Lake Titicaca’s Festival of Women

22 10 2010




A girl awaits her blessing from the shaman


The shaman raised her hands above the young girl’s head, long black hair sweeping the teenager’s shoulders as she bowed obediently. The elderly woman’s wrinkled face was masked with concentration as she placed a crown on the youngster’s glistening locks. 
The shaman closed her eyes and her Quechua chants danced in the air as she sidestepped to allow her male counterparts to bless the girl. 

The female shaman (pink skirt) and her male counterpart preside over the celebration of women at Isla de la Luna

The ceremony was taking place on Isla de la Luna (Moon Island), Lake Titicaca, South America’s largest lake. It was a celebration of women, a festival that has taken place annually over hundreds of years. Locals from different communities sat patiently in the searing heat, their colourful garb decorating the hillside. Only a handful of tourists had made it to the island – this year was the first ceremony open to outsiders.

Four teenage girls, selected for their marriageable age, were being crowned by three shamans bearing gifts and holy water. Behind their shyness crept smiles and coy giggles as onlookers watched their crowning. Their graceful hands swept through the breeze during a ritual dance, their feet taking tiny steps beneath their multicoloured dresses. Younger girls towed behind, carefully watching their elders for the cue to move. 

The festivities began after dawn with locals from Isla de la Luna and the mainland harrying about with chairs and decorations. At 4,000 metres above sea level the intensity of the sun bared down on unsuspecting visitors, leaving its red mark on their skin. The locals hid beneath hats and long-sleeved tops, their faces often obscured by shadows. 

The diminutive islet is considered a sacred place for women, the origins dating back to the Inca empire. Isla de la Luna was originally home to chosen women known as the “Virgins of the Sun” who lived a celebrated lifestyle and performed ceremonies dedicated to the sun. Today the island is inhabited by a small Quechua-speaking population consisting of men, women and children. Several mainlanders had joined the festivities and men from the neighbouring communities wove through the ceremony with reed boats, llamas, bells and cheerful smiles.

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We’d arrived, four tourists, with a boat of locals after being hustled by the obnoxious man at our hostel on Isla del Sol. I’d been told the previous day about the fiesta whilst staying in Copacabana, situated on the shore of Lake Titicaca, and was eager to see the celebrations firsthand.

The welcome banner caused great mirth – a stuffed Emo from Sesame Street was adorning the gateway, its acceptance granted by it donning a customary Bolivian hat. The people, however, were draped in traditional attire and held an air of dignity about their heritage. 

Lunch was signalled by hunched women, struggling under the weight of their vibrant bags, eagerly unfastening them to share over twenty different types of potatoes with their guests. Scooping food into their pleated skirts, the females hurried into the corner to feast on the delights, leaving myself and a handful of other foreigners milling from one bag to another to devour the root vegetables. 

Isla del Sol

Isla del Sol

Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) is one of Lake Titicaca’s largest and most visited isles. With no vehicles or paved roads it’s donkeys that transport goods around the island, including potable water which has to be brought in from the mainland. Despite an influx of hostels and restaurants (although there isn’t a particularly touristy vibe) the locals staunchly maintain their heritage with substance farming, sheep herding and fishing.

I wandered around the entire island in six hours while the sun’s glare desperately tried to penetrate my clothes. The altitude makes it slightly challenging but the scenery of mottled sea, adobe brick houses, stepped terraces and wandering llamas quite possibly placed Isla del Sol as my top Bolivian destination.


It’s pretty straight forward. Copacabana is geared up for tourists with a multitude of agencies offering one-way trips (10 Bs) to the north or south of the island or one-day returns. It’s best to stay overnight and purchase two one-way tickets, staying in one of the hostels on the island. Although I’d recommend NOT STAYING in the first hostel at the top of the steps, the owners are rude and simply after as much cash as they can get.



  • South America’s highest country with cities 4,000km sea level
  • Awash with local women sporting two long plaits and bowler hats
  • One of the less touristic countries in the region


  • The largest high altitude lake in the world
  • It is situated in both Bolivia and Peru although the Bolivian side is much less touristic
  • Isla del Sol is a must-stay destination, an overnight or three-day visit is recommended





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