One of the best parts about staying in Cusco, is that it is the gateway to a lot of amazing places in Peru so if you’re gonna choose a place to base yourself in, Cusco is probably it.
The flip-side to that is that you always find that you have lot of reasons to leave the city and so, after our day exploring the ancient Inca sites around Cusco, we packed our bags again and head off to Puno and Lake Titicaca.
Spanning across Peru and Bolivia, Lake Titicaca is the largest lake in South America. It is also one of the highest in the world. Thing is though, you can’t just fly here – you have to fly into Juliaca (or you could take the train or a bus, I guess…) and from Juliaca, get a taxi over here (your hotel can organise for you though it’s sometimes at a really exorbitant price – we got a people carrier for like 20 people for just 4 of us at like 4 times the price a regular local taxi would have been).
Long story short, we took a taxi through some stunning scenery and with a micro-nap in between, ended up at the Libertador, where we proceeded to get checked in, admire the view of the lake and very quickly rush downstairs for lunch.
Typically, we would head out into town for lunch but no one was in the mood to go traipsing through Puno just yet – of which the choice of restaurants are fairly limited (our hotel restaurant was actually one of the top choices here) so staying put was the best option.
Between us, Chris and I went for lamb, Lloyd went for chicken and the seafood risotto went to Georgia.
The plan for today was actually no plan – by the time we’d done the schlep to get to Puno (and had lunch), it was already starting to get late and the real reason we were visiting was to visit the floating villages of Lake Titicaca (a trip you have to do first thing in the morning) so the rest of the day was spent walking around the private lake area at the hotel (spotting cuy – guinea pigs, llamas and alpacas as we went along), before heading over to the spa to relax.
It was the first chilled evening we’d had since we arrive but after that trek in Machu Picchu, we kinda felt like we deserved this.
Dinner and drinks later that evening were also at the hotel albeit at a different hotel – no point undoing all that great work done by the spa, eh?
The next morning, we got up bright and early to catch the sunrise over the lake (which was a bit lacklustre as it was cloudy so the sunrise didn’t get much of a chance to do its thing properly), wolfed down breakfast and headed down to meet our driver who would be taking us to the ferry point to catch the boat we would be on for the day.
Excited doesn’t even begin to describe how we were feeling this morning!
The floating islands of Lake Titicaca are a place we’d been looking forward to since we first booked our trip to Peru (giving our limited 2 week trip to Peru, it was either these islands or a trip to the Amazon and these won for us over the Amazon – though I have to admit, I’d really love to visit the Amazon too).
We hopped aboard the boat and in fairly little time (or perhaps it just felt that way because I kept marvelling at the scenery around us), we arrived at the floating islands.
Apparently, as a lot of these islands depend on tourists coming to visit (and buying stuff they craft), the elders of the village decide on which islands you get to visit though we were reliably informed that as visitors, the experience was broadly similar regardless of the islands you got to visit.
We were ushered onto the ‘centre’ of the island by one of the chiefs, meeting some of the Uros people as we walked through and being greeted by very excited kids.
Standing on the island is a bit strange. It’s very bouncy but not in an unstable way. The island is built using the reed that grows around the area – the same reed also doubles as food (the taste is almost cucumber-like), a fact we got to try out ourselves later on.
The elder explained to us what life is like on the islands, what sort of food they eat, their traditions and other rather interesting aspects we’d never even heard about prior to visiting.
I do have to say though, considering the close proximity to Puno and the brisk trade they have when tourists arrive (coupled with the fact that some folks we arrived on the island with spotted some kids getting changed into traditional clothes as we arrived), you’d be forgiven for wondering if the islanders had ‘second-homes’ (i.e. their main homes), back on the mainland. There is, of course, no evidence while you’re there to suggest so.
That being said, these people are the indigenous people who are from here and live here, the language they speak is different from the Spanish or Quechua you’d find around Peru and the Peruvian government had done a lot to protect the heritage of these floating islands so you truly get a sense of what island life is like here.
After spending some time mingling with the locals, you get taken on a boat ride in a traditional boat around the lake (tip is optional but very encouraged – it’s a tiny amount so I’d advice you leave a tip – they’ll tell you how much).
You do get a singing send-off before you leave on your boat tour by the women of the village.
There was a little local girl who absolutely wanted to join in on her boat ride but her mum was having none of it – she was taken off by her dad, wailing as she went., which as traumatic as it looked (it wasn’t really that traumatic, she stopped crying almost immediately after she got taken back to the island) made you realise that the kids here just go about doing kids things. Playing, jumping, running – just regular stuff and not paying any attention to the visitors, which is actually quite lovely to see.
The boat ride lasts about 20 minutes, of which, Lloyd and I got to have a go at actually rowing the boat. This only happened because we were the last ones onto the boat and so all the good seats were nabbed and we were left with standing room only.
Totally worth it, by the way, though that rowing is hard work! Like, I did a bit of rowing in Cambridge but this is a boat with easily 20 other people and you can definitely feel it when you do it! It’s not an easy task at all! 😀
We chatted with our fellow rowers – a local boy and a local girl (mostly through guessed words and a lot of gesticulation due to our mutual lack of a cross-over language) before giving up the oars and heading back to the island.
Back on the island, we were greeted by the very same crying girl, tears now replaced with a huge smile…
…before making our way over to the huts to spend some time with our hosts (we got given different hosts to show us around whatever parts of the islands we were interested in).
Eventually, it was time to leave, though for the not-so-adequately prepared, there’s a small island you get to visit, where you can get drinks and a snack before carrying on to the next part of the day trip – this time to another island; which is not a floating one like these ones here but promised to be fantastic as it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and a place every visitors to Lake Titicaca has to visit.
More on that in the next post!