Lake Titicaca and the Uros Islands of Peru

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Taquile Island – Lake Titicaca, Peru

I’m not sure Lake Titicaca gets the recognition it deserves, or maybe I just visited during the low season. It’s a magical place full of wonder and surprise, and is every bit the rival of Machu Picchu when it comes to grandeur on a large-scale. It’s the world’s highest navigable lake at 12,500 feet, and South America’s largest lake by volume (circumference x depth). Peru and Bolivia share Lake Titicaca, and I think it’s about a 60/40 split if I remember correctly.

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Taquile Island – Lake Titicaca, Peru

This time of year the days are sunny but brisk. The average temperature range for May is -3°C (low) to 17°C (high) or 26.6°F (low) to 62.6°F (high). The glacier-melt water is decidedly frigid with its origin high in the Andes Mountains. I was definitely bundled up against the cold for my daylong exploration of the lake and its islands, wearing both my down vest and Eddie Bauer parka. My adventure began at 7 a.m. in the morning and concluded at 5 p.m. after a full day of activity.

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Speed Boat Transportation

They call these boats Speed Boats, but they don’t exactly compare to the Cigarette Boats of the Caribbean drug smugglers (i.e. Miami Vice). You can also kayak on the lake, but the distances are vast and the altitude discouraging. Also, like any really large lake, wave swells can be ocean-like when the wind picks up. This all day excursion cost me $22 usd and included: the boat, a bilingual guide, and three island stops, including the floating reed islands of the Uros.

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The first stop was on Taquile Island located 45km from the mainland at Puno. The island is home to about 2,200 indigenous Taquileños, and it’s here that we got to explore the island and visit with the locals for a few hours. From the shoreline it was a steep climb to the small villages, but we took it easy so it wasn’t too bad (even at the high altitude). We got to view their crafts, listen to their music, and watch their dances.

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As you can readily see from the photos their native costumes are stunning. Intricate weaving and bright colors set the tone. Though some of the costumes depicted here are ceremonial in nature, their everyday clothes conform to the same bold parameters, intricate weaving and bright colors. The costumes themselves also signify marital and social status for those in the know. Various colors, belts, and accessories are a code unto themselves.

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We finally left the village, after a few hours, to complete our journey around the island and make our way back to the boat. This time it was downhill, following a stone path and steps, to the beach far below. Everywhere we looked, from our perch high on the island, we could see the vast expanse of Lake Titicaca, as far as the eye could see, receding towards Bolivia. Once we reached the beach we had some free time to continue our exploration before boarding the boat.

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The Beach on Taquile Island 

Our next stop was Amantani Island for lunch. Our meal was traditional, using an in-ground oven similar to what many indigenous cultures use around the world. The village elder preparing the meal first blessed the oven (and its contents) before excavating its bounty. This meal was special, and only enjoyed by the locals about three times a year, it included: lake trout, chicken, potatoes, lima beans (still in their pods), corn, soup, and local tea. Delicious.

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 Our Hostess on Amantani Island

The highlight of the day, for me at least, was visiting the floating reed islands of the Uros. The Uru-Chipayas indians have been building and living on these free-floating islands for hundreds (if not thousands) of years. The only concessions to the 21st century I could see were solar panels (provided by the Peruvian government), and a few small boats with outboard motors. The rest, including the reed boats, looked as if they came straight out of antiquity.

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 Floating Reed Island of the Uros

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Floating Reed Island of the Uros

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Floating Reed Island of the Uros

There are about forty-two of these floating islands on Lake Titicaca, most of them located close to Puno (on the mainland). The one we visited was about one hour offshore by powered boat. People live on these islands full-time, and it’s a unique lifestyle for sure. Stepping from our boat, to the island itself, you can feel  the undulations beneath your feet. As the afternoon winds pickup the undulations increase with the wave swells.

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The children on the island are very cute and camera-shy in their native costumes. Looking closely at their little faces, you can see what the high altitude, ultraviolet rays, and arid wind does to their skin—wind burned and chapped (as was mine by the time I got back to the hostel). I had fun chasing them around the island, being careful not to step off into the frigid lake, to grab a few candid shots. They even had a cat and a few domesticated birds on the island.

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Uru-Chipayas Girl

Eventually the kids warmed up to our presence and I didn’t have to chase them so much. Actually the islanders are pretty used to tourists visiting, and supplement their meagre earnings by selling handicrafts (typically textiles). The men also make miniature reed boats for sale, replicating the larger boats they use for fishing and giving visitors rides around the island and through the reeds. During our visit to the island we were given a thirty-minute ride that was quite an experience (sorry no photos).

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Uru-Chipayas Girl

Below our soon to be Captain readies our reed boat for boarding. There were twelve of us in total, and the boat accommodated all of us just fine. If you look at the photo closely you can see the fine detail that goes into constructing each boat. The boat was pole-driven (no motor) and glided across the lake smoothly and quietly. No life jackets so I’m glad it was buoyant with all of us onboard. It was so peaceful and tranquil, and very comfortable (the reeds being soft and pliant).

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Reed Boat

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Reed Boat

My day spent on Lake Titicaca was a memorable experience. It ranks right up there with Cuba, the Amazon, and the Galapagos. If you visit Peru I would highly recommend paying a visit to the world’s highest (navigable) lake, and the wonderful people who live on and around it. Lake Titicaca is an extraordinary place. I hope you enjoyed my brief recap of this one-day adventure, for only $22 usd I certainly feel I got my money’s worth.

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Stephen F. Dennstedt

Photographer, Writer, World Traveller

Puno (Lake Titicaca), Peru


6 responses to “Lake Titicaca and the Uros Islands of Peru

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed your recap … amazing and beautiful area and people. Thank you, Stephen, for this interesting post.

  2. So interesting! I had never heard of the reed islands before — amazing. One of my favorite updates so far. (actually, they’ve all been interesting).

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