Titicaca and the Floating Islands of Uros

After hiking Colca Canyon we decided to spend some time relaxing on Lake Titicaca. We took a bus from Chivay to get to the city of Puno, which is the largest Peruvian city on the south western side of Lake Titicaca.  It was a seven hour bus ride but we had the luck of spotting wild flamingos and vicuñas along the way as well as catching a beautiful sunset in the mountains.  We arrived in Puno in the evening and the next afternoon we set out for Uros, the floating islands in Lake Titicaca.  Lake Titicaca has been on our must-see list for a while. It is touted as the “highest navigable lake” in the world. It sits at 12,507 feet above sea level and covers a surface area of 3,232 square miles, spanning between what is now Peru and Bolivia. 

There are many guided tourists trips that consist of a boat ride through the islands but these are very commercial and seem somewhat invasive to the native Aymara people. We instead opted for a one night homestay on an island with a multi-generational family at Sol y Luna Lodge

Our Homestay

We stayed with Felix and his family on their floating island. Felix, his wife, son, sister, brother-in-law, father-in-law and sweet puppy Lobo all live on the island. Their island used to be larger and shared space with another multi-generational family, however the other family accused Lobo the puppy of eating all of the duck eggs nested around the island so the families agreed to cut their islands separating the two family.  The beauty of floating island living is that you can always cut it into pieces if you need to.  

We got to the island after lunch and spent the afternoon sitting in comfy chairs watching people float by. A beautiful way to spend in the afternoon.

In the evening Felix told us about the history of the islands and the people.

The islands themselves are very sturdy. They float and will move up and down with the waves, but they are very structurally sound. They are tethered to the ground with anchors so they can be easily moved if needed.  They can last up to 15 years before needing to be entirely replaced. The totora reeds piled on top of each other creates a very soft floor, but it is not even so you need to be careful where you step. Almost everything on the island, including the buildings and roofs are all made from the totora reeds. The community members help each other build the islands or replace the islands once they have decomposed. Layers are very frequently added to the top as the bottom rots out. Additionally, bugs and rodents also contribute to the decomposition of the islands. In the middle of the night in our room we had a visit from a curious and hungry mouse. 

The Aymara that live on the islands primarily earn their livings by fishing and hunting (ducks and flamingos), and as of recently, tourism.  On many islands you can see totora boats. Traditionally the Aymara people used totora boats, but now they are primarily used for tourism. Many are elaborate with the shape of puma heads on the bow. 

After the story time, Felix took us out on the boat for a sunset ride which was beautiful. He took us to a patch of totora and showed us the technique for cutting the reeds. We were also able to eat the reeds, they had a consistency similar to celery and were fairly bland, but it is an important food stable on the islands. 

Getting to Uros

It is just a quick cab ride from the center of town to the shore where locals run small fishing boats in and out of the islands. Our host picked us up in a small boat and we traveled to the island about 7 km from the shore. You need to pay a small entrance fee (S/8) to enter which goes toward conservation of the lake and surrounding islands.

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