Lake Titicaca is world’s highest navigable body of water. Located between Peru and Bolivia, Peruvians claims that “Titi” is their part and “Caca” (in Spanish means “shit”) belongs to the Bolivian brothers. Titicaca is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating lakes in the world. Not only because of its altitude (over 3800 meters above sea level), rare aquatic wildlife or Inca legends. The biggest attraction of this place are the Floating Islands populated by the Uros people. For many of you, who have already been to Peru this is probably the biggest tourist trap in the whole South America. I can’t entirely disagree. It is one of the most tourist place and I can literally smell scam but hey, don’t be so sceptic, there is some authenticity in it as the Uros people do live here since ages. With every year though, the islands become less and less populated. So don’t think twice. Include Lake Titicaca in your itinerary before the islands disappear for ever!
The wheels on the bus goes round and round: Cuzco – Puno.
We are emotionally drained after spending couple of days in Cuzo/Machu Picchu. How to enjoy Peru if nothing impresses me more than what I’ve already seen. For sure not Puno. Little town on the shores of Lake Titicaca, known by those Lonely Planet’ers as the folklore capital of Peru.
Well, there is helluva folklore on your way there and unfortunately it has nothing to do with colourful costumes and smiley faces… You can see the real Peru in cities like Juliaca. Unfinished houses, stray dogs. People living in extreme poverty. Don’t be surprised when walking around with your new iphone and a selfie stick you will end up with a gun pointed at you. Nah, this is just too extreme, and it only happened once to a friend of a friend. Anyway be cautious but also remember – Peru is one of the safest places in South America! I would definitely travel there solo.
We hop on a bus from Cuzco to Puno. It’s a tourist bus which means a. amazing service b. high price. Obviously you could get something cheaper but sometimes you have to use your common sense and answer one simple question – your life or 4 pounds more for a ticket? I wish I was kidding. Road accidents in Peru happen every day, especially at night. While bus races are kind of a national sport discipline, I do not recommend travelling by cheap bus unless your nerves are made of steal 🙂 I know what I say – I traveled on a tourist bus and on a regular one. It was fun, but you know that my life is all about THE WILDEST TALES – urge to expose myself to that kind of adventures lies in my nature 🙂 Meanwhile we are on a tourist bus where we have a guide, a pretty hostess serving us drinks, the wheels of the bus go round and round and we get everywhere safe and on time. One more good thing about the tourist bus is that it stops at interesting places (Andahuaylillas, Raqchi, Pukara) as well as there is a meal (a tasty one!) in a local restaurant included in the price. Check out some snaps I took on the way:
The moment we get out of our bus we already have our Titicaca cruise booked. Now we talk efficiency! We went for 2 days/1 night option and I will tell you a bit more about homestays on the islands in a minute. The hotel we booked in Puno it looked really amazing online but once we get there the reality leaves a lot to be desired. But fuck it. I feel like my head is about to explode.
We are not very excited about exploring the town but always in for checking out Puno’s cuisine. We end up in a small bar and it was on of the coolest place for dinner in whole Peru. Local folks gazing at (apparently really popular) reality show on TV and Jesus Christ himself overlooking your meal. What else do you want from life?
Generally I do not recommend watching TV while you are in Peru. Next morning it’s on, while we eat breakfast in our hotel. Murders, kidnapping, assaults… not quite the morning breakfast show you are used to? By the way did I tell you that Peru is one of the safest countries in South America?!
We took a boat over to the floating islands the following morning. Lake Titicaca is beautiful! It’s one of those tours you either like it or hate it. Let’s start with Alvaro – our guide. The tour is originally in 2 languages – Spanish and English. So Alvaro speaks Spanish for 15 minutes, following by 1 sentence in English. This guy is hilarious. I kind of get now, why people think it’s not worth to book a trip to the islands. Our first stop is a small island made of reeds. The surface was pretty spongy to walk on and thats mainly because it’s only about a foot deep and from there on down its all water… scary!!
Now the tourist bit – beware of the Uros guys, they are crazy!! They give us their clothes, they sing, we eat reeds and then the “king” of the island explains how they build them (DIY in case you want to make your own!) and that’s it. It may look like a scam, but we really paid some pennies to come here and I enjoyed it! It definitely wasn’t as bad as so called “elephant trek” in Thailand. At least no one gets hurt! A boat also made of reeds take us to an island that had a little school and it all seems more authentic. It’s a bit messy, people wear regular clothes and they do live here – on a floating island! I get my passport stamped. Like a real tourist!
Midday. We get to Amantani island where we gonna stay for a night. Our local host is Rosa and her husband. Not much time ago they decided to take part in the community tourism project.
On the island, there is a rotating system of family homestays. This creates a much more fair system, and distributes tourism profits to many instead of few. It is also supposed to offer travelers an opportunity to get a peak into the lives and cultures of the islanders. For years, the community tourism project on Lake Titicaca was a role model success story, but now I have a feeling that it’s yet another business allowing rich people get richer…
I feel like the families don’t make much money on it (if any!) so when Rosa offers us to buy some handicraft we buy 3 bracelets (alpaca wool?). I love them and wear them all the time even though I have this weird feeling that if I didn’t buy anything I would offend her. I get that this is her chance to make some money but I wish she was paid more for our stay to avoid this type of awkwardness. What if I didn’t want to buy anything? Would she be upset? We have lunch and dinner included in the tour and Rosa is an excellent cook. Vegetarians will be in heaven as the diet of Amantani people is very simple and based on potatoes and quinoa. I am pretty sure that your impression after visiting the island will be strongly related to the family you gonna stay with. We were lucky as Rosa and her family are simple but lovely people. However let’s be honest – there won’t be any meaningful interaction between you and your host family especially if you don’t speak Spanish. There is no time for that and it’s a pity because I have sort of an impression that people are coming everyday just to get a quick peek at how poor people live (no running water – seriously?!) and they come back to the mainland and although the idea of this project is brilliant, the danger that it can become yet another tourist scam exists.
We chill out a bit and then go out for a little walk (as much as I want I can’t call it “a trek”) to the top of the hill to Pachamama’s temple. The sunset is truly amazing. I go with the flow and buy yet another alpaca jumper. I swear I’m wearing it while writing this post 🙂 There is one more temple on the island, the one of Pachatata – unfortunately we have no time to visit it. At night there is a party on the island. We get folk dresses and local people show us their traditional dance. In my opinion this was unnecessary – very fake so after 15 minutes we were back to our place. (See my point about tourist trap now?) Next morning we go to another island – Taquile. It’s smaller than Amantani and local people make money on selling textiles and hosting people. Funny thing is that knitting is a male thing. I really regret not to buy a Peruvian hat. For sure it would be a great souvenir. Walking around the island takes us around 2 hours and after that we go back to Puno.
Is it worth visiting the islands?
I do believe so, however be prepared that mass tourism has changed the experience a lot. It’s not an off-the-beaten-track place, but it doesn’t costs a lot (I checked trips to the jungle and they were awfully expensive!). Despite of all cons and my moaning, I still feel a visit to the communities of Taquile and Amantani is worthwhile, educational, and enjoyable. However I would strongly recommend to go on your own and stay for more than 1 night to really get to know how people live there. Just book a boat to Amantani or Taquile, find a local host on spot. You will get so much more of it! You will also help a lot local people by paying them directly instead of using an agency. More and more families offer rooms online, here comes the civilization and it’s perhaps not so cool for travelers but it means a better and definitely an easier life ahead – the communities of Lake Titicaca are definitely benefiting from tourism!
When we get back to Puno poor Mario has fever and terrible tonsillitis. Luckily we have antibiotics with us otherwise the next post would be from a Peruvian hospital! It’s not as bad but it’s gonna be taught as we are supposed to travel from Puno to Arequipa tomorrow. And this was a really crazy bus journey… you know what they say – Do it like a local! Next post is coming soon!