Visited on 19/11/16
Exploring the unique cultures on the world’s highest navigable lake.
Our adventure to Lake Titicaca has to be one of the most unique experiences in all our travels.
Located on the edge of the Peruvian town of Puno, Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake on our planet. Sitting at 3900m above sea level just being here was dizzying. What is interesting is that the height of the lake isn’t what draws tourists from around the world to this place. Living on the island are some totally unique traditional cultures. These hardy people who live on the lake have stood against the test of time, successfully holding onto some of their pre Inca time traditions to this day.
The most unique people living on Lake Titicaca are the people from the Uros floating Islands. The Uros people’s lives are intertwined with the totora reed. The islands they live on are built entirely from the very reeds that grow on the lake’s banks. Hundreds of layers of totora reed are stacked on a floating reed root. Monthly relaying of the reed is a continual process as rot begins from the bottom and creeps up. Atop this floating reed foundation the hardworking Uros people happily survive. Everything they need comes from the totora reeds. Simple huts, boats and handicrafts for selling to the tourists are all entirely made from the reed. The reed is also edible, although not for tourist consumption. High in iodine, the Uros eat the Totora Reed as a snack throughout the day, which provides the added benefit of keeping their beautiful smiles white.
Originally the islands where designed for defensive purposes. An island could move away from any danger by lifting the anchors and heading to deeper waters. The Inca tribes and later the invading Spanish were all threats to these peaceful people.
We had the pleasure of staying for an evening on Amantani Island a natural island isolated on Lake Titicaca. A host family who provided a sample of their different style of lives they lead took us in. At altitude life becomes very different. The types of crop available to farm are very limited. Beans, corn, potatoes and quinoa have become staple ingredients in nearly every meal. No fruit can be grown here. The in tough isolation the people have bonded in community. Together they aid each other in building of houses, farming and use a rotation for arriving tourists. Nobody misses out and everybody chips in. No police force is needed on Amantani, the island safe enough to leave front doors unlocked and let children play without constant surveillance. Leaders settle minor disputes. Teachers and nurses are shipped in from the mainland for a few days every week.
After our lunch we spent some time learning about life on the island from our guide and family. We climbed up to the temple of Pachamama a sacred temple at the top of the highest mountain on the island. From here we watched the sunset across the lake. This was the simple life, solar power introduced has allowed for some modern technologies although are kept to limited use. Wood fire cookers are used to prepare meals. A delicious soup will always be the entree, and our main dishes were all vegetarian. The island does not farm many animals, and when they eat meat it will be for a special celebration.
From dinner we had the chance to dress in some local traditional robes and attend a party. Some young local boys played various Peruvian instruments and we dances in a circle until we were near to drop. Smiles, laughs and simple fun made an unforgettable evening.
Even more remote, Taquile Island on the Lake Titicaca has held onto many more of their old traditions than their Amantani Island neighbours. Man and woman still proudly dress in traditional robes. Different subtleties in colour, layers or hats indicate marital status. The men knit hats, the quality of which will entice females, and woman with large child bearing hips are the most attractive.
The community is as equally as tight nit as on Amantani. In the main plaza you will find a textiles warehouse. The families all take turns selling their handicraft products in here. Prices are fixed so nobody undercuts another member of the community. Another abnormality is nobody will push products here. Buy the quality product that captures your attention. Because of this, all the families try their best to produce the finest of garments. After learning of this unique culture and being were treated to a highly sophisticated weaving demonstration we were served a most delicious trout lunch, caught fresh from the Lake itself.
Although all the islands we visited on Lake Titicaca were totally different and unique in their own rights. They all shared some intrinsic similarities, smiles are glued to their faces, and community is paramount. Isolated from the outside world these communities have contently continued in their ways. Quietly going about their business, with a pride in culture and heritage.
Tourism has not always been a part of these cultures lives, and it has the disastrous potential derail their way of life. Our tour was booked through All Ways Travel. They are excellent at minimizing the impact of the outside influences tourism brings. Through educating tourists and treating the native cultures with total respect they ensure the cultures and traditions will continue. For this reason we recommend choosing All Ways Travel agency for your tour.
- Take your passport if you would like a unique stamp from Uros floating islands.
- Bring along food stuffs for your host family as a tip. They need things like rice, pasta, sugar, and cooking oil.
- Kids love fresh fruits, they can not grow on the island so bring them some from the mainland. Make sure you bring enough to share around.
*All our articles are written based on our own experiences and opinions.