Known as the largest navigable lake in South America and with an elevation of 3,812 meters, Lake Titicaca is a mountain Lake, shared by Peru and Bolivia. There are various islands on Lake Titicaca and Uros, a group of some forty two artificial islands is one such. Uros was where we planned to spend next few days in.
The Uros Islands are one of the major attractions of the Lake Titicaca, when visiting from the Peruvian side. Primarily surviving on tourism now, the people here spend all their lives on these islands. It’s interesting how these islands and everything on them are made out of spongy reeds which keeps it afloat.
To visit the beautiful Uros islands, you have to get to lakeside city of Puno. You can either arrive by plane – the closest airport being Juliaca (Pronounced Huliaca), or a Bus/Train to Puno. We stayed at Uros Khantati and they arranged for a cab to pick us up from the airport for some additional dollars. A lot of barren land meets your eye, as you drive from the Juliaca to Puno and it certainly looked like a deserted town. Just when you get accustomed to the topography, around a bend before you get to Puno, you get a glimpse of the Lake Titicaca, which gives you a nice stunning visual treat. The lake itself is massive with blue waters that reflect the sky.
We got off on the edge of Lake Titicaca and continued our journey on a motor boat that wound its way through clumps of Totora reeds to a sight of some 40 odd floating islands that simply took our breath away. As we docked onto our floating island, we learnt, how new batches of reeds were continuously piled up to replace the rotting bottom most layers. This has been their practice for eons. Their families have been living on these islands circa 14th-15th century. They originally migrated to create island settlements for their own safety since they could move the islands if required!
The versatile Totora reeds are extremely important for the locals. Being light in property, boats are constructed using these reeds. Apart from that, it also provides great insulation for their homes from the cold. If that wasn’t enough, Totora reeds are also used to make delicious soups (which you are likely to try if you stay here) and used as medicine as well!
Walking on the reeds for the first time feels squishy and squeaky under your feet. You feel the island below you dipping ever so slightly by your weight, but one gets used to this pretty quickly and it almost starts feeling natural. The first impressions of the island is just plain awe. There are umbrellas, swings, hammocks and watch towers all made out of reeds. Standing on some of famous floating islands of Peru, you can look across to see the Bolivian side of the lake.
The island is equipped with solar power so there is hot water and electricity on the islands. They even have a school for primary education, day care centers and their own gardens in their front yard. Absolutely remarkable!
The watch tower on the island provides an excellent panoramic view for the archipelago of islands. The day we visited there was a wedding on one of the other islands, for the happy music traveled across the islands where we were. Normal to them, but it felt dreamlike to us!
Post resting, freshening up and sauntering around the island we found ourselves on a reed boats all set for fishing. This was going to be our lunch (well not mine, but everyone else’s). From the boat you get to see how they harvest reeds. Post harvesting fresh reeds to make soup for the day and catching some fish, we headed back to the island. The food here is basic and is prepared in the traditional Uros way. The soup is delicious and desserts lovely. If you have special dietary needs that is, if you are a vegetarian like me, please ensure you mention this, at the time of booking and day before reaching the island. I had to specifically tell them, no meat, no fish, no chicken and no eggs. If you mention exactly what is not consumable for you they will be able to accommodate that better.
The high altitude can exhaust you easily, so it’s imperative you take naps and eat well. We took our naps quite seriously and found ourselves relaxing on the beautiful reed hammocks every now and then. There was free tea available all day and we carried a lot of cereal bars that we depended heavily on during our entire trip to Peru. I would definitely recommend carrying some high carb snacks as one tends to get hungry really quickly with all the extra G-forces acting on you.
One of the evenings on the Uros Islands, we were invited to learn their culture. So off we went dressed up in their traditional clothes, which was a lot of fun. One of the things you can get back home for remembrance is their handicrafts. Haggling is acceptable in most places in Peru and so is here, but most of their income comes from tourism and most of their income is used to sustain them, to bring supplies (mainly for tourists) and providing and maintaining other amenities such as solar power etc. So realistic haggling is what I would suggest J
Watching the sunset from the island is outstanding and definitely recommended. There is little light on the island post sunset (only a few lights powered by solar) so it is wise to carry a torch or a headlamp in case you need to use the restroom that is on one side of the island. It poured through the night while we were there. In the night, the hotel staff put warm water bottles under the blankets to keep us warm all night.
As we headed back to Puno the next morning, still very much in admiration of how these people spend all their lives on these islands and grateful for opening up their homes to us so we could experience something this surreal.
Some tips when you visit the Uros Islands:
- It is really cold during most of the year, so try going there in the drier months. It’s the southern hemisphere so the seasons are reversed.
- Though the locals speak Basic English, learning a few words of Spanish will be quite helpful.
- Lake Titicaca is on an elevation of 3,812 meters and the elevation is not something to be taken lightly and if you do visit the islands, it better to acclimatize yourself gradually before getting here. There are altitude sickness pills available. We took chlorophyll pills and gingko biloba pills to help with altitude sickness. You might get a mild headache too. Everybody reacts differently to altitude sickness and it has nothing to do with physical fitness.
- Head Lamp/Torch for night time bathroom visits.
- Drink coca tea, it helps with the altitude sickness as well.
- Layer your clothes to stay warm.
This is a guest post by Suhasini Ravi, who likes to describe herself as , ‘a little bit of a nerd, rock music fan, an odd fetish to learn the correct names of trees, gregarious and a shy person at the same time’. Her dream is to have a good friend from every country in the world and travelling to odd places. She loves Bangalore and New York is her second home. Her most prized travel possessions are a small fossil from Morocco and a piece of volcanic rock from Cotopaxi in Ecuador.