Island hopping in lake Titicaca

Only 10 minutes after getting on the bus in Copacabana we were saying goodbye to Bolivia and crossing our last border. Sadly, Peru will be the last country we will be visiting in this trip. But we were not yet ready to leave lake Titicaca behind! Our first stop in Peru was going to be Puno, which as Copacabana, is located on the shore of the lake and is the boarding gate to Uros, Amantani and Taquile islands.

Puno is a Peruvian town with a very Bolivian touch, I would say that it’s how Bolivian towns could look like in ten-fifteen years: well finished buildings, shops, neat streets… The women, still wearing the bowler hat and their multilayered skirts, were telling us we were in Bolivia but the restaurants, with ceviche and pisco sour in their menus, were telling us we had made it to Peru. One of the things that really surprised us was to see tuk tuks on the streets of Puno, how have they made it to South America?

We wanted to visit the three islands (Uros, Amantani and Taquile) in two days one night, but we wanted to do it independently, without an agency. We found little information about how to do it, we had read that it was possible to get to the islands taking public boats so with that in mind we headed to the port early in the morning. As soon as we got there a guy approached us offering us only transportation in a colectivo (shared boat), perfect, exactly what we wanted. So we got on the boat, took our seats and as soon as we set sail a guy took the microphone, introduced himself as our guide and started describing the itinerary. Is this a tour?? Yes it was, and it was the only way of getting to the islands according to the two islanders travelling on the boat.

Our trip started on the Uros floating islands, just 30 minutes from Puno. The floating islands are home to the Uros tribe, an Aymara speaking tribe which pre-dates the Incas. It is thought that they may have fled to the islands to escape hostile tribes. This archipelago of over 40 artificial islands has one particularity, all of them are made of totora reeds, which grow in the lake. Each island is home to between 6 to 7 families. We visited San Pedro island where we met the locals. They explained how they have to keep adding totora reeds to the top every 3 to 4 months to combat the constant rotting of the base, and also how they have to rebuild the island from scratch every 30 to 40 years. It must be a serious engineering effort! It was very interesting to see how they still use totora not only to build the base of island but also to build their houses, their boats, to cook and even to eat. But of course, they cannot use totora to power their music players, for that they use solar panels.

We met on board a super friendly group of Spaniards: Georgina, Nico and Alvaro (all from Madrid), Xavi and Sergio (brothers from Barcelona) and Roberto (a musician from Santander leader of the band Trio Marfil). We took over the stern of the boat and the party started. Of course, Roberto as the good performer he is, was in charge of the entertainment for the whole leg of the journey, singing, dancing, sharing his hilarious travel stories and even telling us about his misfortunes of love. A real showman that made us have such a good time! The four hours between Uros and Amantani went by really fast in the Spanish Corner.

A line of Quechua women all with their traditional attires were waiting for us in Amantani. I forgot to mention that one of the highlights of the visit to Amantani was that we were to stay with a local family in their house (there is no other form of accommodation on the island). As we got off the boat, we were assigned Maxima’s house. Like most of the houses in the village, our host’s house was very humble, but Maxima, her husband, her daughter and granddaughters gave us a warm welcome and made us feel at home. They cooked for us a delicious quinua soup, with quinua from their garden, and tiny fried fish with potatoes (like the Spanish pescaito frito), with fish from the lake. After settling in our room we went for a walk. There are two peaks in the island from were to get a panoramic view of the whole island, Pachamama and Pachatata. Of course Isma wanted to get to the highest one, so we climbed to Pachamama, only 15m taller than Pachatata.

With a mate de muña in our hands we sat down with Maxima for a bit of chit chat hoping to know a bit more of her live. But the conversation didn’t last long, after only 10 minutes she stood up and kissed us goodnight. We had been told that most nights there is a kind of party for all the visitors, that the families dress you up with their traditional gowns and then they try to teach you their local dance. But Maxima told us that that night there was no party. Can you believe that we got a bit upset when we heard it? We had all the colourful dresses, hats and ponchos in our room and we couldn’t wear them.

After saying goodbye to the family we set course to Taquile, the last island we would visit before getting back to Puno. The lake was really really choppy what made the one hour ride between the two islands very rough. The little boat was bouncing up and down and rolling from side to side, trying to make it through the waves. Who could have thought that it was possible to have such waves in a lake! The conversation soon transformed into: would we be able to swim to shore if the boat capsized? Thankfully we made it to Taquile without testing the water temperature.

We left our belongings in the boat and started climbing up the island’s wide stone path to the main square. We spent almost half an hour around the town plaza checking out the pricey souvenir shops, enjoying the beautiful view across lake Titicaca and captivated by the colourful clothing of the locals. The native islanders, also Quechua, are called Taquileños and they are very well-known for their handwoven textiles, which are supposedly of the highest quality in Peru. Surprisingly, knitting is a task exclusively performed by males. Taquile island has some pretty interesting customs that revolve around different hats: the color of the hats is used to distinguish married from single men. So, the red hat is worn solely by married men, and the white-red by the single. How cool and simple is that?! Seriously can you imagine it?! Things would be easier if such customs would be applied worldwide!

Roberto and Xavi didn’t want to leave lake Titicaca without bathing in its waters. Most of us weren’t too keen on doing so, but before getting back on the boat and to the sound of “A que no hay huevos?” (I bet you don’t have the guts to do it) we all jumped to the chilly waters of lake Titicaca. The water was so cold that I couldn’t even breathe! But we can now all say that we have swum in the highest navigable lake in the world, and we have proof of it!

The way back to Puno was again livened up by indefatigable Roberto, who sang and danced non stop this time with the help of Georgina (maybe the new star of Trio Marfil?). Once we hit solid ground and before breaking up the Spanish Corner we all went for lunch to the cevicheria where Isma and I had tasted our first Peruvian ceviche. Perfect way of ending two fantastic days with a great group of people! Hopefully we all get to meet again at one of the many Trio Marfil concerts!

Visit our flickr gallery to see all the pictures!

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Accommodation

Puno, Duque Inn – Duque Inn hostel is about five minutes walking uphill from the city’s main square. We stayed in two different rooms, one with private bathroom and another one with shared bathroom but with a nice view of Puno and the lake. The beds were quite comfortable and the rooms were big. Hot water was available all day, there was free wifi and breakfast wasn’t included in the price but it was available for only 5 PEN. The price is 20 PEN per person per night regardless of the type of room. We would stay again.

Amantani, Casa Maxima – We didn’t really get to chose our accommodation in the island. Once we arrived we got assigned a house based on a rotation system they have implemented, this way all the families get to make a bit of money from the tourism. We stayed at Maxima’s home. We had our own room with a double bed in a very humble house. The shared toilet was at the front of the house like in most houses in Amantani. There was no shower but at least there was running water from a tap just outside the kitchen. We paid 30 PEN per person for one night. Lunch, dinner and breakfast were included in the price.

Transportation

From Copacabana to Puno by bus (3h) – We bought the tickets at one of the agencies on the main tourist street. The bus stopped at the border for us to get the stamps in our passport. We paid 30 BOB per person.

From Puno to Uros, Amantani and Taquile by boat – We bought the ticket directly at the port the very same morning, 30 minutes before departure. There was only one departure per day at around 8:.20am for the Puno-Uros-Amantani-Taquile-Puno two days one night route. We paid 30 PEN per person for only the transport between the three islands and back to Puno. It does include a guide but it’s not strictly necessary to go with him. It takes 30 mins to get from Puno to Uros, 4h to get from Uros to Amantani where you get to spend the night. The next day it takes 1h to get from Amantani to Taquile and 3h to get back to Puno from Taquile. To enter each island we had to pay 5 PEN on arrival.

Restaurant

Mareas, Ceviche & Mas – Very nice, local and economic cevicheria near the main square where we got to try our first ceviche in Peru. The Ceviche Mareas and Chaufa de Marisco are totally recommendable! Don’t forget to ask for the yummy complimentary fish broth. It’s located at Jr. Cajamarca N° 448.

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