Guide to the Islands of Lake Titicaca
(Typical tour 3 hours, expect to pay around US$12 per person)
Although the Uros Indians of the floating islands have intermarried with Aymara Indians and no pure-blooded Uros exist, many of the inhabitants of the islands still practice the old traditions of fishing, trapping birds and living on the lake plants. The totora reeds which grow abundantly in the shallows of Lake Titicaca are used for their boats, houses and to build the very islands on which they live. The result is a strange springy surface which requires care when walking - it's easy to put your foot straight through! This strange way of life began over 500 years ago when the Uros built the islands in an effort to isolate themselves from the Collas and the Incas.
A visit to the islands can seem like a very commercial experience with the islanders main interest being your money. Many tourists have dubbed them the 'floating souvenir stalls' Most tours, however, only visit one or two of the largest of the thirty or so 'Puno Bay' communities. Many of the other communities still practice a more traditional lifestyle without intrusion from tourism. On the islands visited by the tour groups you will have the opportunity to buy beautiful handmade weavings and collages depicting the life on the islands. The inhabitants on some islands have built small 'museums' with stuffed birds inside, or lookout towers to get a better view. For a couple of dollars you can usually take a 10 minutes ride on the lake in a traditional reed boat. All in all it makes for an interesting visit since there's nowhere else quite like it in the world.
Most tours of the Uros Islands depart at 09.30 and include transport from your hotel to the port, return transport by motor boat, English speaking guide, entrance fee and transfer from the port back to your hotel. Typical costs are US$12-15 per person. Unless time is limited, it is better value to see the Islands as part of a tour visiting the natural islands of Amantani or Taquile (see below).
(Typical day tour including a stop at the Uros Islands expect to pay around US$23 per person)
A much more interesting island to visit is Taquile, some 45 km from Puno, on which their are numerous pre-Inca and Inca ruins and Inca terracing. The island is narrow, only about 1 km wide, and 6-7 km long. There is a cooperative shop on the island that sells exceptional woollen goods which are not cheap but of very fine quality.
Most tours of the Uros & Taquile Islands depart at 7am and include transport from your hotel to the port, return transport by motor boat to Taquile (stopping at the islands of Uros for 30 minutes on the way), English speaking guide, entrance fees and transfer from the port back to your hotel, arriving at your hotel at about 5pm Typical costs are US$20-25 per person
If you want to stay the night on Taquile Island with a local family most tour companies will be happy to arrange this for you. Expect to pay an additional US$12 per person which includes your accommodation with the family and 3 meals in a local restaurant on the island.
(Typical 2 day / 1 night tour including the Uros and Taquile Islands expect to pay around US$37 per person)
Another island well worth visiting is Amantani. It is very beautiful and peaceful, and in many ways less spoiled than Taquile. There are six villages and ruins on both of the island's peaks, Pacha Tata and Pacha Mama, from which there are excellent views. There are also temples and on the shore there is a throne carved out of stone. The residents make beautiful textiles and sell them quite cheaply at the Artensania Cooperative. The people are Quechua speakers, but understand Spanish. Electricity supply 6-11pm
Most tours of the Uros, Taquile & Amantani Islands depart at 8.30am and include transport from your hotel to the port, transport by motor boat stopping at the Uros Islands for 30 minutes before departing to the island of Amantani. There are no hotels on Amantani but on arrival the group is split into smaller groups for overnight stays with local families. The tour price usually includes accommodation, lunch and evening meal on the first day and breakfast the following morning. Groups typically leave Amantani at 8am in the morning for the 1 hr 45 min boat ride to Taquile where you will visit the main village and ruins. After lunch you take the boat back to Puno, arriving at approximately 5pm. An English speaking guide, entrance fees and transfer from the port back to your hotel are usually included.
Remember to bring some gifts for your family on Amantani. The tour companies pay the families very little, so items such as pens, pencils, fruit and vegetables (which don't grow on the Island), batteries or postcards from your home town are all warmly welcomed. Don't be over generous either since they'll expect it from all tourists.
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