A Visit to the Islands of Lake Titicaca
Visiting the islands on Lake Titicaca is the main reason people visit Puno. Lake Titicaca is the world’s highest navigable body of water sitting at an altitude of 3,812 meters (12,507ft). The islands and landscape around Lake Titicaca are beautiful and one of the main reasons it attracts many visitors.
The most visited islands are Uros, Amantani and Taquile. Uros being the most popular out of the 3. Not only because they are so unique, but there are also the closest in distance to Puno. As soon as you step foot in Puno you will see that many tour companies offer to visit this island. You will have a couple of options on how to reach the Uros Islands. The first option is purchasing a half day trip and going with an agency. You visit the floating islands and come back to Puno. The second option and what seems to be the best, is doing a 1 night/2 day visit to the islands including Amantani and Taquile. You will make a stop at the floating islands (Uros) and then head to Amanti where you will sleep with a local family. The following day you make a visit to Taquile and head back to Puno around 3pm-4pm.
We decided to go with the option of 1 night/2 days. We left our big backpack at our hostel in Puno and only packed a day pack with the basic necessities for our overnight stay. We purchased our transportation ticket to all 3 islands at the “muelle” or the port. It was the cheapest and most local option. It cost us S/30 ($8.88 USD) per person for boat transportation. Our captain was also our “guide”, which he was truly not much of a guide, but more so someone who got us from point A to point B. I guess we can’t really complain being that we paid the least expensive option. Once you arrive to the floating islands, there is an entrance control which charges an additional S/5 ($1.48USD) per person. When you arrive to Amantani where you will spend the night, you pay the local family directly. We paid S/45 ($13.33USD) per person for the night which included lunch, dinner and breakfast.
As soon as you get your first glimpse of the floating islands you really have a “wow” moment. It’s impressive to see people actually living on a floating island. The floating islands are created by layers of totora reed. Totora reed grows naturally on the banks of the lake and need to be replaced often to prevent them from rotting and to help keep the islands afloat. There is a family of about 8-10 people which live on each island. (When you step foot on the floating islands you will notice a funny feeling. Don’t worry you won’t get wet, but your feet will sink in a little bit.) We were immediately ushered off the boat and into a place the family already has setup for tourists. You sit in a circle and in 10 minutes the leader of the family gives you an explanation of their history, how they ended up living on these islands and a bit more about their day to day including how they manage to keep the islands afloat with the totora reeds.
They then will set you free for a few minutes to walk around and take pictures, not before immediately pulling you into their stations to pressure you to buy souvenirs. I totally get it, they have to make a living and now tourism has become one of their main sources of income. What I did not like was how pushy the “president” of the island was when pressuring us to buy souvenirs. I was willing to buy a llama keychain, how expensive can it be since I had seen it in Cusco for S/1 …well they were trying to sell it to me for S/10! Let’s put this in perspective, that’s more than what we pay for dinner. Everything was insanely overpriced. The worse part is that they do not have an issue putting you on the spot in front of the entire group if you don’t buy. That is when things really went south for us. I started to really look around and the island we had been brought to did not feel authentic at ALL! It all felt like a structured sales pitch. Their second attempt to sell is trying to get you on their “traditional reed boat” to drive you across the lake to the next stop for S/10 per person. Which by the way, this stop is less than 10 minutes away and it will be the exact spot the passenger boat will take you to anyway. By this time our group was already put off. Not one person in our group took the trip and all of us hopped back on the boat and headed across the lake to this pit stop were you can buy food, drinks or snacks. As we were leaving, one of the ladies from the floating island we had stopped at gave our captain money for bringing us to their island. This completely made us feel like we had fallen into a tourist trap. It even made us think if the Uros Island was at all authentic anymore or if tourism had impacted it to the extent of this being just a “show” for tourists. This was our personal and honest experience on the Uros Islands. Maybe it was just our luck or maybe this is just the way it is now. Regardless, it was still pretty cool to see for yourself. We really hope you have a better experience than we did.
If you decide to visit Lake Titicaca and make the effort to make it all the way to Puno, do yourself a favor and spend a night on one of the local islands. The experience was better and we got more of the authentic feel we were looking for. During this trip you will still make a stop at Uros. Once we completed our stop at Uros, we headed on a 3 hour cruise towards Amantani. The views are beautiful and the ride is relaxing . To be honest, most of us were rocked to sleep in the boat with the movement of the waves (we’ve heard it isn’t always this way so pack some medicine if you tend to get seasick). Once we arrived to Amantani we were greeted by Milagros, our local host. We walked over to her house and she made us feel right at home. Milagros is 19 years old and shared with us a bit about her family, home and way of life. She also has the world’s most adorable baby! She took us to our room and made us aware lunch was going to be ready at 1:30pm. This was the reason why we had made the journey to Lake Titicaca. We were in the middle of the lake with beautiful views all around and felt at peace.
This place really reminded us of “el rancho” back in Mexico. No Wi-Fi, no TV and just us two and another gentleman from Lima to chit chat. The room was very clean and the shared bathroom was located outside. We didn’t mind as everything was very clean and was exactly what we were looking for. After we had lunch, we had an hour to sit back and relax before our walk.... or hike! Milagros went to get us from our room and we were off walking towards Pachamama and Pachatata mountain peaks. Which are a highlight of Amantani Island. I will be honest, the walk is very steep and little challenging due to the altitude. The views uphill are breathtaking and we could even get a glimpse of Bolivia’s snow capped mountains. It really was worth to climb up the hill to catch the sunset over Lake Titicaca. It was one of a kind. We then walked back down and we were going to meet Milagros at 6:30pm in the main town plaza. We arrived to the center and headed to the corner store to buy some snacks. It seems this was the spot to be in the afternoon. All the village people and tourists staying overnight sat around the plaza. To our surprise, it starting raining. Once we met Milagros, we started walking towards her home. But wait... at some point I heard loud noises hitting the metal roofs of the homes! Yes! It started to hail! We sprinted towards the home, but not before getting wet and getting hit in the face with hail! Gosh... it was funny though! Milagros set up the dinner table and we ate as we watched the lighting show over Lake Titicaca. Truly impressive. After dinner we spoke for a bit, drank our tea and headed to bed.
The next day we had a wake up call at 6am and had breakfast at 7am. The pancakes were sooo good and the natural tea was also delicious. We ate, said goodbye to Milagros and we were off by 8am. This was about a 2 hour ride from Amantani to Taquile. Once we arrived to Taquile, we paid an entrance fee of S/8 ($2.37USD) per person. Our boat driver dropped us off and was going to meet us at the center of town at 12pm. We had about 2 hours to walk up the hill and stroll around town. This island was also inhibated by local people. Taquile Island is so small that 2 hours to walk around will be more than enough. We walked around, had coffee, ice cream and admired the lake.
We will say, Taquile was an eyeful! It was the most colorful and authentic out of all the islands. Taquile is known for the process of hand knitting done exclusively by the men. They start learning this trait at age 8. The fine textiles made by these men are even protected by UNESCO World Heritage! There is a shop in the center of town so you can shop for some textiles. Taquile a very beautiful island.
What to prepare for your stay at Lake Titicaca
Amantani is not the only island you can actually spend the night at, you can also look for accommodation on Taquile Island. The prices for the night are a bit less expensive on Taquile and accommodation is not as prominent as on Amantani Island. We were prepared and wanted to stay the night at Taquile, but we did not find a place to stay so we had to go back to Puno after our short visit.
There are a few things you must be aware of before deciding to spend the night. Not all accommodations offer electricity, ours for example worked off of solar panels so we got lucky. We did hear of other people that stayed at a more rustic accommodation. Some accommodations will not have a shower. Ours provided a basic bathroom with a toilet and sink. Since we only spent one night there, this did not bother us.
So we’ve convinced you to stay the night in Amantani…how do you prepare? Well here is a list of things we packed for our stay:
Pair of clothes to change for the next day.
Coat and sweater: It can get chilly at night.
Snacks: They feed you well, but you might still need a snack here and there. There are local shops you can purchase snacks.
Bring a battery pack! You might get an accommodation with out electricity.
Cash: there are no ATMs on the islands so make sure you have enough to pay for your accommodation and miscellaneous items
Dramamine or seasickness pills of you get sick. The water might be rough at times.
If you get a chance to visit Puno make sure to make the time to visit these beautiful islands, each unique in their own way.
In Peru you will find a very small amount of locals that speak English.
Download the XE Currency App to get live exchange rate info anytime, anywhere!
CREDIT CARDS AND BANKS
Cash is best for buying at local markets, street food or small stores as these do not accept credit cards.
ATMs are readily available. (Except on the islands of Lake Titicaca so make sure you bring enough cash for your accommodation.)
We mostly used Banco De La Nacion while in Peru since this one allows us to take money out with out any fees.
VISA REQUIRED FOR US CITIZENS:
Visas will be given at time of entry into Peru. The length of approved stay will be determined by border officials when you enter the country and can range from 30-183 days. Be aware of the time they allow you to stay in the country. If you overstay, you will be fined and it will be a hassle when you try to cross your next border, specially if traveling by land. (This happened to us!)
Your passport must be valid for at least 6 month and have 2 free pages in the visa section when entering Peru.
(Make sure to check with your local embassy for visa updates.)
The easiest way to get to Puno was by bus. We used Cruz Del Sur for all of our travels. There are other buses less expensive, but we felt completely safe with them. They are the only ones we saw which go above and beyond to make you feel secure.
Breathalyzer tests are given to their drivers before starting their journey
Always have 2 drivers who must rotate every 4 hours
Video record all passengers traveling
A hostess is available for you 24/7 and attends to your needs on the bus
Meals are included like breakfast, lunch or dinner depending on your time of travel (the food is really good!)
You get a personalized screen to watch movies in Spanish with English subtitles
They can’t drive faster than 90kmph, there will be a screen showing how fast the bus is going (in some cases it even beeps when the driver goes over).
TIP: If you decide to buy your tickets with Cruz Del Sur, their website has the ability to change languages. For us, it defaulted to English, but if you can read Spanish or figure out the steps to book in Spanish, do it! Once their website is changed to Spanish, the cheap tickets will appear. You will have access to some seats being sold at a 50% discount! This obviously depends on demand and some planning on your end.
(In no way, did we get any commission or free rides with Cruz Del Sur to write this piece, we really loved them!)
We had heard mixed opinions about safety in Peru. Some cities seem to have more of a bad rep than others, but through out our stay we always felt safe. Even when riding on night buses. I was mostly concerned about all the road accidents you read about online, but if you book with a good bus company you should not worry. Just like in any other place in the world, use common sense like you would in any country. Make sure to steer clear of the roudy neighborhoods.
PIN ME FOR LATER!