Updated August 9th, 2020.
Many backpackers will have already heard of the Uros Islands that are located on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca, close to Puno. These islands, which are famous for being made from reeds, are also known as the ‘floating islands’ and are a major tourist attraction from the city.
Whilst many guidebooks will let you believe that the 120 or so Uros Islands are the only thing worth seeing close to Puno, there is far more to explore! Thousands of people visit the Uros Islands every year and it has arguably become pretty touristy.
On the other hand, both Taquile Island and Amantaní Island, which can also be visited from Puno, see far fewer visitors and offer travellers a slice of authentic Peruvian culture, usually including a night in a local homestay.
How long are the Lake Titicaca tours?
The Uros Islands can easily be visited on a tour in the morning from Puno. These are half-day trips and full-day trips which are great for those who are crossing the border from Peru into Bolivia the same day.
These brief tours are a good option for those short on time but travellers looking to really experience the islands can opt for longer trips which explore both Taquile Island and Amantaní Island. These tend to be one or two night trips.
During our visit to Puno, we were keen to get the full island experience so opted for a two-day, one-night tour which included a visit to the Uros Islands and also Amantaní and Taquile Islands. A longer tour allows you to reach these lesser-visited islands and many of these trips also provide the option to stay in a local homestay which is a great way to fully immerse yourself in the Peruvian culture.
What to bring on a Lake Titicaca tour:
- Light daypack.
- Warm clothes, including coat and waterproofs.
- Sunblock, sunglasses and hat.
- Walking shoes – trainers or boots.
- Water and/or soft drinks. They are available on the islands however, they are more expensive.
- Powerpack – I recommend ensuring everything is charged beforehand and use the power pack to top electronics up if needed.
- Hand sanitiser and toilet roll.
- Money to buy souvenirs, snacks, drinks, trip extras, tips.
- Optional Torch (if you don’t have one on your phone, or if your phone dies) Remember that it is a small island with limited electricity!
- Optional – Altitude sickness medication, otherwise there is plenty of herbal tea (made from Coca leaves) on the island.
Our experience visiting Uros, Amantaní and Taquile
The tours leave at around 7.30 am in Puno and most operators collect you directly from your accommodation. For this reason, it is a good idea to have a hostel in mind before arriving in Puno. Although we were heading straight out on a tour after arriving in the city (it seemed that a lot of other travellers did this too), we had booked a nights stay at the hostel for when we returned to Puno.
This meant that we could sort out our luggage and take only a small backpack with us on the tour, whilst storing our larger luggage at the hostel. We were also able to use the facilities at the hostel when we arrived to freshen up and even had time to grab a quick and easy breakfast of coffee, fruit, bread, avocado and cheese.
Shortly after breakfast, we were collected from our hostel in a minivan and toured the city picking up our fellow travellers on the way to the port. We had opted for a shared tour with the company Titicaca for You. It was a very relaxing ride around the city and we spoke to Yoshi, our lovely contact from Titicaca for You throughout the journey. She gave us a real insight into what life is like in Puno. Once we picked everyone up, we could see that the group was mixed in age, gender and nationality. This meant there were lots of different people to talk to!
On the minibus, we met our tour guide who was going to be with us for the next couple of days. When we arrived at the port we were overwhelmed by the number of boats there, it felt like hundreds!
After clambering over a few of them, we found ourselves in what would be our transport for the trip. The boat was covered and split into rows with two seats on each side. At the back, there was an outside area and a toilet. You could also climb up a ladder to sit on the roof (weather permitting).
At this point, we said goodbye to Yoshi and the tour guide took over, who was fantastic. He could speak multiple languages and was really enthusiastic when giving us information. He explained that he would alternate between both Spanish and English to deliver the history and relevant information along the tour. Not only was his English perfect but he was even able to speak a few other languages too! When we boarded the boat, we were greeted with some traditional music, all performed by one guy who was singing, playing the guitar and using a windpipe! We were pretty impressed!
Off to the Floating Islands!
We were travelling on a slow boat, which meant we were in for a smooth relaxing journey with plenty of time to absorb all the information we were being given by the guide. It was a short 30-minute ride from the port to the first stop, the Uros Islands.
The guide informed us that many different families and islands make up the Uros area. To keep wealth distribution fair, each day they share the tourism as tour companies alternate between which islands in Uros they visit.
Once we arrived on one of the Uros Islands, the community that lived there came out to greet us. We were given a demonstration which showed how the islands were built with the famous Totora reeds. We were also able to learn about how they are maintained by adding new layers on top every few weeks.
After this explanation was given, members from the community came out to show us crafts and tapestries they had made. They then sell these wares to tourists which have become an important form of income for them.
As the weather hadn’t improved much that morning, the rain had become heavier. The community gave us a quick tour around their island and invited us into their huts where we could see their bedroom and living quarters. They were small and cosy and we enjoyed communicating through sign and body language.
Each island has its own chief or leader and we visited the hut of an island chief whilst on the tour. In their hut, we were surprised to see an old chunky style tv, with some of the locals even having mobile phones! The islands are powered by solar panels, which has massively reduced the threat from fire on the islands. It was really interesting to see the presence of modern technology and how this has been adapted and incorporated into traditional life. It led to a bunch of questions for our tour guide, who was more than happy to answer and create discussions with us.
One really interesting topic that came up revolved around the future of the Uros Islands. It is not uncommon for younger generations to decide to move to the city where there are technology, university education and modern ways of living. This is certainly very different from the traditional lifestyle we witnessed on Uros and with so many young people choosing to leave, it does make you wonder how many more years these islands will stand. It was a very interesting debate, which made us glad to be visiting sooner rather than later. That’s even more reason to add this trip to your Peru itinerary!
Are the Uros Islands really touristy?
It is important to note that the Uros Islands do seem a little touristy and they have definitely been changed as a result of the income from visitors. However, they are still worth a visit as you probably haven’t ever seen anything like them and would be unlikely to again! Despite this, you probably don’t need a huge amount of time here. In my opinion, it’s far better to combine a trip to the Uros Islands with one to Taquile and Amantaní too.
The journey to Amantaní Island
As it continued to rain, our guide decided that it was best we continued the journey onto Amantaní Island, which would take around three hours. Unlike the Floating Islands we had already visited, both Amantaní and Taquile are physical islands which are not man-made.
The plan was to revisit the Uros Islands on our return to Puno if the weather was better the following day. Now, a three-hour journey might sound a little daunting, but it did not feel like it (maybe we have just become accustomed to the long bus journeys across this continent)! We filled the time by talking with the guide and sharing stories with other people in our tour group. You could also stroll around the boat and enjoy the view from the outside deck, or even take a much-needed nap!
We arrived at Amantaní Island just before 1 pm, where we were greeted by a line of local families. Here our guide partnered us up with the family that we would be staying with and we followed a local man up a small pathway that spiralled its way from the lake through the small village. We passed crops, animals and local houses. Whilst he found it no trouble powering up into the hills, we were left slightly out of breath from the altitude!
Into our Amantaní Homestay
It wasn’t long before we arrived at our homestay and met the rest of the family, consisting of his wife and young daughter. The house was incredible. We honestly couldn’t believe our luck and it surpassed all of our expectations! All the homestays on the island differ as you are partnered with different families. As with the Uros Islands, the families here take it in turns to have tourists stay with them to share the wealth that it brings.
Our homestay had been built by the family using the money brought in by tourism and it really was beautiful. It was surrounded by land, covered in crops and animals. They had the cutest donkey too! The house itself was L-shaped and had a small courtyard that crossed over to the kitchen area.
Upstairs there were 4 bedrooms that we, two other couples and the guide stayed in. The views from the rooms were incredible and we were able to look out over the island and Lake Titicaca.
Downstairs was the family’s bedrooms and living area, as well as two bathrooms. One had a flushing toilet which we were told was rare on the island. Whilst the other toilet looked normal, it had to be flushed manually by pouring buckets of water down it. Before the tour, we were told that there would be no hot water or electricity at the homestay, but we were lucky to have some electricity as they had some solar panels fitted.
Shortly after meeting the family and dropping our bags into our room, the host family began preparing lunch for us. The mother ran in and out of the kitchen to collect fresh produce from the garden to cook – it doesn’t get much fresher than that!
Meanwhile, we passed the time chatting amongst ourselves as the guide floated around between the homestays, making sure everybody was settled.
The lady of the house made us a delicious salsa which was served with bread, shortly followed by the most amazing homemade quinoa soup! It was honestly delicious, super warming and full of all the good stuff. We then were each plated up some cheese (similar to halloumi), two types of potato, fresh corn, green beans and carrots. You will not go hungry here! We were absolutely stuffed and well fuelled for our afternoon of adventuring around the island.
As we let our lunch go down, we sipped on a local herbal Muna tea, which is known to help with altitude sickness. It tastes kind of minty and is much nicer than coca tea!
Exploring Amantaní Island
After we’d relaxed for a while, we followed our family through the town and higher up into the landscape. En route, we stopped at the local football pitch, where the tourists played against the locals. The locals gave us a run for our money as everyone else clearly wasn’t as used to the altitude! At this point, the sun started to break through the clouds and it warmed up, I was so glad I was wearing suncream. This altitude can really catch you out!
After the game, whilst we all caught our breath, the guide stood amongst the locals and talked to us about their ways of life on the island. Something we found interesting was that the island is self-governed and does not have a police force. It is a place that is centred solely around the community.
We walked towards a hilly peak as we were heading up to see a local monument. We took a few stops along the way when the guide gave us information or showed us different crops that were being grown. It was a leisurely walk but if you’re struggling with the altitude and need a little extra help, there are horses which for a small fee will take you to the top. All the way up, the pathways were adorned with local creations such as jumpers and souvenirs that you could buy.
Once at the top, the panoramic view of the island was breathtaking (literally), and the perfect place to take a few photographs. Old ruins sat at the top, known locally as Santuario Pachamama. It is said that if you walk around them three times, it will bring health, wealth and love and you even have the option of bestowing this good fortune on someone else – something nice that I highly recommend doing!
If you choose to and have the time, you can also walk up to the other viewpoint Pachatata. Either spot on a clear evening would be the perfect place to watch the sunset. The afternoon was very relaxing and the activities were very much at our own pace. Once we had soaked in the views from the top, we made our way back down, stopping at the local bar which served Peru’s national drink the Pisco Sour, hot chocolate, hot wine, tea, beer and soft drinks. I had the most delicious spiced hot chocolate and it felt great to support the locals!
Our evening on Amantaní Island
Back at the house, the family were preparing dinner. I used this time to communicate with their young daughter who happened to be the same age as one of my younger sisters. The young girl had a disability but despite this and the language barrier, we made small talk and coloured together whilst dinner was in progress. It was a really nice moment and one that I will not forget any time soon. This moment was heartwarming and wouldn’t have happened had we not been staying at a local homestay.
Similarly to lunch, we were given bread, quinoa soup, and fried vegetables, with potatoes and rice for dinner. Again we were absolutely stuffed! Being a vegetarian here was not a problem either. I had mentioned in advance my dietary requirements to the guide, however, it turns out that on the Floating Islands and Taquile and Amantaní Islands, they mostly eat a vegetarian diet anyway, as they live off of the produce from their land. I was told that meat is something that they may have as a one-off, here and there.
At around 8 pm, after we had some time to digest, our homestay family brought through some beautiful local clothes for us to try on. We would be wearing them to the local evening meeting in the community space. All the families and tourists on the homestay would meet here to socialise, watch local dancing, and see a band play, with the option to get involved of course! We stayed here for just over an hour before calling it a night and headed to bed under our five layers of alpaca wool blankets, very snug!
We slept so well and felt energised for our 7 am start. The morning started very drizzly and a tad cold, so we wrapped up warm and decided not to take a cold shower at the homestay but to wait until we were back at the hostel in Puno.
We ate with the family one last time with a breakfast of fried bread, pancakes, jam and hot drinks, before packing up our belongings and saying our goodbyes at around 8a m. We took some photos with the family and signed our names in their guestbook, there is also the option to tip here which we did, as our stay was nothing short of perfect. We gave 50 soles to the family to express our thanks. This is optional and if you do choose to give, you can give whatever you can afford.
A short walk down to the boat later, and we were on our way to Taquile Island. The journey took around 1 hour and from the drop off point at Taquile island, we walked another hour up into the town square. As usual, the walk was at a leisurely pace. We didn’t feel rushed at any point by our guide which made the whole experience so much more enjoyable.
There isn’t loads to do on Taquile Island, but it was nice to wander around briefly. In the square, there are a few shops you can browse and you can also get a passport stamp at the photo shop! There were also knitted goods to check out and the option to grab a snack and coffee in the small cafe.
After we’d wandered alone on foot, the group met up at the town square and we headed back through the pathways of Taquile Island, this time with the tour guide. Throughout the journey, he gave us information and history about the island.
We were shown plants and local buildings. The guide even pointed out different crafts and the various methods of upcycling that are used on the island. For example, we were shown how old shoe soles were used to create hinges for gates.
We then stopped at the Flor de Rosa restaurant for some lunch. The sky had just started to clear and so we were able to sit outside on a long table with views over Lake Titicaca. You wouldn’t believe how quickly it warms up once the sun is out! Whilst we were waiting for our food, a member of the family who ran the restaurant joined our guide and told us a little more about local life.
We were shown a few of the different hats worn by locals and what they represent as well as how they use plants to create a cleaning paste. It wasn’t long before bread and salsa were brought out, along with a huge pot of quinoa soup for us to delve into. This was quickly followed by rice, veg, potato wedges and either an omelette or fish. Eating here was a lovely way to end our time on Taquile Island!
Returning to the Uros Islands
As we returned to the boat to set off on the three-hour journey back to Puno, the sun was shining and the water from the lake was glistening. It was here that we were able to see the clear and blue waters of Lake Titicaca. It looked like the Mediterranean Sea and was much more inviting than the water closer to Puno. Near where you catch the boat, there were a few locals selling drinks for the journey. As promised and because the weather was glorious, our guide allowed us a short stop back at the Uros Islands on the way back to Puno.
We glided through the reed-filled water and if you look closely, you may spot a pig or two! This time we visited a different island, which actually seemed to be bigger and in a way, more developed than the one we had visited previously. It was really interesting to compare the two.
We again had similar demonstrations about the creation of the island and this time we were able to opt to take a ride in the famous reed boats. This came at an additional cost of 10 soles per person. The final stop of the journey was a brief visit to another Uros Island where you can get your passport stamped for 1 sol. We arrived back to Puno at around 3.30/4 pm, where we were picked up by our minivan to transport us back to our accommodation.
Our final thoughts on the Uros, Amantaní and Taquile Trip
Thanks to the organisation of the tour company, the whole trip ran smoothly and calmly. There were no hiccups and it was insanely refreshing not having to worry about a single thing, as it was all in the hands of our trustworthy guide. (A nice change after a fair few months of meticulous planning!)
An organised tour like this is not always something we would go for, as we usually like to explore independently. However, this is 100% the best way to visit the floating islands, especially if you have a tight schedule. It gave us our desired freedom but the direction and organisation made the trip feel effortless, something you rarely experience when you have to organise everything yourself!
After speaking to other travellers who were just visiting Uros for the morning, I had initially doubted our decision to stay longer on the islands. This was something I definitely didn’t regret though! I can’t tell you how happy we were to have taken this tour and it is up there with one of the highlights of our South American adventure.
If you want to see authentic Peruvian life and culture then this trip is for you! It didn’t feel forced or like the locals were putting on a show for the travellers. It is fair to say that the lives of the locals have been altered by the tourism and the influx of money but everything felt very genuine, which was really important to us.