Lake Titicaca is a stunning spectacle: a vast body of water overlooked by snow-capped mountains. And Lake Titicaca’s islands are like little gems of preserved cultures dotted around the deep blue water.
In this article, I’ll talk about the Lake Titicaca islands on the Peruvian side. There are also islands on the Bolivian of Lake Titicaca, but I’ll cover them another time.
From the peaceful lakeside town of Puno, you can visit the fascinating Uros floating islands and the beautiful islands of Taquile and Amantaní.
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Why Visit Lake Titicaca?
I’m often drawn to unique places and Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world and the largest lake in South America. This alone makes it an interesting place to me.
But it is also stunningly beautiful. The vast lake is surrounded by the Andes mountains and dotted with islands that feature Inca ruins. Gazing across the smooth surface of the lake from Inca terraces feels pretty special.
Finally, Lake Titicaca is also fascinating culturally. In Inca mythology, Lake Titicaca is the birthplace of the sun. The communities that live around the lake and on its islands retain a traditional way of life. Seeing the people in their brightly coloured handmade clothes working the land gives a glimpse into how life has been here for centuries.
Discover The Lake Titicaca Islands In Peru
There are over 40 islands sprinkled across Lake Titicaca. In this post, I’ll talk through the main three destinations on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca: the Uros floating islands, Isla Taquile and Isla Amantaní.
Uros Floating Islands
The Uros floating islands are home to the Uros people, an indigenous group who have lived in the Lake Titicaca region for 3700 years. They didn’t always live on the Lake though: due to conflict with the Incas, whose empire lasted from 1438 to 1572, the Uros people retreated onto the lake itself. They built floating islands out of the totora reeds which grow in abundance on the western side of Lake Titicaca.
The Uros islands really do float: they are made by weaving together the buoyant reeds and creating a thick, sturdy base, which is tethered to the lake bed. Additional layers are added on top. The islands are up to 2 metres thick and support various structures, also made from totora reeds.
There are between 60 and 120 islands (I’ve seen various numbers reported and I’m not sure which is accurate), home to 1200 Uros people, according to the 2011 census. The Uros people speak Aymara primarily, but may also speak Quechua, Spanish and English.
Visiting The Uros Floating Islands From Puno
It is very easy to visit the Uros floating islands from Puno, on the shore of Lake Titicaca. The islands are approximately 3 km from the shore and there are various boat trips which go there daily.
Visits normally include getting off on one of the islands and having a presentation about the way the islands have been formed and a demonstration of how the Uros people live, including seeing some of the buildings and the dragon-like boats, also made from totora reeds. You might also be able to ride in one of the reed boats.
There are only certain islands that tours visit, and the demonstration may feel a little artificial, but I don’t think there’s another way to get any sense of this unique community. You might be able to visit more independently, but I don’t know a way to arrange that. In the end, I was happy to go along with the staged tour because I figured this is what the Uros people have consented to and it’s a source of income for them, which I was happy to support. And after all, it is really fascinating to see the floating islands up close!
Here is an option for a half-day tour of the Uros islands.
Isla Taquile is one of the most beautiful of the Lake Titicaca islands. It is further out into Lake Titicaca than the Uros islands and sits 45km from Puno. The highest point of Isla Taquile is 4000 metres above sea level.
It is home to approx. 2200 Taquilenos, who speak Puno Quechua, a local dialect of the Quechua language, which is the most widely spoken pre-Columbian language in South America, and the language of the Incas.
Bring so separate from other communities, Isla Taquile has retained its traditional way of life and is known for its craftsmanship in textiles. There are strict gender roles in textile production: women spin & dye the wool and do weaving, while men do the knitting.
There are also distinct customs in terms of what people wear, with the men’s hats a particular feature. As boys, they learn to knit chullos, a tall floppy hat that can express creativity but also signifies age and marital status: boys wear white hats, but as their skill increases, they’ll use colours, to create symbolic designs. And when they want to marry, their ability to knit a good hat is a key factor in whether the match gets approved. And when they are married, the father-in-law presents the groom with a red hat or pintay. Hats change at other times too, often signifying social status. A man’s belt is also significant and on her wedding day, a woman will present her husband with a chumpi she has woven.
Taquile and its textile art were designated ‘Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’ by UNESCO.
It is, of course, a car-free island and has a collectivist economy, based on fishing, horticulture and tourism. They live by an Inca code, ama sua, ama llulla, ama qhilla (‘do not steal, do not lie, do not be lazy’).
Visiting Isla Taquile From Puno
Like the Uros islands, it is easy to visit Taquile island from Puno – it’s a pretty common activity and you can go there and back in a day, although home stays are also possible. Taquilenos have established control over a sustainable tourism model which puts them in control of visits and all members of the community benefit from tourism.
It takes longer to get to Isla Taquile: the journey each way is approximately 3 hours. In fact, many tours stop at the Uros Islands on the way to Isla Taquile, so you can visit both in one excursion.
On the island, there will be a climb to the main village at the top, which is fairly steep and then you’ll be able to explore the main square, which is the centre of life on the island.
Tours often arrange a lunch in the main village. On my trip, the main dish was lake trout with rice and salad, which was fresh and delicious. After lunch, we were to walk from the village to the other end of the island, where we were met by our boat. It was a fairly easy walk along the top of the island and then another steep walk down to the dock. We passed many traditional houses, agricultural terraces and lots of gorgeous rock arches.
I had no cultural demonstrations on Isla Taquile. The Taquilenos were just getting on with their daily life and it was really interesting to observe.
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Isla Taquile – it was so unique and the highlight of my time at Lake Titicaca.
Here’s a boat trip you can book that includes both the Uros islands and Isla Taquile.
I didn’t visit Isla Amantaní during my time in Peru, so I asked a fellow travel blogger, Lori, to share their experience of this island.
Isla Amantaní is one of the largest of the Peruvian islands and the most populated, with more than 3,500 people living there.
There are many archaeological ruins on the island which suggest that the early inhabitants were of the Tiahuanaco culture. The population appears to later have been integrated into the Incan Quechua culture, and Quechua is now the language spoken on the island. Similar to the Taquileños, the inhabitants of Amantani are also known for their textiles, but also ceramics.
Interestingly, when Amantaní boys are of age they leave their natal family. Only the mother and her daughters remain in the family home.
Agriculture is the primary occupation on the island. Potatoes are the primary staple and gardens with many varieties of potatoes cover the hillsides.
Visiting Isla Amantaní From Puno
The best way to get to the island is to book a tour that leaves from Puno on the coast aboard a water taxi. We booked our overnight Amantaní cultural homestay through a local company in Puno that gives the highest profit percentage back to the host family.
A water taxi with a windowed cabin took us out to the island. Upon arrival, we were greeted and claimed by our hostess, a young woman who led us to her home. We were offered lunch when we arrived and then shown to our room. Later on, we hiked to a few ruins and ate a simple dinner of boiled potatoes and vegetables, fried cheese, and a delicious soup made with local herbs.
Later in the evening we were dressed by our host in traditional native attire and led up a steep hill to a community hall where we participated in a fun evening of folk dance. At that altitude, it’s hard to do anything fast, but there were a lot of friendly smiles as we tried to keep up.
Even with the language barrier, the folks we stayed with were so welcoming and friendly. Given the standard of living we enjoy in the US, this experience was humbling, and a highlight of our trip to Peru.
Here’s a 2-day Lake Titicaca tour that covers Isla Amantaní as well as the Uros islands and Isla Taquile.
Isla Amantaní was contributed by Lori Sorrentino from Travlinmad.com.
Lake Titicaca Islands: Practical Details
How To Get To Puno On Lake Titicaca
As Puno is the starting point for visits to Lake Titicaca’s Peruvian islands, you need to know how to get to Puno! Puno is close to Juliaca, which has an airport with routes from Lima and Cusco. Skyscanner is a good site to check flight deals.
Puno is also reachable from Cusco by bus.
Where to stay in Puno
Even if you stay overnight on an island, you may need a place to stay in Puno before and after. In Puno, I stayed at the Royal Inn Hotel, which was smart and located close to the centre of town, which was convenient.
Acclimatising To Altitude
Lake Titicaca sits at 3800m above sea level – an altitude that will literally take your breath away if you’re not used to it! If you arrive at this altitude from a much lower altitude, you may need a few days to get used to the effects before you do anything strenuous.