The origin of the name Titicaca is unknown. It has been translated as “Rock Puma”, as local communities have traditionally interpreted the shape of the lake to be that of a puma hunting a rabbit. “Titicaca” combines words from the local languages Quechua and Aymara. The word is also translated as “Crag of Lead”. Locally, the lake goes by several names. Because the southeast quarter of the lake is separate from the main body (connected only by the Strait of Tiquina), the Bolivians call it Lago Huiñaymarca (Quechua: Wiñay Marka) and the larger part Lago Chucuito. In Peru, these smaller and larger parts are referred to as Lago Pequeño and Lago Grande, respectively.
The lake has had a number of steamships, each of which was built in the United Kingdom in “knock down” form with bolts and nuts, disassembled into many hundreds of pieces, transported to the lake, and then riveted together and launched.
In 1862 Thames Ironworks on the River Thames built the iron-hulled sister ships SS Yavari and SS Yapura under contract to the James Watt Foundry of Birmingham. The ships were designed as combined cargo, passenger and gunboats for the Peruvian Navy. After several years’ delay in delivery from the Pacific coast to the lake, Yavari was launched in 1870 and Yapura in 1873. Yavari was 100 feet (30 m) long but in 1914 her hull was lengthened for extra cargo capacity and she was re-engined as a motor vessel.
In 1905 Earle’s Shipbuilding at Kingston upon Hull on the Humber built SS Inca. By now a railway served the lake so the ship was delivered in kit form by rail. At 220 feet (67 m) long and 1,809 tons Inca was the lake’s largest ship thus far. In the 1920s Earle’s supplied a new bottom for the ship, which also was delivered in kit form.
Trade continued to grow, so in 1930 Earle’s built SS Ollanta. Her parts were landed at the Pacific Ocean port of Mollendo and brought by rail to the lake port of Puno. At 260 feet (79 m) long and 2,200 tons she was considerably larger than the Inca, so first a new slipway had to be built to build her. She was launched in November 1931.
In 1975 Yavari and Yapura were returned to the Peruvian Navy, who converted Yapura into a hospital ship and renamed her BAP Puno. The Navy discarded Yavari but in 1987 charitable interests bought her and started restoring her. She is now moored at Puno Bay and provides static tourist accommodation while her restoration continues. Coya was beached in 1984 but restored as a floating restaurant in 2001. Inca survived until 1994 when she was broken up. Ollanta is no longer in scheduled service but PeruRail has been leasing her for tourist charter operations.