Titicaca tētēkäˈkä [key], lake, c.3,200 sq mi (8,290 sq km), 110 mi (177 km) long, and c.900 ft (270 m) deep at at its deepest point, in the Andes Mts., on the Bolivia-Peru border; second largest freshwater lake in South America and the world's highest large lake (c.12,500 ft/3,810 m above sea level). The lake is divided into two basins by the Strait of Tiquina. Fed by many short mountain streams, the lake is drained by the Desaguadero River to Lake Poopó. In the 21st cent. a reduction in inflowing meltwater from mountain glaciers has led to a drop in water levels, and pollution from growing cities and towns in the lake's watershed has greatly increased. A center of indigenous life from pre-Inca times, the shores of Titicaca are crowded with native villages and terraced fields, which are a major source of subsistence crops for the largely barren highland region. The almost constant temperature of the water (51℉/11℃) modifies the climate and makes possible the growing of potatoes and grains at the high altitude. Native balsas, small flat-bottomed reed boats with reed sails, dot the lake and are used for commerce and fishing. On the lake near Puno, Uros live on floating islands made of reeds. Near the lake's southern shore is the pre-Inca ruin Tiahuanaco. In the lake are the islands of Titicaca and Coati, the legendary birthplace of the Incas, which contain ruins of past civilizations.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Latin American and Caribbean Physical Geography