This extraordinary lake is set over two miles or almost four kilometres above sea level in the Andes mountains. Some of the peaks in the distance rise to over 6000m. Peru borders the lake to the north and Bolivia to the south. Aymara boatmen continue to use their traditional reed bundle rafts or balsas much as they have for centuries

The Yavari was built in kit form in London in 1862 and taken in sections to South America. There on the coast of Peru the pieces were loaded on muleback and carried over the mountains to the lakeshore. Finally the ship was assembled and launched in December 1870. For many years she was used to transport passengers and cargo between lake ports. The historic Yavari is the world's oldest working single propeller iron ship.

The Great Railway Pioneers Back in the middle of the 19th century, South America was being 'opened-up' by enterprises driven by capital from Europe and North America. The goal in Peru and Bolivia included the enormous mineral deposits of the Andes and the rubber from the Amazon forests. They lie below and beyond the snowcaps in the picture.

Early days on Peru's Southern RailwayRailways were planned to link the major cities of Peru and Bolivia. The network included some very high level track and crossed daunting mountain country. It has entered the record books as one of the world's greatest feats of railway engineering

The Lake Steamers - Lake Titicaca is over 100 miles long - 160kms - with a shoreline surrounded by villages and small farms.  In the 19th century it provided the easy link between many lakeside communities and the railways of the two countries. A fleet of small iron-hulled steam ships was built in England for carrying passengers and cargo and the first was the Yavari.

The Yavari was constructed in London , England in 1862 by James Watt & Co and The Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding. The hull was made of iron. The length was 50m and the beam 10m. When built the vessel had a steam engine with a boiler designed to be fired by llama dung - the llama , a native of the central Andes is related to the camel.

The stern of the Yavari
A team of native American porters. Built in pieces for easy transport, the Yavari was taken to Peru by sea from England and then across the Andes by mule-back. Teams of native American porters carried some of the heavier parts. .


The Yavari was launched on Christmas day - December 25th 1870. In 1913 the original steam engine was replaced by a Swedish built Bolinder 4 cylinder hot-bulb semi diesel motor [ it is a classic engine and now part of the Yavari museum].

The Yavari and another steamer in Puno harbour, 1930's

A Change of Life.- Since the1950s the Yavari has seen changes.  As road transport took over from rail and then as the mining industry declined in the region, the Yavari was sold, used as a tanker and became part of the Peruvian Navy...... ...Yes! Indeed, the Navy has a presence on Lake Titicaca as well as on the high seas. The Yavari was owned by the Navy and used infrequently when the Yavari Project was created to bring the old ship back to life. The vessel was purchased and funds were obtained to begin the first stages of its restoration.

The condition of the iron hull made all those years ago is almost perfect and the Bolinder engine is a working museum piece

The vintage Bolinder diesel engine
The  Yavari deck
The Yavari  wheelhouse

The Project engineers are overhauling the engine to make all the alterations necessary for the ship to conform with modern specifications. Once restored the Yavari will have a dual role. It will be used to carry paying passengers to tour Lake Titicaca in a style that was forgotten when the last white damask napkin was 'sent to the laundry'.

The Yavari is one of the few iron - not steel- hulled vessels to survive from Victorian times and the ship is still afloat. With the enthusiastic support of supporters worldwide the Yavari will once more set out across the lake. Like the 'African Queen' of classic movie fame the 'Queen of the Snows' will bring romance, adventure and and a lasting image of goodwill to the lives of many people.

The story of the Titicaca fleet of steamers will be published by South American Pictures on this website
Passing through the Strait of Tiquina - Bolivia on the Steamship Inca 650 tons built in 1905 by Earle's shipyard Hull , England. Sunrise over the Cordillera Real, The Royal Cordillera , Bolivia 1963
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