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After crossing the border near Copacabana in Bolivia, I headed to Puno; my first stop in Peru. Located at 3810 meters above sea level, this small town lies on the shore of Lake Titicaca. Puno is the main hub for exploring the lake on the Peruvian side. The main attractions around are some of the islands on the lake: Taquile, Amantaní and the artificial Uros Islands.
There are two things to consider when visiting Lake Titicaca from this side:
- It is extremely touristic. This is the second main interest area for visitors to Peru after Cusco. As such, most of the tours on offer are very commercial and usually end up in disappointment. However, it is possible to find alternative options that give visitors a deeper understanding of the living cultures of Lake Titicaca. They are fascinating and it’s worth it to get to know them better. Also, to get off the beaten path, I’d recommend a visit to Capachica.
- I’m sorry to say that my experience in Puno was not entirely positive. During my trip in South America, I only felt unsafe in two places: one was Puno and the other was Buenos Aires. When I was in Puno, I stayed in a hostel a couple of blocks out of the city center (where there is lots of police vigilance, most of the time). During my stay, I noticed that I was being followed twice. Fortunately, I was lucky and nothing happened; but I was a bit shaken after the second time and I just wanted to move on as quickly as possible.
Despite this, I can also say that I enjoyed my visit to the Uros Islands. through my partnership with viventura, I got in touch with a local tour operator who set up a visit to the islands with a local family (for contact details, see the end of this post). Early one morning, I got picked up at a small bay near Puno. From there, it was a short boat ride to the islands.
On arrival, I realised that this human made archipelago is bigger than I thought. There are over fifty islands with a few hundred people living on them. The Uros culture depends heavily on the reeds that grow in the lake. They use them for creating the islands where they live on, for building their houses and boats, and even for cooking and eating. The Uro people work hard every day to maintain what’s left from their ancestral way of life.
First, my hosts showed me around the island where they host visitors for overnight stays. They’ve created a very nice complex of little cabins made of reeds. The bedrooms are basic; but clean, cozy and nicely decorated with local crafts. There is also a dinning room, a kitchen where they show people about their local cuisine, and even a shower with hot water from solar panels!
After tea, it was time to go fishing. We set out on a reed boat. It was a gorgeous sunny day, with blue skies and calm waters. First my host showed me how to set up the net; and, while we waited, he told me more about how important those totora reeds are for their lifestyle. We caught a few carachis — a local specie of small fish — and headed back to their place to have lunch.
During my visit I also had the opportunity to see how the Uros people build their islands. It all starts with the densely packed roots of the totora reeds; which serve as a thick base layer and make the island float. On top, they add layer upon layer of fresh reeds every few weeks, as the ones from the bottom start to rot and need to be replaced. Maintaining the islands is a labour intensive process, as you can see in the video below.
While traveling, I met many people who were disappointed about their visit to the Uros Islands, most found them to be too commercial. I think that it is a pity that interesting places like this get a bad rep just because they have become too popular for their own good.
If you’d like to have a more authentic experience of the traditions of the Uros Islands, you can get in touch with my hosts from Aruma Uro. For more photos of my time there, check out my gallery.
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Have you visited the Uros Islands? How did you like the experience? Would you like to visit? Leave me a commnet, I’d love to know!
I love this. I visited these islands back in 1988 and they have certainly changed as it sounds like Puno has but the essence of what makes them great is the same. Friendly, kind, warm people who just want to ensure you have a pleasant stay in their small part of the world. Thanks, very much for a great story on the Uros islands of Titicaca. Brings back a lot of memories and stories.
Thanks for stopping by, Tim! I’m glad that you enjoyed my post and that it brought back some good memories from your time in Peru. Puno and the Uros islands surely have changed quite a bit since you were there; I’m curious how you would see them if you visit now.
What a lovely place to visit. I usually don’t like to go to very popular destinations and I prefer to discover more off the beaten path areas, but as you said if they become so well known there must be a reason for it and it seems like it’s still possible to enjoy the Uros Islands in a more local way which it’s what I’d prefer anyway.
Yes, it is certainly possible to enjoy this place and avoid the commercial vibe that most travellers experience here :) But it takes a little bit more time and effort to go beyond the surface and get to those more authentic experiences. Thanks for your comment, Franca!