Updated October 22nd, 2018.
How do islands made of reeds stay afloat while holding houses and people? If this curiosity excites you head to Puno, a city based on the shore of Lake Titicaca and the gateway to exploring Peru’s floating islands known as Uros.
Situated between Lake Titicaca and the mountains this humble city and its habitants revolve around the prestige of the lake. Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world which borders Peru and Bolivia.
The Uru people that live on the floating islands maintain a traditional lifestyle away from the mainland only hunting and gathering food on the lake.
There are only approximately 63 islands that still exist with each island home to communities no larger than 6 families. A visit to the floating islands is a window into a survivalist culture, one that has existed pre-Inca civilisations.
Families of Uros selling local fabrics
Where to Stay in Puno
Inka’s Rest – Popular with the backpackers, Inka’s Rest is a relaxed hostel that has been established for 9 years with staff ready to organise tours for you and offer restaurant recommendations. It also includes all the key backpacker needs like breakfast included, bar, free wife and laundry services.
Kantaya Hostel – This clean, lively hostel is located just 3 minutes from the main plaza and has breakfast included, bicycle hire, free wifi and an entertainment space to meet other backpackers over a game of pool.
Things to Do in Puno
Floating Islands Day Trip
A day trip to Uros and Taquile islands is the main drawcard for tourists in Puno. Each hostel usually organises tours operators to pick you up from your hostel at 7 am in the morning and return you approximately 5 pm.
On this day trip, you will first visit a traditional floating reed island and learn from an Uro chief how their island has been constructed. The Uru people also welcome tourists to take a quick ride in their personal reed boat which they usually use for fishing, transport or to visit other neighbouring islands.
The tour then continues to Taquile, an island inhabited by the Taquileño people who still speak their own dialect. A lesson of how the Taquileño people live on the island; their traditional food, dance and clothing is also included over lunch in a family home. After a walk around the island, the tour ends with the boat returning to the port at sunset.
Traditional dancing of the people of Taquile Island
Regardless of if you have already seen Machu Picchu or not, these ruins are still worth a visit to fill in an afternoon. The cylinder-like towers are pre-Inca and the site itself offers a great sunset spot.
The main lookout, ‘Mirador de Kuntur Wasi’, has a nice view of the city over rooftops and across Lake Titicaca. The hike is a bit steep but the 500 steps are worth it to have a bird’s eye view.
By Bus-There are overnight and day buses that leave hourly form the Main bus Terminal. Bookings are not essential as there are over 10 bus companies that offer clean, new seats and many have 1st class or economy options to all other popular tourist destinations such as Cusco, Arequipa, La Paz, Copacabana. Simply turn up at the bus terminal.
Where to go Next?
- Cusco: The must-see tourist stop for Machu Picchu is only 6 hours away and a scenic ride or possible as an overnight bus.
- Arequipa: Peru’s white-washed picturesque city is only 4 and a half hours away, the perfect stop over in between travels to Cusco. From Arequipa it’s also easy to visit Cola Canon, the world’s second deepest canyon is a day trip.
- Copacabana: The city on the other side of Lake Titicaca is approximately 6 hours away (although include an hour depending on the traffic at the border crossing into Bolivia). This spot is popular for day trips to Isla del Sol and other sightseeing points of the lake from the Bolivian side.
About the Writer: Libby Hogan is an Australian freelance journalist currently living in Guadalajara, Mexico. This year she is stagleaping and photographing her way around South and Central America. She has written about everything from the student protests in Mexico, scuba diving in Cuba, to her passion for streetfood(sampling the likes of guinea-pig, lama, gorditas and arepas).