Lake Titicaca : Floating Islands in Peru

In terms of unique travel experiences, you can’t miss seeing Lake Titicaca and its floating islands in Peru. The western hemisphere’s highest and largest lake, the culture and sights here are incomparable!

We visited the floating islands in Peru as day trip from Puno, and seeing the Uros Islands and Taquile was an incredible memory of my month backpacking through South America!

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*Island Tour– From Puno port, find a “floating islands tour” option for the day!
These tours involve going out on Lake Titicaca with local guides, and visiting a variety of small island communities. Lunch and drinks are usually included. You can book in advance, or find local operators in person once in Puno.
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*Las Islas Uros– Known as the “Floating Islands”, the Uros Islands are a 30 minute boat ride from Puno. These islands are unique as they are man-made out of reeds stacked together. These reeds then float on the water, and are tied to the floor of the lake.
The people who live here are from a long line of descendants living in the same manner for centuries. Their ancestors built these reed islands to isolate themselves from the violent Incas on the mainland.
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The current residents speak the native Aymara language, as well as Spanish and English (so they can barter with us tourists!). They make a living from fishing and tourism, and their homes are very uniquely crafted and decorated.

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These lake Titicaca floating islands are made by combining layers of totora reeds (which you can also eat!). They are constantly replenished as the layers on the bottom rot. The ground is somewhat bouncy or spongy feeling, and it is a very odd sensation!
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While the one island we visited was clearly used to hosting day tourists, apparently there are many more isolated islands where the people live in a traditional fashion and prefer not to be photographed.

*Taquile Island– Another 2.5 hour boat ride away, this unique and isolated island has stunning vistas. While here, make sure to try tea made from coca leaves (mate de coca), which can really help with your altitude headaches!
Once you arrive to Taquile, you climb a steep trail up the side of a hill. It consists of over 500 steps from the dock to the high center of this hilly island. It wouldn’t be difficult, except for the fact that you are at a very high altitude!
You can see a panorama of the lake, and mountains of the Cordillera Real in Bolivia in the distance. As you explore, you’ll likely be stopped by kids trying to sell crafts- or wanting you to take their photo for payment.
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Traditional Taquile clothing
The island is tiny, with a Quechua speaking population. They are a “self governing body” within Peru, and have a strong sense of group identity.
They rarely marry outside of the island, and until recently (thanks AirBNB!), lived relatively unaffected by the modernity of the mainland. While this changes with rapidly growing tourism, it still maintains an untouched charm.

In the main square, you’ll find souvenir and food options, with several outdoor patios overlooking the lake. From our guide, we learned a few fascinating customs about the Taquile peoples’ courtship rituals:
  • Most of the handicrafts are made according to a system of deeply ingrained social customs. The men wear tightly woven woolen hats (looking like a floppy Santa hat) which they take great pride in knitting themselves. If a man’s hat is red it means he is married, red and white means single.
  • When a man is interested in a girl, he will give her a woven hat for a night. To judge if he is a proficient knitter (thus good enough to be her husband), a girl will pour water into the hat to see if it holds. If she likes it, she will begin making him a thick, colorful waistband. These decorative belts are given to the man once they marry.
  • When a man is interested in a girl, he will take a mirror and aim the sun’s reflection on it at her face. If interested, she can come over to talk. No interest? The girls have shawls with pom-poms on the end, and can use them to hit the guy until he goes away. Good stuff!! We also learned it’s common to carry around a little pouch full of coca leaves every day.
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Trying on our new friends’ traditional clothing!
Make sure to stop at the famous stone arch overlooking the lake. I went here before the days of Instagram, but I heard there are lines now for photos! There are also local kids in traditional ware holding lambs or llamas trying to make a buck from a photo.
The boat ride back to Puno is about 3 hours, and that wraps up your great day of seeing the unique Lake Titicaca floating islands of Peru!

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Visit the Floating Uros Islands and Taquile Island in Lake Titicaca as a daytrip from Puno, Peru

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