GETTING THERE: The best entry point is La Paz, Bolivia. It's also the priciest, however, with the least expensive flights from Reagan National on American Airlines this summer running $892 round trip and up. D.C.-Lima flights are a more reasonable $510 round trip on American Airlines. From Lima, you can take a one-hour flight to Puno, on the northern shore of the lake, for around $75 each way on LanChile. Adventure travelers should take the Ormeno Lima-Puno bus ride; it costs around $35 each way and goes through sublime terrain -- but takes about 18 hours. You can pick it up at the central bus depot, Avenida Carlos Zavala 177, Lima.
WHERE TO STAY: For a complete perspective, spend a couple of nights at the northern end of the lake in Puno, Peru, and a couple at the southern end in Copacabana, Bolivia. In Puno, the best place is the elegant Colon Inn (290 Calle Tacna, 011-51-51- 357-090, www.coloninn.com), where double rooms, including a full breakfast, go for about $100 a night. In Copacapana, I liked the friendly hostel La Cupula (1-3 Calle Michel Perez, 011-591-2862-2029, www.hotelcupula.com), which has breathtaking views and excellent service. It's also a good base for travel anywhere in Bolivia. The finest double -- a wonderfully decorated room with a lake view -- goes for around $35 a night.
GETTING AROUND: You can make reservations at short notice for excursions on the lake. In Puno, try All Ways Travels (www.titicacaperu.com), a reputable eco-friendly firm with English-speaking guides. A trip to the floating islands and Taquile will take a whole day and cost around $25 a person. The company can also arrange overnight stays with families in Taquile for around $15 more.
In Copacabana, Grace Tours (011-51-51-0862-2160) is a safe, reliable operator offering outings to Isla del Sol and other islands across the lake. The boats are not always the best, but they get you there. A day trip without a guide is about $20 a person. Tours with an English-speaking guide cost twice that.
A reliable travel agency offering package trips to the Lake Titicaca basin is Washington's Solar Tours (800-388-7652, www.solartours.com). Excursions including flights from D.C. to La Paz and three nights in the Titicaca basin start at $1,217 per person.
INFORMATION: For general information on the lake from the Bolivian side, try the Embassy of Bolivia, 202-483-4410, www.bolivia-usa.org. The Rough Guide to Bolivia also provides a thorough overview. For the Peruvian side, start with Prom Peru, the country's main tourism office, 011-51-1-224-3121, www.peru.org.pe.
-- Gary Lee