Lake Titicaca


Ages 6 & up
Destination: Copacabana, Bolivia & Puno, Peru

Face it: The kids will talk a lot about their upcoming trip to Lake Titicaca -- they just won't be able to resist saying the name. But that's okay. They'll stop snickering once they get there and see this huge deep-blue freshwater lake sitting in its cup of mountain peaks, 3,600m (11,811 ft.) above sea level.

To locals, measuring the altitude is irrelevant: Lake Titicaca is a mysterious and sacred place. Here, in the midst of the lake, Manca Capac and Mama Ocllo -- the Adam and Eve of the Incas -- were supposedly born on the Isla del Sol (Sun Island), which you can visit on a day trip from the lakeside town of Copacabana, Bolivia. On Sun Island, you'll visit the ruins of Chinkana, a huge stone labyrinth built as a seminary for Inca priests. The path back to the town of Challapampa passes the sacred rock, shaped like a puma, from which Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo first stepped; farther on, you can look down and see the two huge footprints the sun is said to have made when it landed on earth to give birth to them. Tours also stop at Isla de la Luna (Moon Island), site of an ancient convent where the Virgins of the Sun performed ceremonies honoring the sun.

On the Peruvian shore (several local tour packages include both sides of the lake), the main town of Puno is not nearly as lovely as Copacabana, but the kids will want to come here to take a boat tour to the Uros islands. Since the time of the Incas, the local Uros Indians have lived on these tiny floating islands built on soft patches of reeds. Walking on the springy islets is truly a strange sensation. Some Uros wait for the tour boats to arrive so they can hawk their handmade textiles and reed-crafted items, but many others keep to their thatched huts or continue fishing, catching birds and continually repairing the reed underpinnings of their islets. Full-day trips also include stops at Taquile and Amantani islands, rustic natural islands with Inca ruins to explore.

Other Andean peoples subscribe to a different myth: that Viracocha, the creator deity, called up the sun, moon, and stars to rise from icy Lake Titicaca to lighten the dark world. Powerful spirits still live in this sky-high lake, they say. Gliding over the calm blue surface, you may find yourself staring down into the water's cold depths to connect with them. But you don't need to believe in these legends to sense the appeal of Lake Titicaca.

Information: Puna tourist information, Plaza de Armas (tel. 051/36-5088; www.peru.info).

Nearest Airport: Manco Capac, Juliaca, Peru, 45km (28 miles) from Puno.

Accommodations: Hotel Rosario del Lago, Rigoberto Paredes and Av. Costanera, Copacabana, Bolivia (tel. 0102/862-2141; www.hotelrosario.com/lago). Sonesta Posada del Inca, Sesquicentenario 610, Sector Huaje, Peru (tel. 051/364-111; www.sonesta.com).