As we were jumping around Peru a lot, we ran out of time to visit the famous Uros floating islands before our scheduled flight out of Peru, however, our next stop was Bolivia so we could easily go back to Peru by land and that’s exactly what we did.
La Paz > Copacabana > Puno > Floating Islands
To get to the islands from La Paz, Bolivia we travelled 4 hours by bus to Copacabana, Bolivia and then another 2.5 hours to Puno, Peru. The border crossing was easy and for Australian citizens, nothing had to be paid upon leaving or arriving. It was the most straightforward procedure ever. Certain passport holders will need to make a photocopy of their passport but it can be done at the border so no need to panic if you don’t have one prior.
Puno is a port city with an altitude of over 3,800 metres, and it lies on the shores of Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest lake. For us, Puno was a very underwhelming city however we came here purely to visit the floating islands so we weren’t too disappointed.
One to two nights are sufficient in Puno and there is ample accommodation options. All of the tours to the floating islands depart from here so we spent 1 night and left early the next morning to the islands.
Similar to that of the Colca Canyon tours, booking these tours in advance can be almost double the cost when pre-arranged. There are many tour operators to book tours with so we highly recommend waiting until you arrive in Puno to book something.
Uros Floating Islands
The Floating Islands of Uros are certainly one of the most interesting discoveries of our trip and we’re glad we made it here. There are three islands in the lake, Huaca Huacani, Toranipata and Santa María. We visited the families on Santa Maria and were greeted with open arms and huge smiles.
Getting off our boat and stepping onto the squishy reeds felt a little bizarre. You knew you weren’t on the boat anymore yet it didn’t feel like you were on the steady ground either. One of the locals and our guide gave us a detailed description of how the islands were made and used mini models to show us.
The islands are made entirely from Totora reeds which grow naturally in the lake. They use these reeds not only for the base of the island but for many other purposes too. They are used to brush their teeth, to make all forms of their transportation, for medical purposes and also to eat. We were able to try one and it tasted like a cross between a celery stick and an apple and it was peeled just like a banana.
These islands have to be renovated every 4 years with a new set of Totora reeds that are placed 1m high on top of the base of the Island. The children attend school on the islands, the ladies spend their days weaving and the men are often out fishing.
For a small fee, they gave us a tour of the islands on their Totora reed boat but not before very happily singing us “row, row, row, your boat”. The only English they knew! So adorable.
Click here to see a video of them singing. #adorable.
Whilst we really enjoyed the floating islands, there’s no doubt they have become highly commercialized. The people of the island rely not only on selling their handicrafts to us tourists but selling fish on the mainland. Commercial or not, it was still a great chance to help support these local people and see such a unique way of life.
Homestay on Amantani Island
Realistically the floating islands can be seen in half a day from Puno, but we had the time and we wanted a more local experience so we combined it with an overnight visit to the less touristy islands of Amantani. It took us 3 additional hours by boat to reach the island and our guide had arranged the night with a local family. By doing this, it gave us the chance to really familiarize ourselves with the local traditions and experience the extremely warm hospitality of the locals.
We were greeted by our local family once we arrived off the boat and we took yet another long, steep walk to their house. The Peruvian lady found it very entertaining how out of breath we were trying to walk up the hill. This altitude is the real deal.
We weren’t really sure what to expect when we arrived at their home but immediately noticed the small size of the doors. I’m pretty sure they came up to the bottom of our neck. Nevertheless, we were shown to our room and were pleasantly surprised by the size and the comfort.
The family consisted of a Mum, Dad, Grandpa, Grandma and 4 children. They spoke no English so we attempted our conversation using our Spanglish but really conversed with all sorts of smiles, hand gestures and laughs. That’s all you really need right?
We ate with the family for lunch and dinner and they cooked us a vegetarian lunch and dinner consisting of rice, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumber and fried cheese. We were supposed to go to a “fiesta” to see local music and dances but unfortunately, torrential rain caused us to stay indoors that night.
The following morning we were woken at 5:30 am and were greeted downstairs with ‘pancakies’, bread and boiled eggs. Unfortunately, it was time for us to say goodbye to our host family & start our journey back to La Paz and boy was it a journey.
The Journey to Back La Paz
If you see the distance on a map, it doesn’t look too far (about 6okm as the crow flies) but logistically speaking due to the landscape, it takes MUCH longer if going by land. Below is how we got from Isla Amantani, Peru to La Paz, Bolivia.
- 45-minute walk to the pier from our homestay
- 1-hour wait for the local ferry
- 1-hour local ferry to the Peninsula
- 1.5-hour minibus/taxi to Puno (squished against the back seat of the bus with locals, shown below)
- 5m Motor taxi to the bus terminal to buy our tickets
- 5m Motor taxi back to the centre of town
- 5m Taxi to the bus terminal in Puno
- 2.5-hour bus to the border
- Taxi from the border to Copacabana, Bolivia
- 2-hour bus to Tiquina
- 5-minute ferry across the lake
- 2-hour bus to La Paz
- 5-minute taxi to our hostel
- 15 hours down, 13 forms of transportation & we made it to our hostel. Somehow, all of these lined up just perfect and we connected it all perfectly the whole journey. Something very rare for South American public transportation. Total win!
These types of experiences are some of the best (the islands and the homestay, not the transportation!). You often forget how different this world can be and it is so refreshing to see such cultures still living with such strong traditions. Staying with this family is something we’ll never forget and we hope to experience this in many more countries we visit.
Married days survived: 305