The highest lake of its size in the world Lake Titicaca is simply magnificent. Nothing can describe the feeling of sailing across it, while the sun is shining and making it sparkle. Located between Peru and Bolivia and partially owned by each country.
I visited Lake Titicaca after staying in Puno, a fantastic large town in Peru. Whilst on the lake we visited the floating islands of Uros, which are islands made completely of reeds! The reeds are replaced every few years. It is amazing to see people living here. The lake is dotted with other islands such as Tequile, worth a visit. It is a bit of a hike to the top and the altitude makes it harder but once at the top the views of the lake are stunning and it is worth visiting a local restaurant to eat some fresh trout.
It can get a bit chilly on the lake as it is high up and there is no shelter from the breeze, so it is advisable to bring a warm jumper and hat.
Definitely worth a visit if you happen to find yourself in this part of the world.
Lake Titicaca is situated on the border of Peru and Bolivia. It is approximately 190km long and 80km wide, and is situated at an altitude of 3800m. I visited the Peruvian side during my visit. The main Peruvian town on the lake is Puno, which is a busy industrial and commercial town, very busy and not particularly attractive. This was our access point to the lake. For our first day we were going out to Amantani Island for a home-stay. The journey on the lake was about four hours and was very relaxing if a bit dull - bring books.
Upon arrival we were welcomed by some of the villagers and taken to one of the chief's homes. Here our party was divided up amongst the other families in the village. Different villages take it in turns to house tourists. Our host was a young lady called Maria, and she took the three of us single females back to her house. Although the village had its own dock and was close to the lake, Maria's house was a smallholding a little bit further up a hill and it a bit of a scramble across fields. It was quite hard to orientate yourself, but Maria had a goat in her garden and that helped us identify where we were heading as the land was terraced and properties hidden behind walls and trees. We were only here for an overnight visit so there wasn't much need to unpack. We had been concerned what to buy our hosts as a gift, but our guide said that cash would be appreciated so that they can purchase what they need. We also had some chocolate and biscuits that we gave to her; I don't think she shared these with her family! The host families are given grants to develop their homes to welcome visitors, so we had a fully equipped bathroom - although the water was only turned on for a few hours. Our bedrooms were basically furnished with a beds and blankets, and a dresser, with thin curtains at the window, there is no electricity in this room, although the village shares a generator which is used for a few hours a day. We went in August, so although it was sunny with clear skies, it was also quite chilly. At night it dropped below freezing so be sure to wrap up warm.
After we had put our bags down on our beds we walked back to the main house so we could join the other members of our party for a sunset walk to the top of one of the two mountain peaks on the island. The whole island seemed to be a mountain but at an altitude of 3800m I am not much of a mountain climber (nor am I normally, but the altitude was a good excuse!) Some of us decided to stop and rest by the local school and basketball court and wait for the others. Although I adjusted quite well to the altitude without any sickness, I tended to find that walking upstairs or uphill required the use of an oxygen tank.
Back at the main house we had a simple local meal of vegetable soup, followed by fish, rice and potatoes. As a veggie I just had the latter. There were beers and soft drinks available to buy. The meal had been cooked collectively by the local women whilst we were on our walk, and after they cleared it away and washed up. Then Maria came to find us and took us back to her house. I was quite convinced I wouldn't be able to sleep due to the cold - I had thermal leggings and a long sleeved vest under my pyjamas, thick socks and even my woolly hat. The hat fell off in the night, but I slept beautifully, my body heat trapped under the covers meant I was comfortably toasty.
Maria woke us by leaving a basin of hot water outside our door for us to wash in. We then joined her and her mother for breakfast (although they had actually eaten many hours before) in their simple kitchen. The floors and walls were stone and bare, apart from a a few newspapers on the wall. The furniture was a small wooden table covered in a clean, colourful cloth and a bench seat with a wooden backing. They cooked on an open fire. This was the first real chance we got the chat properly to Maria, she lived with her elderly parents and her younger brother. Her older siblings had all moved to Puno and I get the feeling she would have liked to have joined them but they needed her to help out on the farm. She was only in her early twenties, but looked at least ten years older. The native language around here is Quechua, which has no bearing on any other language you many have heard. Maria was taught some Spanish at school and fortunately one of the girls I was sharing with spoke Spanish so we managed a little conversation, otherwise it would have been difficult. They grew mainly vegetables on the farm but they did keep guinea pigs, known as cuy, which were a regional delicacy for special occasions.
Our breakfast was Koca tea (helps with altitude sickness), flatbread, hard-boiled egg and pancakes. This seemed quite standard and what they have been told will suit a Western visitor. Don't expect any milk in your tea though. We then had some time to explore the island, you could help build a potato oven outside the main house if you wanted, although I chose to relax down by the beach in a little suntrap I found, out of the wind. We had lunch here, before leaving, it was similar to the previous evening but this time they dressed us up in traditional costumes so we could pose for photos and play some music.
After our visit to Amantani Island, we took our boat to the Uros Islands.
The Uros Islands are floating man-made reed islands. The Uros residents have dwindled of late, but they receive grants if they decide to remain on the islands which fund solar panels - the homes we saw had TV and satellite equipment. The first island we visited was owned by one family and had two homes - for the parents and the son and his wife, plus a cooking hut. They worked as fishermen and the women made reed crafts and jewellery to sell to the tourists. The father and his son demonstrated how the islands were made and our guide translated. Each island is one to two metres thick, but the older bottom reeds rot, so new layers need to be added fairly regularly with an island being completely replaced every ten years or so. You can also eat parts of the reed (not the tastiest thing I have ever eaten - a bit bland for me, and a very weird texture) and other parts are used as a natural medicine. Walking on the reeds felt quite odd, a bit spongey, particularly when you first step on the island as you could feel it move. There was also a watchtower made of reed you could climb for views but I wasn't brave enough!
After this island, we were taken to the main island of the group on a reed boat - this holds a primary school and a type of community centre and medical centre, and what seemed to be an impromptu gift shop! Like on Amantani, the younger children are educated on the island, but older children would then go to Puno. There is also a separate toilet island - we didn't visit! Although the islanders trade their fish and reeds, these days the main income is from tourism. There have been some reports of islanders going back to the mainland at night, after the tourists left, but we were there late afternoon and didn't see anything like that. Certainly the family we visited were living in there - we saw their clothes hanging up on the walls and their TV equipment. It's a basic living, but it seems to suit them.
After this we returned to Puno as darkness fell. I was pleased to see the simple lifestyles of the people who lived in this area, and the beautiful lake. I was pleasantly surprised by the way of life of the Uros people, and that it was less touristy than I expected in spite of the tourist souveniers for sale. I was glad to leave the cold behind however!
I recently just came back from Lake Titicaca, which I found to be very charming indeed. We stayed in Puno, the town next to the lake and had a full day in this enchanting lake, claimed to be the highest navigable lake in the world.
Lake Titicaca is located in between Peru and Bolivia and is 60% owned by Peru and 40% owned by Bolivia. The lake has many islands that sit on it to include the incredible Uros Floating Islands, Taquile Island, Amantani and the once island, now peninsula where the luxury Libertador Hotel sits.
Lake Titicaca is no doubt a tourist place and everyday many boat tours travel on Lake Titicaca taking tourists to explore the different islands around the lake.
We visited the Uros Floating Islands and Taquile Island. Both were very charming and had their own little good points. The weather was absolutely gorgeous when we went, so this sure did help with taking some stunning pictures. The boat ride from the port to visit the Uros Floating Islands was for about 30 minutes. The Uros Floating Islanders are always dressed in very brightly coloured traditional clothes and show their welcoming side by allowing you to see their houses and dress in their clothes. The Uros Floating Islands are made with totora reeds - at least 3 metres high at any one time and requires regualr maintenance. To be honest though if you asked me to sleep on one of the Uros Floating Islands, I would have to decline... I cant swim so it would be far too risky. No barriers just a flat piece of land made with totora reeds (that grow in the lake).
Taquile Island is the other island I visited, which was very charming. I enjoyed tasting the Lake Titicacan trout and having a short hike around the island. Good exercise and good opportunity to take pictures of the lake.
Another island that belongs to Peru is Amantani, where the specialty of the locals is in textiles, weaving and ceramics. The life on this small island is rather simple but fascinating as there are no hotels, cars and limited electricity.
Other islands located on Lake Titicaca but belonging to the Bolivian side include: Island of the Sun, Island of the Moon and Suriqui.
For tourists, motor boats are used on this island, but also totora reed boats, which we had the pleasure of riding. This boat is made with plastic bottles covered in the amazing and much used totora reeds. I felt a little shakey on a totora reed boat actually as the sides are very low and with one slip, you could rather easily fall into the lake. Not being able to swim, that would have been a disaster.
Overall I found Lake Titicaca to be a lovely place and would sure recommend it to those going to Peru.. or Bolivia. Just make sure you take sun cream and sun glasses with you. Something I didnt do!
The people who live on the islands of Lake Titicaca are really friendly, you have some stunning sceneries and great fresh air. A great place to spend a day or two.
Lake Titicaca is situated on the border between Peru and Bolivia and is famous for being (arguably) the highest navigable lake in the world (3812m above sea level). Even though that definition may be a tiny bit subjective, (there are higher lakes in the world and some boats can navigate in only a few inches of water), you shouldn't question that claim too loudly it if you visit - this lake is home to the flotilla of the Bolivian Navy (pretty impressive, given that Bolivia is landlocked!). Either which way, the lake is visually very impressive and immense, with a surface area of over 8000 square kilometres.
My review is of my travels on the Peruvian side of the lake, since that was where I visited.
The main city in this region of Peru is Puno, which is located on the Western shore of the lake. We arrived here by road from Arequipa - if you take this route, then do not underestimate how high the Andean passes are on this route - they are physically challenging even by bus. The other main arrival route by road is from Cuzco, which was our onward route. The nearest airport is about 30 miles north of here in Juliaca, although you would have to connect via Lima.
When visiting the lake, you can take a ferry to stay on one of its several islands; you leave your luggage behind in Puno and just travel with a swimsuit, any medicine, plenty of money and an (optional) change of clothing. Many of the ferries also stop at the Uros "Islands" en route.
===The Uros Islands===
The Uros islands are the famous floating islands on Tititcaca. These islands are anchored in place and are constructed from mats of tortora reeds and are home to the Uros people. As the reeds are very biodegradable, the islanders have to constantly rebuild their islands from the top down - our guide told us that without this, the islands would rot and break up in only a few months.
We arrived on the islands by motorboat and were greeted with a miniature reed sculpture of a boat and freshly baked flatbread and cups of the ubiquitous Peruvian tea. These had been prepared on a clay stove, which was used directly on the (probably highly flammable) reed island. Walking on the island is a strange experience - it feels very springy, but reasonably secure, so I didn't feel I was about to put my foot straight through!
We were then shown around some of the islands and chatted to many of the islanders in Spanish (apparently the Uru language is no longer widely spoken as a first language). The houses were extremely small and were also built from tortora reeds. The elementary school on the islands though was a little more rugged, made from corrugated metal; inside here was a very simple classroom, with little more on the walls than a map of the world. Tourism is now the main industry here, and everyone, young and old made us feel very welcome, although there was an inevitable undercurrent of salesmanship and the knowledge that people feel the urge to reciprocate. One thing that you must do if you visit is bring gifts for the young children - pens and pencils are recommended although, naturally enough, what the children really want are sweets and they really aren't shy about asking you for them!
As a part of our tour, we were given a ride on a twin-hulled reed boat, which had a platform which we stood upon and relied on paddlers below for propulsion. Then, sadly, it was nearly time to go. But we did have time to shop before we left and bought plenty of the small reed sculptures (of boats and of people) as well as woven and embroidered items, such as cushion covers and ceramic bowls (which I suspect may have been fired on the mainland). As in the rest of Peru, haggling is an important part of the buying process, although after such a warm welcome, we didn't haggle too hard!
Our lakeward journey then took us on to Taquile Island, a hilly island located in the middle of the lake. Tourists who stay here as we did do not stay in a hotel; instead we are accommodated in someone's home. The accommodation was fairly basic by tourist standards (although I got the impression it was luxurious for local standards), but the beds were very comfortable. The house we stayed in was very reminiscent of a youth hostel - many beds crammed into tiny rooms in barns and outbuildings. Dinner was in a canteen-like hall, which was the only place that had electric lighting - our bedrooms were lit by candlelight. The other facilities were similarly rustic - no showers and only outdoor toilets which were, thankfully, of the Western style (and not the hole in the ground that you find most places), which were supplied with water via a big water butt. Sadly, only one of these actually had a door, but I'm sure the view out of the second out onto the lake must have been superb!
There is no transport on the island, so you have to walk everywhere. As we were still adjusting to the altitude, this is an extremely slow and painful process, particularly since this place is very hilly. We wandered around slowly being shown the sights and spent sunset visiting pre-Columbian ruins of local religious significance. As in the rest of Peru, the religion here is a mixture between Catholisism and the old ways. When you reach high places, you often find small rock piles, which are religious offerings and show that that place is sacred.
Another expedition that we made was down to the beach for a swim. With the waves lapping against the beach, the lake really had the feel of a sea to it, although the water was sweet, not saline. When swimming, I found that it was hard to imagine with the glorious blue skies and clement weather that I was nearly 4km above sea level. The trek back up hill soon brought it home to me though!
The main village on the island has an art exhibition centre, where you can view work that has been produced by the people of the island. These people are Aymara, which is both the name of the people and of the language (it is one of three official languages of Peru and is very distinct from Quechua and Spanish, which are the other main languages). The Aymara spoken here is a subtly different dialect from that which is spoken on the mainland of Peru and of Bolivia, and the culture here is correspondingly also different. Weaving and knitting are culturally very important here and are only done by the men. The woven goods are a main source of income here - you can buy the sashes and the hats that the men wear, although be careful, because the patterns and the colours apparently indicate your marital status and availability!
Sadly, the time came all too quickly to depart from the island. The way off the island involved a tiring trek up over the hill and down a steep set of steps to the harbour. Then once again, a boat took us back to the mainland, to leave behind the stunning lake and continue on our onward adventure.
===Handling the altitude===
I can report first hand that at 3812m above sea level, this lake is indeed extremely high. That's high enough that you have a pretty good chance of getting altitude sickness (as indeed I did have by that point). But the good news is that you can get diamox (an altitude sickness medicine) over the counter at pharmacies in Peru (in the UK you have to get a private prescription). This pushes the cost right down - it cost about 20p per tablet there, as opposed to £4 per tablet from the travel clinic. All my travelling companions (who included medical doctors and many seasoned travellers of high altitude) warned me against the medicine as they said it had horrendous side effects. This meant I didn't take it in advance like you are supposed to; BIG mistake! Altitude sickness in the lungs is truly awful, so do take the medicine before you get to altitude!
Other than one curious property, I didn't notice any effect of the medicine other than it making me feel better (in the interests of neutrality - this would have happened anyway, it just speeds up the process of acclimatization). The one curious property is that it makes carbonated drinks taste flat. I had heard about this, so I tried this out with a bottle of carbonated water, not really expecting anything, and it was indeed true! I could still tell from the flavour that it was acidic, but it didn't feel fizzy in the slightest.
This is a truly stunning place to visit. I can't recommend it highly enough that you come here if you visit Peru.
NB: Review will be posted elsewhere
Lake Titicaca is truly beautiful, if you catch it on a really hot day, it does shimmer and look truly magical. I crossed the lake from the Bolivian side - I must admit, first glance at the lake was pretty awful, the water line covered in plastic bottles/bags...etc - as you go further out onto the water, you get to see that it is in fact rather clean and as you head to the reed islands, you feel like its pretty magical.
The reed islands are a must see - although they have been really geared up to tourism, it's not a criticism. The people who live on them only really have fishing to subsidise livelihoods so tourism is really important.
Walking onto the reads is a surreal feeling, you sink as you walk onto the island and it does cross your mind for a moment if you are about to fink right down into the water line! You do get to have a glimpse into daily life - if you speak Spanish (although it is the indigenous language spoken predominantly) you will get more out of the experience. Beautiful handicrafts are sold there - come armed with pens and coloured pencils. I was told by one tour guide the kids ask for them for school - better than giving money.
I found it a beautiful experience if not somewhat intrusive, I was told to take a look inside homes...etc to see what they are like, and whilst of course I was curious, at the same time, I did question even though the island was open to tourists, there was a limit to everything and certainly didn't feel comfortable wondering into their house!!!
But, it is an experience like no other - learning how they made the islands and seeing how it all works on the island is a real eye opener!
Puno and the Uros Islands
Lake Titicaca is 3,812 m above sea level which makes it the highest commercially navigable lake in the world. It is also the largest lake in South America in volume of water and the deepest point of the lake measures 284m . It lies in both Peru and Bolivia and Lake Titicaca is fed by rainfall and from glaciers on the Andean Sierras. Five major river systems also feed into Lake Titicaca; these are the Ramis, Coata, Ilave, Huancané, and Suchez rivers.
Lake Titicaca is one of the nominees for the New Seven Wonders, natural wonders. If you haven't heard of the New 7 Wonders website the go and have a look. They have recently come up with a New 7 wonders list of man made wonders and are now tasking nomination for the natural wonders - Lake Titicaca is one of these. After they shortlist you can then vote for your 7 natural wonders ( if you didn't vote for the man made 7 wonders, it is too late - the voting has finished). This is the website if you are interested http://www.new7wonders.com/nature/en/nominees/southamerica/c/LakeTiticacaLake
We stayed at the Libertador hotel in Puno which was built in the shape of a liner with all rooms having a view of Lake Titicaca. The views were stunning and we watched both sunset and sunrise from the room. This review looks at the Peru side of Lake Titicaca which is quite different from the Bolivian part of the Lake. The famous floating Uros, reed islands are particularly found in Peru and in the bay near Puno. These are a group of 42 or so artificial islands made of floating reeds (totora, a reed that grows only in the shallows of the lake). Only the Uros islanders are allowed to harvest these reeds as they are protected for their sole use. The original reason these islands were constructed was for defence as they could be moved if required in times of conflict.
Very early at about 6am we boarded a boat to take us out to visit the Uros floating reed islands. The boat went quite slowly so we were able to see the water birds swimming and also the local people rowing their boats along and fishing or collecting reeds for repair work on the islands.
Once we arrived at the islands we went to visit one called Isla Tupiri. We were greeted with huge smiles and welcomed onto the island home. The main leader showed us how they made their islands by creating a mini island with a commentary from our guide. They begin by collected great chunks of reed roots that float and they tie these together with rope. They then layer loads of reeds at reeds at right angles to each other until they have a thick bed. They add to this regularly. They build up platforms of reeds higher than the main island bound together with rope and on these platforms they construct their reed houses. Outside each house a solar panel donated by the government and so inside each house there was a small black and white TV but otherwise every thing else was traditional.
They lived in an extended family group of about 6 families per island and if a marriage takes place then the couple move to the 70% to girl's family and the other 30% move to the boy's family's island. If the group grows too large then they can cut the island in half. If they need to enlarge the island they simply add to it with more floating reed roots, more layers and attach this to the main island with more ropes. The islands are anchored with long ropes to the main land and the ropes are weighed down with stones so that they are not cut by motors boats.
On the larger islands there are schools, post offices and clinics for the island people. The children are collected by boat and taken to the school daily. On the smaller family islands they cook on a stone slab outside the houses and each family does their own cooking. They eat a lot of lake fish, reeds (the bit near the bottom is white and full of nutrition), guinea pig and a little other food that they may purchase from the boat shop or the mainland. They keep the guinea pigs on a mini island attached to their main island and they have a reed shelter too. They also grow some herbs in a small garden on the island which they regard as their medicine cabinet. In the middle of the island is a patch of water and they can catch fish from this area as well as from the main lake.
Nowadays the majority of these floating islands make money from tourism and selling their souvenirs to tourists. There are a few island groups who do not want to be visited by tourists and they have built their islands away from the main group and they are left to their own devices. The majority of island families welcome tourists and put on a little welcome singing performance before showing you their houses and how they live, cook etc. Then you are invited to purchase they hand made embroidery and other souvenirs at reasonable prices. This is how they earn their living in these times to supplement their own fishing and reed harvesting.
The area around Lake Titicaca is predominantly Aymara speaking, with the exception of the Amantaní and Taquile islands, where Quechua is spoken. However, the area to the west of the lake is Quechua, and the lake is the meeting point of these two cultures. The Uros culture also comes from this area, although it has largely died out, and the Uros Islands are now Aymara speaking. We passed a look out tower on or way to the islands with a huge sign " KAMISARAKI" which is Aymara for hello. We were told to say this as we arrived on Isla Tupiri which we duly did - the only word we could say in Aymara -and of course lots of smiling from both the island residents and us - a smile goes a log way when you don't have words to communicate with.
The islands and lake are at a high altitude which means that you do need to be careful during the day to avoid to much sun or where a high factor sunscreen. Because the air is 'thin' the sun's rays are much stronger, then temperature need not feel too hot and so you don't notice that you are burning. The altitude also makes everything so clear and fresh, the sky seems bluer and the lake becomes almost too blue to be true. It is a truly beautiful place and so far despite a large number of tourists it does seem relatively unspoilt.
It is a fascinating visit and even though the islanders do invite for tourists to visit them and buy their craft work it is obvious that they live in a very traditional way ( even with the solar panels for TV) despite these visits and all the other modern technological changes that can be found in the rest of Peru.