Lake Titicaca is both stunning and unique! It’s one of the largest and highest-altitude lakes in the world and sits on the border of Peru and Bolivia. From the Peru side, from the coast of Puno, the lake is most famous for its islands.
Uros is part of the floating islands that exist only in Lake Titicaca. They are a series of small islands, each no larger than a university auditorium. What makes the islands so different is that each one is man-made, taking advantage of the reeds in the water to keep the island stable and centuries of knowledge!
Taquile is a much larger, natural island; it has a clear view of crystal clear lake! The landscapes are gorgeous; you might even recognize a certain gate that is the cover of the Lonely Planet guide to Peru. UNESCO honors its textile art as intangible cultural heritage.
[Recommended Read: Hits and Misses of Three Weeks in Peru]
Getting to the Islands
As the islands are anywhere from 30 minutes-90 minutes away from the coast of Puno, you must travel by boat. A crowded marina sits at the port of Puno, but your best choice is to book a day tour with a local agency. Puno is full of tour agencies offering to take travelers to their floating islands! Uros and Taquile are the best and most popular picks.
I did a day tour with both islands included; we left at 6 am and didn’t return until sunset. It was a long day, but the views were worth it!
The Uro people live completely on their islands. To date, there are over 100 islands that range in size. They are completely man-made, taking advantage of the relatively shallow water and tall reeds of Lake Titicaca.
The island that I went to was relatively small, with 5 families; some islands hold 10+. The community leader greeted us as we stepped off the boat; he explained to us the construction of each island with a cute model. The base of the islands are made with packed dirt. Once the base is built, layers and layers of tortora reeds are stacked on top until the islands sit comfortably above the surface of the water. The construction process sounds amazing, but unfortunately we did not visit an island-in-progress.
The Uro people also use reeds to build boats, which they use as we use cars. The children take boats to school every day, and adults take the boats to gather resources. The boats are completely hand-powered, and vary in size. Some are very large and can hold an entire group of tourists, while others are small enough for one or two people to run errands. Our tour included a boat ride, where two adorable local girls joined us.
Intricately-woven reeds make up the houses. They interlock and provide protection from the elements. Though they are small, they look sturdier than a standard tent!
[Recommended Read: Everything You Need to Know About Peru]
The One Issue
Somewhat ethically dubious is the fact that most Uro people work in the tourism industry; travelers pay money to visit their islands, ride their boats, and purchase their souvenirs. Tourists pay the women for their craftwork and the men for their explanations of their culture. While this fuels their economy, it also creates a tourist trap. While the Uros Islands are unique and beautiful, they are also quite literally made for tourists.
This Island is much bigger than the Uros islands, and my tour group spent several hours here. Taquile has a small town square and a relatively big shop that has a plethora of their textiles that you can buy. There are all sorts of designs and all are gorgeous! We also saw the gate on the island that graces the cover of the Lonely Planet guide!
We listened to the reason UNESCO protects the textile art; the clothes of Taquiles show different things about themselves. Single women wear different colors and patterns from married women, and men wear different hats! The outfits are deeply embedded into Taquile culture. When we ate, a local man showed us how Taquiles use some native plants as natural soap; he was wearing their traditional attire.
The island had some animals that were very close to the walking trail! I got up close and personal with this cow.
While Uros had more unique characteristics, Taquile was a lot like Isla del Sol, the large island in Lake Titicaca from the Bolivian side. Its views are still stunning!
[Recommended Read: Nine Things to Know Before Getting to Peru]
Want to Pin this post for later?
Have you ever seen floating islands or UNESCO textiles? Share your experience in the comments below!