Our journey to Lake Titicaca started on the nowadays Peruvian side. We headed from Cusco to Puno by day bus passing by breathtaking landscape and mountains.
Puno itself is nothing special and if you can avoid it, do it. The place seems to have grown a bit too fast and there is really not much to do or see in town.
We used it solely as a base for a trip to the islands. While the majority goes for a one day tour we opted for the less touristy two day option. There are a handful of agencies in town and for 100 soles you get your tour.
We got picked up in the morning and headed to the port of Puno where our boat was already waiting for us.
Lake Titicaca (“Puma Head” in one of the local languages) is gigantic – 180km long, 80km wide and 280m deep – it resembles a sea more than a lake. Not surprising that the Incas claimed it to be the birthplace of their ancestors – Manco Capac and his sister – the children of the Sun.
After a boat ride of about 2 hours we reached the floating islands of Uros. When the Spanish arrived, locals decided to move to islands made of reef in order to escape being taken away to Potosi for labor purposes. Nowadays about 1200 people live on these small artificial islands – but m with solar panels to run their TVs and charge their phones.
Back on our boat we headed further on Lake Titicaca to Amantani island.
We arrived to Amantani, an island with about 4000 inhabitants, where local women and men awaited us. The island has set up a rotation system where each community takes turns in receiving homestay guests in return for a small charge.
Maryluz – our host mother for the night – lives with her husband Henry and her two sons up the hill at Amantani. They built lovely guest rooms with an amazing view of the lake. They have their own fields and a greenhouse where they grow most of their vegetables.
Amantani is living the communist way – products are being exchanged and everyone helps each other with work in the field or at the house. People there have a very strong sense of community and they received us in a very welcoming way.
The community has a lovely main square and two monuments up the hill – one dedicated to Pachamama and one to Pachatata. Together with our guide we headed up to the first where you have a good overview of the Island. It is tradition to do three turns of the monument each time picking up a stone and making a wish:-).
We shared lunch and dinner with the family and in the evening dressed up in traditional clothing to go to a party. The local band including flute boy was playing and we danced together with our host mum trying to follow her fast steps. The local music was really nice and we thought Flute Hero should be introduced for Peru.
The next morning came too fast and it was time to say goodbye. On our way back to Puno we stopped by on Taquile island. This is the more renowned island, awarded with the UNESCO world heritage for culture. The island was bought by the inhabitants and is now privately owned by its communities.
This means they create their own laws and live according to their own principles. Handicrafts and textile are at the heart of the culture with regular knitting competitions to elect the manliest men of the island:-). Besides agriculture and fishing, tourism is an important source of income. The villagers came up with sustainable tourism solutions including tours and homestay options in collaboration with mainland agencies.
The day was concluded with a lunch overlooking the lake eating a Titicaca trout.
Crossing borders to Bolivia
Be aware that most bus companies run scams on the way from Puno to Copacabana/La Paz. Include bus drop off at the border instead of crossing, charging extra for immigration (which is free) or selling Cama buses when there are none.
On the Bolivian side of the lake, Copacabana is a small heaven for backpackers. This quiet village at the shores of the lake served us as a resting place for the next couple of days. We picked a special type of accommodation with little houses overlooking the bay where we chilled, cooked, watched NYE fireworks and played house for a few days before heading further South.
- Puno – don’t stay if you can avoid. Otherwise Hotel Sol Plaza in town or Eco Inn out of town are alright
- Agencies for tours at Calle Lima – don’t pay more than 100 soles for 2 days Amantani
- Colors Puno: take the Quinoa chicken ;-).
- Amantani homestay can be individually booked:
- Hostal las Olas Copacabana: rooms as of around 50 USD, comfortable and homy cabañas with artsy decoration and kitchens.
- Copacabana: pizza at square
- Copacabana local market to buy food