The floating islands on Lake Titicaca
Have you ever heard of the Indian people called Uru (Uros)? I had the pleasure of meeting these extraordinary individuals during my two-month stay in South America. I visited their floating islands on Lake Titicaca and their way of life amazed me.
The Altiplano is home to the largest plateau on the planet after Tibet. It is located in the central and widest part of the Andes. In its northern part, on the border of Bolivia and Peru, lies Titicaca. Titicaca is the highest navigable lake globally at 3,821 meters above sea level. It is also the largest freshwater lake in South America, covering an area of 8,300 square kilometers. On the Peruvian side of the lake, near Puno, the Uru people live on artificial islands made of reeds.
Historically, some conquerors considered the Uru people savages. However, the Incas believed they possessed supernatural powers and called themselves “Sons of the Sun.” Legend has it that black blood flowed through their veins, allowing them to withstand the cold. The Uru people left the mainland to protect themselves from attacks. They devised a unique solution: they built cottages on floating islands entirely by hand.
On the floating islands
As I stepped onto one of the floating islands, I couldn’t help but marvel at how different their way of life was from what I was used to. The islands look stable from the water, but they are soft. Walking on them is an experience, as one can feel the constant movement and the impression of sinking.
The sound of the water lapping against the reeds and the gentle swaying of the island made me feel like I was on a ship, sailing the high seas. But there was no need for worries: the islands are safe, have a lifespan of several decades, and are renewed and supplemented with reed as necessary. This way of life is highly sustainable and in compliance with environmental conservation efforts. The Uru women greeted us with warm smiles and offered us a tour of their island.
The island was small, with only a handful of cottages and a communal area where the villagers gathered to eat and socialize. The cottages were made entirely of reeds, and the roofs were adorned with colorful flags and banners. Inside the cottages, the only furniture was a row of beds with colorful blankets and pillows strewn about. The windows were small, letting in just enough light to brighten the room.
The islands on Lake Titicaca are mobile
The floating islands on Lake Titicaca are mobile and can move away from the coast. Although the Uru people have preserved some traditions and customs, they lost their original language several centuries ago. Nowadays, Uru people are only partially isolated. Children attend elementary school on one of the islands but receive a high school education with local children. Uru uses the boats to travel between the islands and the coast, with some powered by motors and others by paddles.
Despite their modest way of life, the Uru people were incredibly hospitable and generous. They shared their food and stories, and we learned about their customs and traditions. Men showed us how they harvested the reeds and used them to build and maintain their islands. Also, they demonstrated how they caught fish using handmade nets and shared their secret recipes for cooking them.
Quality of life
As the sun set, we gathered around a fire pit and listened to the Uru people sing and play music on handmade instruments. The stars above were incredibly bright, and the air was crisp and cool. I felt a sense of calm and tranquility that we rarely experienced in our busy lives.
However, the question of quality of life arises. The cottages are tiny, with only enough space to sleep and nothing else besides beds. The houses have one bulb, and some have small TVs powered by solar energy collected during the day. No running water or heating on the islands, and temperatures can be low in winter. Nevertheless, the Sons of the Sun don’t seem bothered by these hardships.
Today, the island’s inhabitants are much more open to tourists than before, as tourism brings in an excellent income year-round. Each island has a market where Uru women sell local products and souvenirs dressed in traditional colorful skirts and sweaters.
Transportation to neighboring islands
They also offer transportation to neighboring islands for a small fee. Despite their modest lifestyles, the powerful men and women of the Uru people resist modern trends and find happiness in a life devoid of many little pleasures of the modern world.
Spending time with the Uru people was a reminder that happiness can come from simple pleasures and that we don’t need all the material things we often take for granted. Their way of life may seem difficult to outsiders, but they have found a sense of community and belonging many of us long for in our modern world. As we bid farewell to the Sons of the Sun, we left with a newfound appreciation for their culture and gratitude for the experience.
Getting to the floating islands in Lake Titicaca
To get to the floating islands in Lake Titicaca from Puno, there are several options available:
Boat Tour: One of the most popular ways to reach the floating islands is by taking a boat tour from the Puno port. There are several tour operators offering guided tours of the islands, which typically last around 2-3 hours.
During the tour, visitors can learn about the history and culture of the Uros people and see how they live on these unique floating islands. Price: 15$ and an extra 5$ for a ride in a traditional dragon boat.
Private Boat: Visitors can also opt for a private boat tour, which provides more flexibility and allows for a more personalized experience. Tour operators can arrange private boats or book them directly with the boat owners at the Puno port.
Kayak or Canoe: For those looking for a more adventurous way to reach the islands, kayaking or canoeing is a great option. Kayaks and canoes can be rented in Puno, and visitors can paddle their way to the islands. This option is recommended for experienced kayakers and canoers, as the lake can be unpredictable and weather conditions can change quickly.
It’s important to note that visitors should only travel with reputable tour operators and follow all safety instructions provided by the boat operators. It’s also recommended to dress warmly, as the lake can be quite cold, and to bring sunscreen and a hat to protect against the strong sun at this high altitude.
Tips for visiting the floating islands in Lake Titicaca
Here are some tips for visiting the floating islands in Lake Titicaca:
Dress appropriately: The weather at Lake Titicaca can be unpredictable, so it’s best to wear layers and bring a waterproof jacket. The sun can also be strong, so don’t forget to wear sunscreen and a hat.
Respect the culture: The Uros people have a unique culture, and it’s important to be respectful of their customs and way of life. Ask permission before taking photos, and avoid touching or taking anything from their homes without permission.
Learn about the culture: Take the time to learn about the history and traditions of the Uros people. Many tour guides offer informative explanations, and you can also purchase handmade crafts to support the community.
Support sustainable tourism: Consider booking a tour with a company that practices sustainable tourism, ensuring that the local community benefits from your visit.
Stay safe on the boats: When traveling by boat, always wear a lifejacket and listen to the instructions of the boat captain. Lake Titicaca can be windy, and boats can become unstable in choppy waters.
Stay hydrated: At high altitudes, it’s essential to stay hydrated. Bring plenty of water with you and drink it regularly throughout the day.
Don’t forget to tip: Tipping is appreciated in Peru, and it’s customary to tip your tour guide and boat captain.
By following these tips, you can have a safe and enjoyable visit to the floating islands in Lake Titicaca.
That’s all for now. To read more stories from Peru, click HERE.