According to legend the first Inca man and woman rose from the waters of Lake Titicaca on orders from the Sun God to create the Inca Empire. This enormous and unique lake is home to the descendants of the Uros tribe, the legend of the Uros tribe however predates the Incas. According to locals, the Uros existed before the sun, when the Earth was still dark and cold. This gave them ‘black blood’ which helped them withstand the cold Andean temperatures. Intrigued? Not yet? They live on floating islands in the middle of a freezing lake 12500 feet above sea level. That should have done it! Being on this sacred lake makes all the stories, legends and mysteries come to life.
Fun fact- Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake on the planet, located between Peru and Bolivia. The famous attraction here are the Uros floating islands. They are man-made islands woven together with Totora reeds that grow in the shallow areas of the lake. The reeds are harvested, dried, and woven together to create these huge floating rafts. Every few months they replenish the island with fresh reeds to keep the island afloat. Even their houses and boats are made of reeds.
We booked the tour of the floating island through the same company we used for the Inca trail hike- Llama Path, they are amazing! We are not big fans of tours and take them only when necessary, however this is the only way to get to these islands and experience the culture. The guides picked us up from the hotel at 6 am and took us by bus to the port where we hopped on the boat. The boat was big with comfortable seats and big windows, and the deck on the upper level gave us a chance to soak in the scenery and mingle with fellow travelers. Beware though it’s really easy to get sun burnt when you’re at high altitude, so slap on that sunscreen. It’s always a good idea to dress in layers so you can enjoy some time on the deck and are prepared if the weather gets rough.
The guides are extremely informative and educate you on the history and culture of the Uros people and the lake. This lake is larger than the island of Puerto Rico, so it takes about two hours to get to the island. On the island, we interacted with the locals to learn about their way of life and then hopped on a reed boat to explore the lake. We spotted some native birds and relaxed under the blue sky and the placid water around us.
Next, we visited Taquile island. We hiked to our lunch spot and had a delicious meal of fresh grilled fish from the lake. Our lunch was followed by a short dance performance by the locals. The Taquileños are known for their hand-woven textiles which are of the highest quality in Peru. All around the island you’ll see women in colorful skirts and hats sitting on their porches weaving yarn. Knitting is deep-rooted into their culture, and men start knitting at the age of eight. If a man can’t knit, he may not find a wife.
This experience was enriching and it makes you wonder why the Uros tribe chose this life of solitude and hardship. According to our guides, the Uros tribe were constantly attacked by other larger indigenous groups that forced them to leave their land and take refuge on the water. They tied their boats together and lived as a community on the lake for a while. Unable to sustain life on the boats they made islands out of reeds and have lived there since. Fishing, knitting and tourism help sustain their communities today, you can support them by buying their beautiful handicrafts. Being here makes you appreciate their simple, humble way of life and gives you a fresh perspective on that new car or new phone you want but don’t really need.
How to get to Lake Titicaca:
From Lima– Fly into Juliaca, the closest airport to Puno. There are regular bus services from the Juliaca airport to Puno and they cost about $5/person. You will see the buses as soon as you walk out the airport.
From Cusco– You can take a bus from Cusco to Puno. There are multiple companies that provide the service. The local transport is not very reliable so go with a reputable company even if it’s a little expensive. We actually took the bus from Puno to Cusco and got it arranged through Llama Path. It took us about 8 hours including lunch and sight seeing stops.
What to carry in your day pack:
A light layer, gloves, sunscreen, lip balm, hat, sunglasses, cash (soles) for shopping and lunch, camera, water, a book or music for the journey, altitude sickness pills (just in case), wet wipes or toilet paper.
Tips to staying healthy when high:
Lake Titicaca is 12500 feet above sea level. You may get a little dizzy or feel breathless. Hydrate- drink up on Coco tea, refrain from alcohol (trust me!) and carry altitude sickness pills with you.
If you have more time:
Consider a homestay with a local Quecha family on one of the floating islands and immerse yourself into the peaceful world of the people of Lake Titicaca.