Exploring the Uros floating islands of Lake Titicaca, Peru
When planning a trip to Peru, Lake Titicaca is not always at the top of one’s priority list. Peru normally brings images of Machu Picchu or the Nazca lines, but the lake definitely deserves to be right up there! The lake is the highest navigable (by commercial craft) lake in the world – at 12,500 feet above sea level, and is the largest in South America, at over 8000 square kilometers. Sitting at the border between Peru and Bolivia, we started our exploration of the lake from the commercialized port city of Puno in Peru.
We had no idea what to expect at Lake Titicaca but we were quickly blown away even as we got glimpses of the lake driving into Puno. After spending a night in Puno, we were off on our two day tour of the lake.
Day 1: Visiting the Uros islands
We started with a visit to a group of floating islands made entirely of reed! The Uros islands are a group of about 90 man-made islands made with naturally occurring totoro reed. The inhabitants of the islands are continuously making these islands with the reeds and anchoring it on the shallow edges of the lake to prevent it from moving too much. Each island takes 8 men about a week to make, and they only last a few weeks before the reed starts to rot – and hence the islands must be continuously made! How do they do this? Each island houses a group of families, each of who take turns building the island and sharing other roles on the island – from cooking, schooling, making crafts, etc! A truly self-sustainable model and completely different way of life! Absolutely fascinating.
As we got to the island (and each tour company picks one island) we were greeted by the families in their beautifully colorful outfits, who welcomed us with big smiles. The experience of walking on the island that is entirely made of reed is interesting –it’s almost like walking on a water bed or something spongy, with a continuously sinking feeling with every step that we got used to in a few minutes.
We spent a couple of hours here, with a demo of how the islands are made with the reeds given by the island “President”, exploring the houses (also made of the reed!), the local school, and shopping for the handicrafts made by the women on the island. We also took a boat ride on a boat made with….you guessed it, reed, while a few of the kids regaled us with singing an English song and a French song!
The history of the Uros people is really fascinating, but more and more of them are moving to the mainland for modern opportunities. The islands are now a tourist experience to some extent, but I HIGHLY recommend a visit to these islands while they are still in their traditional manner – I have never seen anything like it!
From Uros, we spent about 2 hours on the water going to Amantani Island. On this ride is when you get an appreciation for the size of the lake and the gorgeous water! It was a beautiful morning and (thankfully) the water was not choppy at all – perfect for getting some sun and then a nap before reaching Amantani island for our overnight stay, which is a whole other story.
How to get there
We took a bus from Cuzco to Puno – the journey was about 8 hours with a few different stops along the way. Definitely recommend this as an option if you have time, the buses are very comfortable, and the scenery as you drive is breathtaking. The tourist stops are alright too for a quick break to stretch your legs and get some fresh air.
Other options are to fly into the city of Juliaca from Lima, Cusco, or Arequipa – and then take a short cab or bus to Puno. Many hotels may also offer this pickup service from Juliaca.
Booking a lake experience
We booked an overnight experience with Edgar Adventures but the city of Puno itself is definitely all about the tours on the lake. You will see this being sold everywhere. You can even do this on your own if you head on down to the docks, there are folks who will help you get on a tour. Tours are not expensive, so if you are a planner, I’d say just go ahead and book a tour with one of the companies before heading there.