Standing on the hillside terraces of Isla del Sol, in the thin air of the high altitude, when all you see for miles around is the deep water of Lake Titicaca, it is easy to feel as if your standing on top of the world. The overwhelming enormity and grandeur of Lake Titicaca suggests that the Incas may have been correct when they believed that this sacred lake was the birthplace of their civilization. The legend and mystery of Lake Titicaca has long drawn visitors from around the world, and the ruins left behind from previous civilizations in and around the lake are tribute to why. With plenty of sacred attractions to check out around Lake Titicaca, there are a number of sites that are considered the most renowned ruins in Bolivia. These are the Lake Titicaca ruins that you’ll want to explore while enjoying excellent day hikes in between:
Ruins on Sun Island
On the southeastern corner of Sun Island, the sacred Palcio del Inca, known as Pilco Kaina, was believed by the Inca to be the spiritual entrance to the island and birthplace of the sun. The great Inca, Tupac Yupanqui demanded that this palace was built facing the sun as it rises over the Andes Mountains in the background of Lake Titicaca. A short hike North from Pilco Kaina, and you’ll find yourself at the base of the stone steps of the Escalera del Inca, an ancient steep staircase with natural spring water flowing down three channels alongside the steps. The fresh water’s source is from the Fuente del Inca, a sacred fountain of stone blocks that represent the three laws of the Inca: do not steal, do not lie and do not be lazy–the last one being hard to abide to after the effort you put into hiking the 206 steps.
A few hours and a few breaks after making the hike across the multi-level terraces of the island, you’ll arrive at perhaps the most significant icon of the entire Inca civilization; the Piedra Sagrada. Inca mythology states that this massive rock, carved in the shape of a puma, is where the sun dropped down and gave birth to the first Incas, leaving giant footprints nearby. While there is not any significant evidence, the giant stone table in front of Piedra Sagrada is thought to be where human sacrifices and offerings were made– (looking at the colossal alter facing the clouded sky above, it doesn’t take much to imagine the Incas making preparations to the Gods here). To the northeast, a maze of stone complexes known as the Chinkana ruins is considered the only Labyrinthine in Bolivia and provides a tangible look into what living spaces were like for this ancient civilization.
Ruins on Moon Island
Worth its own full day of hiking and exploration, the archeological ruins on Moon Island have remnants, not only from the Inca, but the also the pre-Inca culture of the Aymara. Just like Sun was commanded to rise on the nearby Sun Island, the bearded God Viracocha instructed the moon to rise here. Hopefully rested and re-energized from the day before, make the quick hike from the shores of the island to Iñac Uyu. The Incas made their mark here by building this temple deep into the islands terraces. Hiking among the ruins you’ll discover the former palace of the Virgenes del Sol –beautiful women were housed here to learn the fine arts and perform ceremonies.
Other ruins around Copacabana, Bolivia
If you find yourself in town and still trying to get your fill of Lake Titicaca ruins, check out some of sites and ruins around Copacabana. Relatively easy hikes from town–although it doesn’t take much to take your breath away at this altitude– are to the Tribunal del Inca and to Horca del Inca. Believed to be were Incas held significant deliberations, the Tribunal del Inca or “stone on which sits the sun”, is a series boulders carved in the shape of seats. Probably in need of a sit anyway, you can imagine noble Incas sitting on these stones having discussions in the hot sun as it glimmers on Lake Titicaca in the background.
Another hike from town is the Horca del Inca, which means “Inca Gallows”. Upon the Spanish arrival, they thought this was where prisoners were taken to be killed, but investigations have since proven this ancient site to be an astronomical observatory.
The Underwater city hidden beneath Lake Titicaca
Although you cannot hike to this set of ruins, potentially the most intriguing and without a doubt the most mystical Lake Titicaca ruins were discovered in August of 2000. It has long been believed that an ancient metropolis was submerged in the dark waters of the lake, but no evidence was found even after multiple explorations in the mid 50’s. In 2000, an international team of divers discovered a submerged road just outside of Copacabana at a depth of about 20 meters. What they found at the end of this pre-Inca road was a massive 50-meter wide temple, along with an 800-meter long retaining wall. Researchers say the ruins could be 1,000 to 1,500 years old–predating the Inca. This might not be the Underwater City of Lake Titicaca, but these ruins only add to the mystery of Lake Titicaca ruins.