As is the case with so many bygone civilisations, legends about mysterious palaces and disappearing cities abound in the vicinity of Lake Titicaca. Straddling the border between Peru and Bolivia, this body of water, the world’s highest navigable lake and one of the world’s deepest it has its fair share of myths. The best known is its reputation as being the birthplace of the Inca civilisation, with the Children of the Sun emerging from its waters.
The story goes that at some undefined time in pre-history floods almost destroyed the earth and wiped out Mankind. As this apocalyptic event unrolled the god Viracocha emerged from the waters of Lake Titicaca and created a new man – Mallku Kapac - and a new woman – Mama Ocllo – and ordered them to repopulate the earth. Sounds familiar? Not surprising if you know your Old Testament. But here is where it becomes interesting: Another legend talks about a lost city, Wanaku, submerged in the lake. And there are tales of ancient palaces seen by fishermen during dry spells when the lake level dropped, and local people diving and touching the roofs of stone buildings.
The lake is difficult to explore beneath the surface not just because diving in high altitude is tricky and can only be undertaken by highly experienced professionals, but also because the lake is still considered sacred by the local people who are not very happy to see their waters disturbed in this manner. However, after some failed attempts to explore the world beneath the surface, there was some success...
In 2000, an Italian team made up of an archaeologist and divers called Akakor Geographical Exploring discovered some evidence of pre-Columbian constructions: a huge temple (200mts x 50mts), traces of a paved road, an 800m retaining wall and a terrace for crops and ceramic artefacts.
Albeit no conclusive answers have been given as to who may have built the now-sunken monuments they can be reliably dated to between 1,000 and 1,500 years ago. As such they are not just pre-Columbian, but also pre-Incan and some stone heads recovered from the site bear striking resemblance to the ones found in the ruins of Tiwanaku not far from the Bolivian shores of the lake.
Could this be Wanaku? The ruins uncovered so far are hardly numerous enough to constitute a city, granted, but as a whole may reveal enough hard facts to confound the doubters and transform the myth into reality. Whatever the truth of the matter, there is definitely something lurking beneath the waters.
Want to see the mysterious Lake Titicaca for yourself, take a look at our Lake Titicaca excursions for things to do in and around the area.