • Transport – Numerous small passenger and fishing boats. The largest boat is the Manco Capac car float, owned by PeruRail.
  • Major islands – Amantani, Taquile (Peru), Isla del Sol, Isla de la Luna, Suriki (Bolivia). Also the artificial floating islands of the Uros people, which are made of totora reeds.
  • Economy -- Fishing and tourism are both hugely important to the local economy.
  • Wildlife – Lake Titicaca is home to 26 species of fish, as well as various aquatic bird species. Frogs, toads, and more than 20 species of freshwater snail also live in or around the lake.
  • Weather – Lake Titicaca and the surrounding highland plateau experience cool to cold temperatures for most of the year. Wind coming off the lake can make things feel a lot colder.
  • Protected status – Lake Titicaca is protected by Peruvian law (national reserve status). It was also designated as a Ramsar Site in 1998. Lake Titicaca is currently one of seven Peruvian sites waiting on UNESCO’s Tentative List; if approved, it will become one of the official UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Peru.