Lake Titicaca is the world’s highest navigatable lake at 3,800m above sea level. It spreads across two countries; Bolivia and Peru and the question for a lot of backpackers is; where to visit Lake Titicaca from? Peru or Bolivia?
We too had this dilemma and in the end, we researched extensively without ever convincing ourselves. Bolivia seemed to be the winner, with everyone saying that Copacabana was a much nicer base to explore from than Puno on the Peru side. But at the same time, the tour from Puno sounded more appealing to us. So we decided to visit Lake Titicaca from both places, spending about 6 days in total in and around Lake Titicaca.
This blog discusses the standard two-day tour of Lake Titicaca that is offered from Puno. The tour will cost between 100 – 120 soles (26e – 32e). The price you pay isn’t important so go for the cheaper option. We were worried that the cheaper options wouldn’t pay the homestay family as much as the more expensive ones but the truth is that everyone is thrown in together anyway; so it really makes no difference who you book with.
The tour begins at the port in Puno at 8 am and finishes in the same place the next day at 4 pm. Included in the price is 2 lunches, 1 dinner and 1 breakfast – all that gets served when you stay with a local family. Of course, your accommodation with this local family is also included. We were recommended to buy some basic items as a gift for the family so before we boarded the boat we bought some rice and wheat for them.
The Uros Floating Islands are probably the number 1 destination on the Peru side of Lake Titicaca. For that reason, they are extremely touristy, and indeed the only islands you will see are set up for tourists.
There are 62 floating islands in total, and they are located some 5km from the port of Puno. The Uro’s themselves are an indigenous group who traveled to Lake Titicaca some 4000 years ago. Due to a lot of political uncertainty, the Uro’s came to live on floating islands in order to avoid their enemies (such as the Incas).
The islands are built from cattail, a type of reed that grows on the lake and manages to keep the islands afloat. It is a strange feeling walking on the reeds, they very soft and you feel like you could easily sink.
The tour of the islands begins with a talk about Uros traditions and culture. You even get to taste the rush that is used to create the islands, if you like. You can then walk around the island and see how these people live (although, as mentioned above, these are islands made just for tourism).
There is an optional reed boat ride that you can avail of for 10 soles extra. We thought that this was tourism overkill and decided to skip it. We haven’t heard anything good about that trip but if you have the extra cash it should be worth it just for the experience.
After visiting the randomly selected floating island we then made our way to the “Capital of the Floating Islands”, but this was just more of the same. You could get a stamp on your passport (for 1 sole), use the toilet or buy some snacks.
Overall it is nice to see how the Uro’s once lived but it feels very touristy and is more of a show put on for tourists, especially when the women start singing as the boat is departing the dock.
The next stop on the tour is the island of Amantani, where we stayed for the night. Amantani is an island with a population of Quechua people, the people here only speak a little bit of Spanish, nevermind English! It is 40km from Puno and has no cars, only sheep, llamas, and alpacas.
The island is 4000m in altitude and has two main peaks; Pachamama (Mother Earth) and Pachatata (Father Earth).
As we got off the boat we were introduced to the family that we would be staying with that night. Having been paired up with a lovely Australian woman, the 3 of us headed off to the house of Angelica and Angel, a lovely couple who must have at least been in their 70’s.
There we had lunch, which was completely vegetarian and homemade, all from ingredients that were grown on the islands. The main ingredient was potatoes, and many different types of them!
The house was very simple but authentic, and it really felt like we could see what a normal person lived like in the middle of Lake Titicaca. Angelica and Angel are so friendly, even if there was a slight communication barrier.
Afterward, we went to the main square where we meet the tour guide. He explained that we can climb one of the two peaks; Pachamama or Pachatata for sunset. We decided to head for Pachamama and burst through the fatigue that hiking at 4100m gives you to see a spectacular sunset.
Making our way down to the main square we found the locals engaging in a ritual where they were singing and dancing around a big fire. We weren’t sure what this was for (and to be honest we thought it was just for the tourists) but it was really impressive.
Next was another starchy dinner before Angelica presented us with some traditional clothes to wear to go to a dance that night. We got dressed and headed to the dance for a couple of songs. Angelica came with us and we all danced around like it was perfectly normal to do on a Tuesday night in the middle of Lake Titicaca.
We headed to bed that night and awoke in the middle of the night to the sounds of thunder. We both felt the call of nature and made our way to the outside toilet, only to get caught in the middle of the heaviest rain and sleet we have ever witnessed!
After breakfast the next day we bid Angelica and Angel goodbye and set sail for the next part of the tour.
After about 2.5 hours we made it to the last stop of the tour – Taquile Island. The island is similar to Amantani in that it is only accessible on foot and the main square is located an uphill walk from the port.
Taquile is famous for its clothes weaving, particularly from the men who knit the traditional dresses their wife will wear. Lots of the goods they produce are available to buy in a large shop located in the main square. Aoife bought a lovely pair of gloves in here, and the prices were more than reasonable.
Located throughout Taquile island were enterprising kids selling bracelets for only 2 soles. We purchased a couple if only to support the island when we were there.
Next up was a nice walk along Taquile before stopping at a local restaurant for food. Paying extra for our lunch (everyone else had theirs included), is another reason to not be picky about who you chose for this tour – just pick the cheapest option!
After that we made our way back to Puno, arriving around 4 pm in the port.
Honestly, we can really recommend this tour. The overnight stay in Amantani island is a particular highlight, and you really get to experience the local culture. How these people can survive in such an isolated location, at such a high altitude is amazing. The beauty of the area is jaw-dropping as well!