Lake Titicaca Travel Guide: Planning Your Trip

Mother and child in traditional clothing walking along Lake Titicaca

TripSavvy / Chris VR

Lake Titicaca, the cradle of Incan civilization and the origin of the Inca Empire, is the largest lake on the South American continent, straddling the border between Peru and Bolivia. An interesting Lake Titicaca fact is that, by some definitions, it's the highest navigable lake in the world at an astounding 12,500 feet of elevation, making it higher than Mount Fuji in Japan. Lake Titicaca is too chilly for swimming, but this alpine body of water does offer gorgeous views of the Andes, boating trips to islands made of reeds, and an intimate look into the Indigenous cultures that have called the Titicaca home for hundreds of years.

Planning Your Trip

  • Best Time to Visit: Because of the lake's high elevation, the temperatures stay cool throughout the year and nights often dip below freezing. The dry season lasts from April to November and the wet season from December to March. June to August are the most popular months to visit, but April and May are excellent for sunny days, minimal crowds, and lush vegetation coming off of the rainy season.
  • Language: Spanish is spoken throughout the Lake Titicaca region, as well as Indigenous languages such as Aymara and Quechua. On some of the islands on the lake, Indigenous languages are spoken exclusively, so make to book a tour with a guide who can translate for you.
  • Currency: The type of currency depends on which side of the lake you're on. On the Peruvian side, you'll need Peruvian soles. If you're in Bolivia, you'll need bolivianos. Credit cards are not widely accepted, so bring cash with you. You'll have a much easier time if you bring smaller denominations.
  • Getting Around: Most travelers stay in Puno, Peru, or Copacabana, Bolivia. You can get around either city using inexpensive taxis, but you should ask your accommodation to call you a cab rather than hail one off the street. For getting around the lake's islands, there are many boat excursions to choose from.
  • Travel Tip: Even though it's usually chilly, the high elevation means the sun rays are especially strong. Pack sunscreen and don't forget to put it on before going out.

Things to Do

Lake Titicaca is too cold to swim in, so don't expect to arrive and lay out on the lakeshore or go for a dip. The real draw here is taking in the breathtaking nature of the Andes and learning about the rich cultural history of the Titicaca's inhabitants. Some of the attractions are only accessible from the Peru side while others are only accessible from the Bolivia side, so if there's something specific you want to see, make sure you head to the right destination.

  • Floating Reed Islands: One of the most famous attractions of Lake Titicaca is the man-made floating reed islands. Located just off the coast of Puno in Peru, the Uros people have been weaving together islands that they live on for hundreds of years. You can visit them for a day or really immerse yourself in Uros culture by choosing to spend the night in a homestay.
  • Isla del Sol: According to Incan mythology, the god Huiracocha emerged from the Isla del Sol, or Island of the Sun, and created the world. The island was one of the most sacred places to the Inca and served as the focal point for Lake Titicaca's spiritual energy. The Isla del Sol is located on the south side of the lake near Copacabana, Bolivia. Together with the neighboring Isla de la Luna, or Island of the Moon, both islands still contain Incan ruins to be discovered.
  • Island Boat Tour: There are lots of islands around Lake Titicaca, so the best way to explore them is to visit as many as possible on a full-day boat excursion. Leaving from Puno, you'll see not just the floating man-made Uros islands but also actual islands where other cultural groups live. One of the most visited is the Isla de Taquile, which is especially known for the hand-woven textiles sewn exclusively by the men. Amantaní is another nearby island inhabited by Quechua people who farm quinoa on terraced fields.

What to Eat and Drink

Trout from Lake Titicaca is the dish you'll most commonly see whether you're on the Peruvian side or the Bolivian side, typically accompanied by quinoa or salchipapas, french fries served with slices of hot dog. Trout is actually an invasive species in the lake that was imported by the U.S., so you're doing the ecosystem a favor by consuming as much of it as possible. Quinoa also shows up all over local cuisine, either in soups, steamed with vegetables, and creamed.

If seafood isn't your cup of tea, you'll also find what could be considered Peru's national dish, lomo saltado. Strips of beef are stir-fried with local vegetables and served over rice, which is practically a staple of chifa cuisine, or the fusion of Chinese cooking with Peruvian ingredients.

Where to Stay

Puno on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca is the most popular base for travelers exploring the lake. It has the most hotel and restaurant options and direct connections to Lima and Cuzco, but it can also feel very touristy. Copacabana in Bolivia, on the other hand, is less developed than Puno and the choice for travelers who want to get off the beaten track. Accommodation options range from backpacker hostels to luxury villas with views of the lake, but you'll find the top-tier choices in and around Puno.

If you really want to enjoy your stay on Titicaca, you can spend the night on one of the many floating islands right off Puno. Homestays on the Uros Islands are common, allowing visitors to spend the night in a family home and share a meal with the island's residents. Suasi Island is an actual island, not a man-made floating island, and it's also much farther away—about five hours by boat. But it's one of the most remote options for your stay and perfect for those looking for tranquility, isolation, or just some good old adventure.

Getting There

Getting to Lake Titicaca most likely entails getting from Cuzco or Lima to Puno on the Peruvian side, or traveling from La Paz to Copacabana on the Bolivian side. There are also buses that cross the border and travel between Puno and Copacabana, taking about four hours of travel time.

How to Get There From Cuzco

Cuzco is the closest big city to Puno and you can travel by plane, bus, or train. Flights from Cuzco to Lake Titicaca arrive in the city of Juliaca. The time in the air is only an hour, but it's another hour of travel time from Juliaca to Puno by car. Buses for Puno typically leave Cuzco in the morning and take about eight hours to reach the lake. Trains are the most scenic option, but also the slowest and oftentimes the most expensive. The Andean Explorer and PeruRail are the two companies with train service between the cities, and the journey takes over 10 hours.

How to Get There From Lima

Lima is much farther away from Lake Titicaca than Cuzco and going by land isn't a viable option. Thankfully, flights from Lima's airport to Juliaca only take about an hour and a half, so you can still reach the lake easily even if you aren't passing through Cuzco.

How to Get There From La Paz

Travelers who are visiting Copacabana or the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca generally start in La Paz, Bolivia's capital city. The only way to travel is by bus and the journey takes about four to five hours. Prices and bus standards vary wildly, and it's generally worth paying a bit more to have a more comfortable ride.

Culture and Customs

The lake's importance has endured for centuries and the local Indigenous cultures—of which there are several—still consider the lake to be a sacred place. The most prominent cultures in the region are the Aymara, the Quechua, and the Uros, each with its own language and customs.

Due to overfishing in the lake and over-tourism, the traditional ways of life of the local residents are in danger. Many of the accommodations and homestays charge a supplement to support the local community, so don't pass over places that charge this extra fee. When booking tours of the lake or the islands, seek out guides that belong to the Titicaca's Indigenous groups. For example, the people of Isla Taquile started their own community tourism group to offer excursions and take back control from outside companies that were profiting off of the Indigenous residents.

Money Saving Tips

  • In general, Bolivia is less expensive than Peru. If you're traveling on a budget, focus your trip on the Bolivian side of the lake.
  • When looking for boat tours from Puno or Copacabana, don't accept the first offer you hear. There are plenty of options in both cities, so shop around a little and feel free to haggle.
  • Flights are convenient when you're short on time, but the most affordable way to travel around Peru is by bus.
  • The wet season from December to March is the least busy time to visit and when you're most likely to find travel deals. Rain isn't constant, so you may get lucky and have a fairly dry trip. On the other hand, if you encounter heavy rain it really limits how much you'll be able to explore Lake Titicaca.