Floating Islands of Uros and Isla Taquile in Lake Titicaca

Sunday, May 18, 2014

015-50.598 S
070-1.416 W
Marine forecast for this location

Ahoy from the crew of the BlueJacket at Lake Titicaca, Peru!

First off I promise that this log will be shorter than yesterday's log was and I think that there should only been another 3-4 logs in my Peru series. I write these logs for both you and me. I hope that I can share these unique experiences with you and I write them for myself so that years down the road I can remember what we actually did.


MapAfter a very long day of driving from the Colca Canyon area, we finally arrived at Puno , which is on the shores of Lake Titicaca. Puno has about 100,000 residents and is very much a working class town and not a place that I wanted to take time to explore. The primary reason to visit here is to explore the floating islands of Uros and the island of Taquile.

Lake Titicaca is the largest lake in South America and is worlds highest navigable lake at 12,507' (3,812 m). This is not to say that there aren't higher lakes, but the others are smaller and shallower. Lake Titicaca has a max depth of 922' (281 m) and an average depth of 351' (107 m). That's deep! I don't know what the exact definition of "navigable" is, but it applies to larger, deep draft vessels. Lake Titicaca is large, with a surface area of 3,232 sq mi (8,372 sq km). It's 118x50 miles (190x80 km) and is bordered by Peru and Bolivia. There will be a test on this later... :-)

UrosAfter checking in to the Casa Andina Private Collection, we headed to the shoreline to observe the wide variety of birds that were feeding in the marsh. It was great and right outside of our room. Altitude really suppresses your appetite, so after a light dinner we headed to bed, but during the night Sue came down with a severe case of food poisoning which we guessed had something to do with the boxed lunch from the previous day that sat in the warm car for hours before getting consumed. When morning finally rolled around, Sue was in no shape to do anything, so I set out to explore the area on my own.

Building an islandWhile I was expecting a private guide, I wasn't expecting a private boat, but that's what I got. Something big enough for 30 people, but today it just had the driver, my guide and me. That was weird! Anyhow, we departed from the hotel and headed out to the floating islands of Uros. The Uros people are a pre-Incan tribe who live on 42 man-made floating islands located near Puno. The islands consist of a very thick floating blocks of peat moss and are anchored to the bottom. Totora reeds are placed on top of the peat moss to form a surface to walk on. Walking on the reeds crushes them, so they need to be replaced on a regular basis. Huts made of reeds are built on top of the horizontal reeds, as shown on the right.

Reed boatTraditional transportation is accomplished using boats made out of reeds, but I definitely saw some power boats hiding in the reeds. I sure can't blame them, but I was very impressed as how well the reed boats handled when I got a ride in one of them.

Technology has also infiltrated their culture as you now see solar cells outside of some of the huts which are used to charge cell phones. I had to laugh when I was getting my reed boat ride and I glanced down at the two women who where rowing the boat and saw one talking on her cell phone. It certainly seems much more practical than the reed towers that they used to use for communication and as watch towers.

Transporting goodTaquileOne of the nice things about having a boat to myself is that I arrived well before the other tourist boats and had the islands to myself. Before long more tourists began arriving and it was time to move on to the next destination, which as Taquile. As you can see from the map above, Taquile is located about 28 miles (45 km) from Puno and is inhabited by about 2,200 people. Their society is based on community collectivism and on the Inca moral code of "ama sua, ama llulla, ama qhilla" (Quechua for "do not steal, do not lie, do not be lazy"). Kind of hard to argue with that!

Boats land at the community dock and then you have to hike 450' (137 m) up to the town. When you're already at 12,500', that's a hike and I saw quite a few tourists that I didn't think were going to make it. On the opposite spectrum, the locals were loping up the hill loaded down with huge baskets which are used to transport everything that comes to the island.

Red & Red/White hatsAlmost everyone on the island wears the same "uniform" and one of the interesting things is that unmarried men wear red and white hats and married men just wear red hats. Similarly unmarried women have have large colored pom-poms on the black shalls and married women have small pom-poms.

Man knittingTaquile is world renown for the quality of their textiles. The women weave and the men knit. That's a very interesting division of labor! The man in the image on the right said that he had been knitting since he was 7. Other than that they fish and farm.

After a traditional lunch of trout and rice and coca tea we hiked to the other side of the island where the boat was now waiting for us. The ride back to Puno took a couple of hours and I was feeling very tired. When I got back to the hotel I found Sue up and about, but feeling far from well. Within an hour I came down with the same illness that had sidelined Sue and I slept non-stop (other than trips to the bathroom) for 15 hours. Luckily the next day we were scheduled to be on a day-long train ride to Cusco, which allowed both of us to recover.

You can find photos of my trip to Lake Titicaca here.

-- Geoff & Sue

Log ID: 2250

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