The largest lake in South America and apparently the highest body of water in the world, Lake Titicaca is unique. We saw two sides of it from both Peru and Bolivia.
We started with a 7 hour journey from Cusco where we were sat on the top deck for some fantastic views.
And also some not so fantastic. This was possibly the most unattractive town I saw in all of South America.
That is of course, until we reached our destination of Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca. The lake looked lovely, the town did not. Ugly, badly planned, brick buildings lined the narrow and unbelievably cramped streets.
The one interesting part was the long market reaching all the way down to the shore, with some street food and strangely, stall after stall of model houses.
In the morning it was time for what we came for – a trip on the lake. Arriving late, we’d just decided to book one with our guesthouse. It wasn’t the cheapest but it was a full day and included a visit to both the floating Uros islands, and the larger island of Taquille.
We were picked up very early and taken to a boat where we met our tour guide, who was unintentionally hilarious. Sporting a fantastic mullet, he spoke Spanish perfectly normally (as far as we could tell) but quite where he learned English I have no idea. He spoke it well, but with the most bizarre over the top camp accent I’ve ever heard – I had to stop myself laughing every time he spoke.
Our first stop was the Uros islands, inhabited by the Uros people for thousands of years. These arn’t normal islands though, they are man made islands constructed from reeds which are abundant in the lake. They tie bundles of them together until they become a solid mass, then continually add to the top to give them strength. They even use them for food.
Stepping on the reeds is bizarre, it really doesn’t feel like it will support your weight, and it’s really springy, but they are so thick there is no risk…unless you go too close to the edge, we were warned.
It was obvious that these days tourism, for better or worse, was what brought the money in. Even the guide acknowledged this. Nothing confirmed this more than a ride in a traditional reed boat, which cost an extra S./15 per person for a short and pointless ride. I worked out they were earning up to $50 from one ride, so it’s lucrative to say the least.
While they were a genuine family on their little island, it did feel a bit exploitative. However there is no denying it was fascinating to be walking around on a floating island of reeds.
Soon we were back on the boat for the short hop to Taquille. Except we were in for a shock as it wasn’t a short hop at all, it was over 2 hours away. It became clear that a lot of the day would just us sitting on a boat.
Eventually we did arrive at Taquille and began a long walk uphill past fields of sheep, until we were at the top of the steep island with some wonderful views of the lake.
The island is known for it’s traditional weaving and knitting, which is highly regarded. Men do all the knitting, and women do all the weaving. It was really impressive, though not being enormous fans of weaving it wasn’t something we were desperate to buy but it was interesting. I er, forgot to take a single photo of the weaving so you’ll have to just imagine it.
Luckily we were also on the island for lunch, which was a choice of grilled trout or…grilled trout. The restaurants, and possibly other businesses, operated an interesting model where tourism is shared among local businesses – each group goes to a different restaurant. While tourism was obviously important to this island, it was still very traditional and far from overrun or ruined by it.
On the way back we passed through another section of the Uros islands, and it was only then that we discovered quite how built for tourists the one we visited was. The actual islands were much bigger, with more substantial houses, they looked more like small towns and far more interesting than what we visited.
Not to matter, it was an interesting enough last few days in Peru. It was time to move onto Bolivia.
In Puno we stayed at Marlon’s House, a guesthouse/hotel near the centre and right opposite the market. A huge double room cost S./73 (£14.80) and included a fairly decent breakfast. Staff were really helpful and we booked the day trip through them as we only had a day.
The trip cost S./70 (£14.26) each and included pickup and dropoff, and was a bit less if you didn’t want lunch included.
The bus from Cusco cost S./50 (£10.19) each with Transzela.
Puno at its centre has lots of tourist infrastructure and loads of pizza restaurants. As you get further out you would expect to find better food but all we really found was grilled chicken shops. Tons of them. There is a huge Plaza Vea supermarket here – if you’re heading to Bolivia for any length of time, stock up on luxuries here, trust us.