With a surface area of 8,300km2 and situated at 3,810m above sea level, Lake Titicaca, located between the border of Perú and Bolivia, is considered the highest commercially navigable lake in the world. The freshwater lake is home to a number of islands with Amantaní and Taquile being the principal ones on the Peruvian side. Also, here lies an archipelago of artificial floating islands made entirely from totora reeds.
Touring these islands can be easily arranged from the lakeside city of Puno, Peru, with each island offering a different cultural experience. It takes about thirty minutes by boat to reach the floating islands of Uros.
Once you alight, the sensation is akin to walking on a moving boat dock, where the floor is a bit wobbly, making you wonder about its stability. But the Uru people who inhabit these islands continually replenish the totora reeds, on average, every three months.
You spend roughly an hour learning about how the Uru had come to live and maintain life on these islands by relying on this plant, which grows abundantly in the lake, for food, cooking, medicine, construction, and transportation. Then, there’s the opportunity to take a ride on a balsa, boats the Uru also construct out of totora. And for those who love collecting passport stamps, you can get one for Lake Titicaca, making for a brilliant souvenir.
Uros may be the least culturally immersive and has been characterized as somewhat “touristy.” So if you can spare a full day on the lake, include a trip to Taquile. From Uros, it takes another 2.5 hours to get to (or three hours directly from Puno).
Taquile and its textile art is on UNESCO’s list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, where knitting is exclusively done by the men and the women exclusively make the yarn and weave. The craftsmanship is so intricate that it looks machine made.
But aside from this remarkable cultural activity, the views of Lake Titicaca afforded from the island and the simplistic beauty of the surroundings as you walk the one hour towards the main square is absolutely stunning. Along the way, you will notice how the people of Taquile recycle everything as the lifecycle of a worn out rubber tire, made into a shoe sole, now serves as a door hinge.
Topographically, the hike is only a gradual ascent, but the high altitude makes it challenging. If not sea sickness, altitude sickness is a common occurrence. The best way to prevent a medical emergency where help is not easily accessible until you return to the mainland is to spend some time acclimatizing in Puno. The return to port is not back the same way, but rather a descent down 500 narrow and steep stone steps.
And if you have even more time, commit to a two day, one night excursion that includes an overnight stay on Amantaní . Amantaní is the furthest from Puno, about 4 hours, but only an hour away from Taquile. The island is beautiful in a subdued way. Not as lush and verdant as Taquile, but with a plenitude of agricultural terraces that extend practically up to the sheer cliffs that plunge into the ocean.
At the port, local families await to greet the small groups that they will be paired with to host. The homestay provides a glimpse into everyday life. Accommodations are simple. There is no running water, electricity, or showers.
Groups and their families hike up to the highest point, Pachatata (Father Earth), to enjoy the sunset. Also here, is an ancient ruin, where it is believed that if you walk around it three times counterclockwise, your wish will come true. Later in the evening, you dress up in traditional costume to attend a party hosted by the community and return in the early morning hours to fall asleep under a clear night sky full of twinkling stars. There are other possibilities for Lake Titicaca tours that are a bit less commercialized so be sure to ask about the options.
Regardless of which islands you choose to visit, there’s no doubt that Lake Titicaca offers a memorable experience.
By Jaclyn Lee