Isla De La Luna is one of the most loved islands for tourists in Lake Titicaca. It is not hard to see why, with the backdrop of the snowy Andes and an important Inca historical site.
It is 12 kilometers from Isla Del Sol otherwise known as the Island of the Sun. Isla De La Luna is known in Inca history for being the location of the Temple of Virgins.
As soon as you reach, and even from a distance, you can see the red tip of the island which sets the Isla De La Luna apart from neighboring islands in the lake. It almost resembles the color of haematite and is very characteristic of its surroundings.
The Defining Inca Site
The Island of the Moon has one Inca site while other islands like the Isla Del Sol have several but it is still worth looking into. The Temple of the Virgins is not too far from where the boat docks and it can be reached quite easily.
A sharply steep staircase leads to an open-air theatre which back in the Inca times would have been home to a nunnery. According to the Incas, the women (more specifically virgins) that were allowed to live in the temple were considered blessed, pure and sacred. It was considered an honor to be one of those women and it meant being one with the gods.
The Wall Outside
There are imprints and indentations on the walls outside the Temple of the Moon and while one would initially assume they were done by the Inca, they actually date back to Tiwanaku people. The Tiwanaku people in region pre-dated the Incas but their ideas and architectural nuances formed a great and enduring influence.
The Incas were also inspired by the historic site (the city) of Tiwanaku that they found a way to include it in their own mythology. The Incas were also known for their talents in imitation as they created improved versions of Tiwanaku architectural styles.
Various Names For the Isle De La Luna
Many names were commonly used by the Inca for this island with the following being the most popular; Acllahuasi, Temple of the Virgins of the Sun, and Inak Uyo.
Some historians believe that the entire island was perhaps reserved for the purpose of housing the virgins which would explain why there are no ruins of other Inca settlements.
Perhaps the Incas used the place for worship and commuted via boat from other islands where they were housed rather than using the Isle De La Luna to live in permanently.
The Spanish And The Island of the Moon
The Spanish conquerors were quite resourceful with their new structures like the cathedral they built in Copacabana and they sourced materials from multiple islands and also Inca sites.
Not one for preservation, they are credited with not only destroying various sites all over Peru but also significantly altering the appearance of many.
Their structures in Copacabana are also made with the help of stones that were taken from Isla De La Luna.
During this time the island was also used as an exile colony for prisoners, perhaps due to the relative remoteness of its location. This is part of the reason why the original structures did not survive too well and were quite damaged while the Spanish retained power.
The Isla De La Luna remains to this day a must-see for people that want to experience every last Inca ruin. The island may not have the most ruins but it has a rich history and can help fill in the blanks for those studying Inca history and mythology.
Most people visit the Isla Del Sol in conjunction with the Isla De La Luna but at least half a day should be reserved for the latter in order to explore it fully.
There is an Inca legend that explains the famous Temple of the Virgins on the Isla De La Luna and it starts with the sun god Inti. Inti is in many Inca legends and after the creator god Viracocha, he is considered to be the most powerful and a leader of the other gods.
The island during Inca times was also known by the name Coati, linking it to an attempt at offering the sun god Inti tribute. This tribute took the face of untouched virgins that were reserved and brought to the island.
In many cases they were also required to live there for a period of time purifying themselves, indulging in worship and helping in carrying out rituals.
The nunnery which it is called in modern terms was made not just to worship the sun but also the woman who was considered the sun’s wife.
Mamaconas were special priestesses that were tasked with teaching and guiding the young women so they could fulfill their duties properly.
Mamaconas were revered women in the Inca culture often thought to possess powerful intuition and connection with the gods. Young virgins would be left in their care to become ‘brides of the sun’ as they would then be called.
Historians have drawn up comparisons of Mamaconas with modern day nuns although the functions were very different.
Depictions of Mamaconas are still sometimes a part of cultural festivals and ceremonies but they went completely extinct when the Spanish invaded.
The Village Life
If you are on a Titicaca retreat and visiting the major islands, you may be interested in witnessing the village lifestyle on the Island of the Moon.
The villagers live mainly off fish and have off-shore trout cages. After catching the trout they grill it finally and season it well. The villagers spend long hours in the sun and their skin is weathered by the elements. Tourists are recommended to stay hydrated and to top up their sun protection every few hours.
The locals are also very hospitable and often go to the shore to welcome tourists and visitors and make it a point to offer food and drink. This is also largely in part due to the hot weather which warrants frequent refreshments.
Local craftsmen and artists exhibit their wares and handicrafts near the famed Temple of the Virgins and tourists can buy souvenirs to take back home.
It is not allowed to photograph animals on the island without paying a fee so there are a few things every tourist needs to bear in mind. There are also entrance fees for the island.
The topography is absolutely breathtaking with the northern part rich in shrubs and greenery with an abundance of wandering sheep and llamas. West of the island is where you will find most of the locals and their trout cages.
If you crave isolation the southern part of the island has a beautiful beach from where you can enjoy Lake Titicaca and take some memorable pictures.
While it is recommended you lay aside at least half a day for the whole isle, it actually doesn’t really take more than a couple of hours to see everything.
Lastly, be aware of the boat timings as they operate as per a schedule and you have to clarify beforehand with the boatman how much time you will need on the island.