The beauty of Lake Tit­i­caca

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It is a strange sen­sa­tion to stand on a float­ing is­land made en­tirely out of reeds. With ev­ery step, the sur­face squishes un­der­foot like a gi­ant sponge and it feels like one might just sink into the icy wa­ters of Lake Tit­i­caca, on which these is­lands float.

Wel­come to the man-made is­lands of the indige­nous Uros tribe. About 4,600 peo­ple live on some 120 float­ing is­lands on the lake, just like how their an­ces­tors have for over 500 years. The two me­trethick reed is­lands are made of com­pacted bun­dles of the tor­tora reeds and se­cured to the bot­tom of the lake with ropes and sharp sticks. De­spite the dis­con­cert­ing sen­sa­tion of step­ping on what is es­sen­tially a reed plat­form, they are solid enough to sup­port a clus­ter of thatched huts where ex­tended fam­i­lies live, sleep, cook and even watch satel­lite tele­vi­sion.

Be­sides ac­cess to In­ter­net con­nec­tiv­ity, the Uru lead mostly tra­di­tional life­styles. Women dress in colour­ful garb of knit­ted cardi­gans and thick, long skirts with broad brimmed felt bowler hats while men don multi-hued beanie hats and pon­chos. The same reeds, which are used to build the is­lands are also har­vested for sus­te­nance. Is­lan­ders also hunt fish from the lake and seag­ulls and ducks for pro­tein.

Si­t­u­ated at the Peru-Bo­livia bor­der on the An­dean high plateau at a ver­tig­i­nous al­ti­tude of 3,800m above sea level, le­gend has it that Lake Tit­i­caca is where the first Inca lead­ers came from, mak­ing it the cra­dle of the mighty Inca civil­i­sa­tion. To­day, this re­gion con­tin­ues to at­tract in­trepid glo­be­trot­ters who are drawn to the cul­tur­ally unique prac­tices and way of life of the Uru peo­ple. The land sur­round­ing this myth­i­cal lake is also home to na­tive Ay­mara and Quechua peo­ple and is dot­ted with pre-In­can ru­ins as well as colo­nial ar­chi­tec­ture.

Lux­ury at high al­ti­tudes

But there’s a catch. De­spite the wealth of cul­tural, his­toric and geo­graphic riches, mod­ern lux­u­ries are scant here, pos­si­bly be­cause of its rel­a­tive in­ac­ces­si­bil­ity at such a high al­ti­tude. Puno, the clos­est town on the Pe­ru­vian side of the lake, mostly of­fers ba­sic ac­com­mo­da­tion for those on shoestring bud­gets.

Still, there is one gem of a find – Ti­ti­laka, a stun­ning 18-room Re­lais & Chateaux lodge lo­cated right by the shore of the lake. (Travel tip: For a seam­less trans­fer to this re­mote cor­ner of the world, be­spoke travel agen­cies like A2A Jour­neys can han­dle all the lo­gis­tics.) De­signed by su­per­star Pe­ru­vian ar­chi­tect Jordi Puig, the ho­tel is built to take full ad­van­tage of the glo­ri­ous view of the lake’s end­less blue wa­ters and azure skies. The sun­light-dap­pled floor-to-ceil­ing glass-walled lobby is beau­ti­fully fur­nished with ar­ti­sanal tex­tiles, throws and rugs by mas­ter weavers from the lo­cal com­mu­nity.

Out­side, a spa­cious wrap­around out­door ter­race with plush daybeds and com­fort­able deck chairs of­fers plenty of space to sit in quiet con­tem­pla­tion of the mys­ter­ies of the world’s high­est nav­i­ga­ble lake. On some evenings, there’s a camp­fire by the shore where one can snug­gle into warm An­dean blan­kets and watch the fiery sun­set while sip­ping pisco cock­tails.

For all its cosy grandeur, it is the at­ten­tive and in­tu­itive staff, most of whom speak English, who make the ho­tel an un­for­get­table des­ti­na­tion. At other five-star prop­er­ties, a wel­come drink is served on ar­rival. Here, they ad­min­is­ter a sim­ple oxy­gen test to en­sure that guests are not af­fected by al­ti­tude sick­ness; oth­er­wise, oxy­gen tanks will be pro­vided. Dur­ing a car ride, when my driver re­alises I am cu­ri­ous about the town’s weekly live­stock mar­ket, he even of­fers to make an un­sched­uled stop to show me around the mar­ket­place.

Ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the An­des in style

Func­tion­ing some­what like a sa­fari lodge, Ti­ti­laka also of­fers a com­pre­hen­sive se­lec­tion of ac­tiv­i­ties that range from treks on the alti­plano to ar­chae­o­log­i­cal site ex­cur­sions and even vis­its to the lo­cal mar­ket where bar­ter­ing is still prac­ticed. Nat­u­rally, some of the most pop­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties are the lake out­ings which in­clude raft­ing through the reeds and vis­its to the float­ing is­lands. Day ex­cur­sions on the ho­tel’s plush pri­vate yacht also in­clude a stop on Taquile is­land, which is on UN­ESCO’s in­tan­gi­ble her­itage of hu­man­ity list for its is­lan­ders’ unique style of tex­tile knit­ting and weav­ing.

The cul­tural im­mer­sion con­tin­ues in a de­lec­ta­ble way back at Ti­ti­laka where chef Maria Fe Gar­cia draws on the bounty of the land to cre­ate a mod­ern Pe­ru­vian menu with a spe­cial em­pha­sis on An­dean in­gre­di­ents. The ex­per­i­men­tal yet de­li­cious fare such as al­paca carpac­cio, quinoa souf­fle and lake trout go per­fectly with fresh sal­ads and light con­somes.

For those who are feel­ing ad­ven­tur­ous, con­sider ask­ing the bar­tender to pour a se­lec­tion of tast­ing por­tions of pisco, Peru’s de facto na­tional drink. The spirit can be made with any com­bi­na­tion of eight va­ri­etals of grapes and tast­ing the drink neat will al­low the cu­ri­ous con­nois­seur to ex­pe­ri­ence the range of fruity, earthy and flo­ral flavours that are of­ten masked in a cock­tail.

On a clear night, do join the res­i­dent as­tronomer out on the deck for an un­for­get­table view of the Milky Way in its full glory. It does get chilly on the An­dean high­lands but let’s just say the con­stel­la­tions cer­tainly seem more daz­zling this high up in the moun­tains.

Thank­fully, the rooms, which are just as thought­fully de­signed as the com­mon spa­ces, are built with heated floors for added warmth. With black­out cur­tains, am­ple closet space, ex­tra pil­lows and or­ganic bath­room ameni­ties, it’s prac­ti­cally im­pos­si­ble to find fault with the space. And yet, there are still ways to make the ex­cel­lent even more ex­cep­tional. Here, this means that rooms are not just fit­ted out with over­sized bath­tubs that over­look the lake, but the ho­tel also pro­vides a com­pli­men­tary but­ler ser­vice to draw a can­dlelit rose petal bath at guests’ con­ve­nience. Life re­ally does not get much bet­ter than that.

At other five- star prop­er­ties, a wel­come drink is served on ar­rival. Here, they ad­min­is­ter a sim­ple oxy­gen test to en­sure that guests are not af­fected by al­ti­tude sick­ness

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