The town of Puno is located on the Peru side of Lake Titicaca, and one of its main points of tourism are the Uros Floating Islands and Taquile Islands Tours. In this post you will find our experiences, some fun information and history, and some important things to know before you travel to Peru and book your floating islands adventure tour.
Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake, is found at 3812m (12 507 ft) above sea level. Navigable meaning “able to be sailed on by ships or boats,” (dictionary.com). At 8372 ㎢, its basin crosses the border between Peru and Bolivia.
We visited during the cold season, which was surprisingly warmer than Cusco, despite being at a higher altitude. The weather is decently consistent year round, slightly chilly but full of sunshine. So if you’re planning a trip to Lake Titicaca, any time of the year is great. Just be sure to buy some warm Alpaca wool gear from one of the many markets on Lima Street.
There are many options out there to book tours online, but our travels through Central and South America have taught us that booking with local agents once we arrive in a city is the cheapest and most reliable way.
Most online tour companies offer the same tours at many times the price. They have the power to do this to the online generation because so many of the little guys have no idea how to use online advertising. But don’t be fooled by online presence, or lack thereof. Especially in these parts of the world, a good rule of thumb is “just because something doesn’t show up on Google Maps doesn’t mean it’s not there or it’s not great.”
We stayed near the Plaza de Armas in Puno, and if you head there, you will begin to find an endless number of travel agencies, each offering the same thing at relatively the same price. If you head down to Puerto del Puno, you’ll find even more! Take your pick, they all work with the same tour operators, so you just want to find the place that feels right to you.
Most agents will have someone who speaks a small amount of a English, but having some knowledge of the Spanish language is hugely helpful while navigating Puno. Almost all tour guides will speak both English and Spanish and you’ll know that at the time of booking.
You can shop around a bit too and get the best bang for your buck. That being said, before you go on a tour it’s hard to know what a good deal is or not, and whose reviews to trust.
You have more leverage the more tours you book and the more people you are booking for, but in Peru, no price given is ever final. Sometimes the price given is too good to bother bartering, but if you’re really into the barter game, you probably can knock a sole or two off just for the win.
The tour we went on was a full day, 7am – 530pm, visiting the Uros Floating Islands and Taquile Island. We paid the travel agent $40 Soles per person (roughly $12USD). This included:
There is only one dock at the Port of Puno, which stretches from the land into the lake. On the left side, the boats are lined up in hundreds. To get to the furthest boats, you need to walk across all the boats before them! Quite the experience – go slow and take care!
There were a few extra hidden costs, which I will discuss in depth below, but lunch cost $20 Soles and there was a $10 Sole reed boat ride, totaling our day at $70 Soles pp, or $22 USD, so not too bad even with the extras.
The Uros are an indigenous people of Peru and Bolivia and according to the descendants still living on the floating islands, they have been creating the floating islands to live on for nearly 500 years. The used to be thought of as having “black blood,” because they didn’t feel the cold.
The islands are made out of Totora reeds, housing between 5-10 families per island, and are anchored down to prevent them from floating away. We learned that during special ceremonies, like weddings or graduations, they can fit up to 600 people on one island – but they do reinforce it like crazy prior to the party!
Many of the Uros people live on the mainland now, but approximately 1200 still live on the islands and head into Puno for school or work – even though there is are 2 islands with a primary school and crèche on them! An island with proper maintenance should last approximately 30 years.
Each island has a communal cooking area made of stone. You wouldn’t want to start a fire in one of the reed houses!
Before the reed islands were made, the reed boats were being created – and families used to live on the boats themselves.
There are already a few reviews and blog posts on this subject, and with what we’ve read, they all seem to reflect the experiences we had. So please, read this before you go:
If you know the stuff above going into it, you can avoid all the awkwardness and enjoy your morning on the floating islands. It was such a beautiful place, with wonderful history, but the people have lost sight of what the tourism should represent. It is to share their history and culture, but they are trying to do this through pressure and tricks into purchasing their goods.
This happens from time to time on tours, but this was exceptionally intense. Don’t let this deter you from the unique experience, just be cautious of the dollar sign they see imprinted on your forehead.
After your nap (let’s face it, even if you have something to do, 2.45hrs on a gently rocking boat will put you to sleep), you will arrive at Taquile Island.
At its topmost point, it is another 238m above sea level. If you want to get to the top, you have no choice but to walk! The island has modern technologies – but no motorized vehicles or large livestock. Even today, the habitants use only their own two feet for transport.
It’s a bit hard to tell, but the elderly lady in front of John has heaps of stuff on her back. And she was smashing the walk!
There are many interesting customs of the Taquileños people, many relating to the textiles they wear and create. Their handwoven textiles are regarded as some of the highest quality in Peru, and are knitted solely by men, who begin to learn in early boyhood.
Colorful skirts are worn by girls and single women, black by the married.
Alternatively, red and white hats are worn by single men and the married men wear fully red ones. Quite the easy way to find a date, or avoid one. My mom found two single men. Classic Sher.
There are no police on the island, but there are “sheriffs” voted in each year by the communities, and they wear colorful beanies with a black hat on top.
They wash all of their textiles with a natural soap that comes from the grinding of plant! They modeled this by washing a dirty ball of natural wool, and it worked like magic.
There are 6 communities on the island, and as you walk along the cobblestone paths, you will walk under an arch from time to time, which signifies the border between communities. Each community provides a different agriculture to the other communities, and it seems to be a harmonious communal model. The food they serve is simple but tastes amazing, including lots of fresh trout from the lake.
Our favorite custom was the daily greetings. Each person carries a leather satchel of coca leaves (not to be confused with cocoa, coca is the same plant that cocaine is derived from but it leaf form it is used as a medicine for altitude sickness) and instead of shaking one another’s hand when greeting, they reach into their bag of leaves, grab a handful, pass it into the other’s satchel, then reach back into their own bag, grab a handful and start chewing on them!
This was the highlight of our day, and our time in Puno. It was informative, authentic, and full of incredibly warm and welcoming people. The walk was a bit tough at times but making it to the top filled us with a sense of pride and wonderment. We were 4050m above sea level, on the highest navigable lake in the world. And the food was great!
The tiny streets just off the main square were homes and tiny businesses. It would’ve been really neat to see some sort of accommodation because spending a night on this island would have been lovely.
The boat ride to and from was a bit taxing but there were a lot of wonderful sights, and if you remember where you are, you’ll be in awe the entire time.
The city itself needs a bit of work on the tourism front, as they depend so heavily on the floating islands for tourism, but there are still a number of great restaurants and museums to check out. That being said, our number one recommendation after a long day on the water is the Inca Sauna.
We were lucky enough to have the place to ourselves from 630-930pm, but we’d recommend booking it privately if you have a decent sized group. You need to book in advance either way so they can make sure to have the temperatures right. They have a hot tub, dry sauna, wet sauna, cold immersion showers and hot showers. But the best part is their menu. Traditional French crepes (the owner and manager are legitimately from a dance), toasted sandwiches, and the best Pisco Sour we found in all of Peru.
Learning about traditions, and witnessing the cultural preservation of the Peruvians and people of Lake Titicaca was absolutely amazing. But I’d be lying if I said the heat of a modern spa pool and the French cultural culinary experience weren’t the icing on the cake.