Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca, the Island of the Moon,
and the holy mountains of Ancohuma and Illampu, Bolivia      

Soaring majestically above sacred Lake Titicaca and often cloaked by ethereal mists, stand the mystic mountains of Ancohuma and Illampu. The Andean region birthed several sophisticated cultures, including the Inca and that of Tiahuanaco, which venerated high peaks as the abodes of weather deities and nature spirits. Archaeological remains found on the summit of dozens of mountains throughout Peru and Bolivia reveal that pre-Columbian people regularly ascended peaks in excess of 18,000 feet to perform ceremonies asking the spirits for life-giving rain.

These mountain spirits were known by different names. There was Illapa, the ‘Flashing One’, who as Lord of storms and lightning controlled the forces of wind and rain, hail and snow. The Aymara of the Bolivian altiplano had a similar deity named Tunupa who was associated with Illampu and another great mountain, Illimani. The Inca called their mountain deities apu and their goddess of the earth was venerated as Pachamama. Great condors, traditionally regarded as messengers of the mountain spirits and able to communicate through shamans, also watch over the sacred peaks. Today people all across the Andes still ascend these mountains, continuing an ancient ritual of communion with nature spirits and the weather gods. Mt. Illampu (20,867 feet) and Mt. Ancohuma (20,957 feet), part of the same massif of peaks and permanently covered in snow, are also favored destinations of technical climbers and extreme skiers.

Far below these resplendent mountains is the lake of Titicaca. Situated at 12,506 feet and covering 3200 square miles, Lake Titicaca is over 1000 feet deep and has more than thirty (mostly uninhabited) islands. Three of its main islands; Amantani, Isla de la Luna (the Island of the Moon), and Isla del Sol (the Island of the Sun) figure richly in archaic Andean myths, and ruins of enigmatic temples are scattered throughout the hilly islands. Legends say that long ago in a forgotten time the world experienced a terrible storm with tremendous floods. The lands were plunged into a period of absolute darkness and frigid cold, and humankind was nearly eradicated. Some time after the deluge, the creator god Viracocha arose from the depths of Lake Titicaca. Journeying to the islands of Sol, Luna and Amantani, Viracocha commanded the sun (Inti), the moon (Mama-Kilya) and the stars to rise. Next going to the island of Tiahuanaco, he fashioned new men and women out of stones and, sending them to the four quarters, began the repopulation of the world. Tiahuanaco became, and has remained to this day, the sacred center of the Andes; it is to South America what the Great Pyramid is to Egypt, Avebury is to England, and Teotihuacan is to Mexico. Over millennia the waters of Titicaca have receded and shifted, leaving Tiahuanaco twelve miles inland.

Isla del Sol, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia     

Isla del Sol, Lake Titicaca     

Temple of Pachatata, Isla Amantani, Lake Titicaca, Peru
Martin Gray is a cultural anthropologist, writer and photographer specializing in the study of pilgrimage traditions and sacred sites around the world. During a 40 year period he has visited more than 2000 pilgrimage places in 165 countries. The World Pilgrimage Guide at is the most comprehensive source of information on this subject.

Lake Titicaca