Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world (nestled in the Andes at almost 13,000 ft), is a world unto itself. Shared by both Peru and Bolivia, it is also home to an array of interesting islands, each as unique as the next. We feature two of these amazing sites on our Mystic Peru tour, allowing our visitors to be immersed in the worlds of Uros and Taquile Islands.
Life On The Water
A short boat ride away from the city of Puno, the first thing you see when riding up are scattered dwellings, watchtowers and boats – all woven out of reeds- each attached to floating land. These are the “Floating Islands” of Lake Titicaca, officially known as Uros, positioned on the Peruvian side of the lake. Entirely manmade, these islands are constructed of stacked totora reeds that float on top of the water and are anchored to the lake bottom. The reeds create a soft, almost squishy surface, to build upon. As the reeds degrade, more are piled on top to keep each island inhabitable.
Individual islands are maintained by extended families, and with about 60 islands total, the entire community is home to roughly 1,200 people. Once docked, you’re greeted by the friendly natives, and are given a guided tour of their homes, learn about their traditional costume, and hear a detailed explanation on how life works on the manmade islands.
The Reed of Life
Tourism is the primary economy on the Islands-most families offer these guided tours of their floating homes and sell colorful embroidered handicrafts, objects and toys made out of the island’s famous reeds. The totora reed is such an important part of the culture of the islands. Not only is it used for building places to live, water crafts and making things to sell, the people also use it for food and medicinal purposes.
Although the dwellings seem to lack the modern conveniences most people living in cities are used to, many of the islands have solar power and are connected to the rest of world via technology. Many families have television, radio, and motorboats for quick travel to the mainland (where many of the teenage- and college-age travel to attend school). However, a simple way of life truly dominates the islands.
Taquile – the Island of No Roads
About an hour boat ride away from the Uros Islands, sits Taquile Island, the next stop on our Lake Titicaca adventure. On this 3-mile island of approximately 2,200 inhabitants, there are no roads, cars, or electric lines and just a couple of landings for boat docking.
What was once a remote Spanish prison colony, is now a serene island famous for its textiles (which were granted UNESCO Heritage of Humanity status) and tight-knit community. The men of the island are expert knitters, learning the craft as early as six years old. The women are masters of weaving and also spin and dye the yarn needed for handicraft purposes.
Our tour begins at a residence overlooking the lake, where you’ll learn all about the textiles, style of dress, and traditional dances of the island, before being invited inside for a private, homemade lunch of local dishes: stewed fish, a variety of potatoes, homemade bread, and delicious soups.
In addition to the handicrafts, the island is famous for its autonomy. The island boasts a collectivist society, and runs on the principles of ama sua, ama llulla, ama qhilla–from the Incan moral code, meaning “do not steal, do not lie, do not be lazy.” The islanders also collectively control the thriving tourist industry, deciding on how many people are allowed on to the island, what attractions will be offered, and under what conditions. They also have strict regulations regarding the pricing of textiles and souvenirs on-offer, ensuring that all community members benefit—no haggling by tourist is allowed!
Taquile Island is a great example of utopian living, where the entire community looks out for each other, and our guests get a little glimpse inside their world on our visit.
Interested in learning more about these communities? See our Mystic Peru itinerary, where we feature in-depth one-in-a-lifetime excursions to these two amazing islands.