The Floating Uros Islands Of Lake Titicaca, Peru
Lake Titicaca is the world’s highest navigable lake, sitting at nearly 4000 metres above sea level. It is a must-see for travellers to the South American continent and can be accessed from both Peru and Bolivia.
Dave and I will be visiting the famous lake on both sides of the water and the best place to do so in Peru, is from the coastal city of Puno. Puno itself has nothing to offer backpackers, but it does do regular day trips out to the popular Uros Islands, or ‘floating islands’ as they’re more commonly known. They’re called this because of the fact that they are manmade entirely out of reeds and therefore, yep you guessed it, they float.
We arrive in Puno in the early evening, checking in to our very homely and welcoming hostel, called Marlon’s House (highly recommended!). The young man at reception is beyond helpful and books us on to a morning tour of the floating islands, as well as a bus from Puno to Copacabana in Bolivia for the following afternoon.
Originally, we were unsure about seeing the floating islands, having heard from others that they are now extremely touristy and therefore, have lost their authenticity. However, we’re talking about whole islands built entirely from reeds here, how unique is that? Not only this, the Uros Islands also home dozens of native Quechuan families, who live in reed houses and sail reed boats. We think this is something we should at least see once and make our own minds up about.
So, the next morning we are collected by a taxi and taken to the port, then shown to a small ferry by a young lad that we think is our tour guide. It turns out, the guy who delivers us to the boat is not our tour guide at all, in fact his sole job is to accompany us from our hotel to the port. We definitely could have managed that part on our own, but it’s a very cheap tour so we’re not too bothered about having spent a few extra pounds and at least he’s getting a day’s wage.
Our real tour guide is very friendly and informative, speaking in both Spanish and English every time he explains something, even though Dave and I are the only two in the small group who don’t speak fluent Spanish. On the trip out to the Uros Islands he teaches us how to say hello in Quechuan (which I’ve forgotten already) and briefs us on the morning’s agenda. Then we head up onto the top deck to take pictures as we near the islands themselves.
The lake is gigantic. It feels as though we’re sailing the ocean with the horizon stretching on for miles and miles. Soon enough, pale green reeds start to emerge from the dark blue water, getting denser as we continue through a canal in the middle. The islands themselves become visible in the distance, but we have to stop at a checkpoint on our way in to the floating village to pay the entrance fee. The checkpoint is manned by indigenous people, who smile and wave as we pull up alongside their reed office.
Finances sorted, we proceed into the middle of a circle of floating reed islands, each featuring a dozen Peruvian women in luminous floor-length skirts, bowler hats and the traditional plaited hairstyles. Every woman waves frantically and calls out to us, hoping to attract the boat driver’s attention so we’ll opt for their island over another. We wave back politely, stopping to point at comfortable looking reed boats, that ferry tourists from one island to another, rowed by the island’s villagers themselves.
The island we do stop at is called Khantawi. Stepping off of the boat to be greeted by the island’s women, I’m surprised at how bouncy the floor is. It feels like walking on a soft mattress or trampoline. After the initial welcoming, we are shown to reed sofas, where we’re given a presentation about how the islands came into existence and what daily life is like for the people that live on them. I am fascinated. I’m also massively distracted by the realisation that a dead duck is laid just a metre from where we sit, and beside this two young boys furrow holes in the floor and slip fishing lines downwards, in an attempt to capture the evening’s dinner.
I won’t spoil it for you by explaining about the Uros Islands in-depth, I’ll let you hear about that first-hand on your own trip! I will tell you though, that to see the tiny bedrooms and toilets the residents of the islands use is a brilliant experience, despite the fact that it is indeed very much centred around catering for tourists. The women have small market stalls selling overpriced textiles and ornaments outside each of their houses, and solar-powered electricity allows them to have TVs in their rooms, which does spoil the effect just a little.
Despite all the modern conveniences which have inevitably made their way onto the Uros Islands though, visiting such a unique place is a great morning out. The families are amazingly friendly and excited for you to be there, and the children are completely adorable! When it comes to our time to leave, all seven of us pay ten soles each to ride to a second island in a reed boat, which if you do the maths, over seven days per week, adds up to a lot for the island inhabitants!
We depart Khantawi Island to cheerful farewell songs in English, Quechuan and Spanish, and are taken on a short five-minute journey to the other side of the circled islands for a tea and food break. This island is solely for tourists as it has nobody actually living on it, and features only toilets, a market, and a small store from which you can buy a passport stamp as a souvenir of visiting Lake Titicaca.
Next, it’s back to the mainland and time to grab some snacks, collect our backpacks and catch our bus across the border, to Copacabana in Bolivia. Copacabana is also a coastal town overlooking Lake Titicaca, so we’re excited to see the difference between the two sides and expect the Bolivian side to be more beautiful – if what others have told us is correct!
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