In Andean culture, Titicaca is the birthplace of the sun. If that wasn’t enough of an accolade, it’s also the largest lake in South America, and the highest navigable body of water in the world.
The deep blue lake has been home to different peoples who have all left their mark on the landscape. Today it’s the region of Lake Titicaca is a mix of cathedrals and fields against a backdrop of Andean peaks.
Whilst tourism has likely influenced some, you can expect to find some of the old Peru. It’s likely the Peru you thought of before you booked your trip; bowler hats, lamas, women in petticoats.
Lake Titicaca is a highlight of South America for many and it’s easy to see why. Whilst most come for the floating islands of Uros (which this post focuses on), there’s plenty more to see if you have a little longer. If you’re planning a trip to South America then make sure you don’t miss out on this historical region and read this guide to Lake Titicaca.
About Lake Titicaca
Lake Titicaca is the world’s highest navigable lake. At 3,856m above sea level it’s not something to be taken lightly. It’s believed to be the birthplace of the Incas (the very culture which built Machu Picchu). The lake’s turquoise waters were once the most sacred body of water in the Inca civilisation and are still sacred today for those who make a living by fishing in the water or growing potatoes on the land next to it.
Today Lake Titicaca separates Peru and Bolivia. It’s huge at over 8,000 square km and has over 30 islands. Some of these are the floating islands of Uros which you’ll learn more about below.
Expect temperatures to be cool here if you’re staying over night!
Lake Titicaca’s floating islands
Most visitors to Lake Titicaca come for the floating islands of Uros. These artificial floating islands are made of reeds (as are the houses). Here you’ll discover an ancient way of life as you meet the Uro. However, I found it’s hard to say just how much this has been maintained solely for tourism purposes (check out my travel diary entry here).
The ancient people of Uros learnt how to build and survive on floating islands as they attempted to escape Inca colonisation over 500 years ago.
There are many options to choose from when it comes to visiting the islands of Uros.
How to arrange your tour to the floating islands of Uros
If you’re planning on visiting the floating islands of Uros on your trip to South America the there are a couple of ways you can arrange a tour.
If you like to be prepared you may wish to book your tour in advance. To do so take a look at FindLocalTrips. This website compares trips and tours so you can pick the right one for you.
However, if you’re not sure when you’ll be in Puno then you can just find a tour once you get there. We organised our tour with a company at the bus station. They allowed us to keep our main rucksacks locked up in their office and picked us up and dropped us off at the bus station.
This worked great for us since our only reason for stopping in Puno was to visit these islands.
You also have more bargaining power if you book on the day like this as they’re trying to fill up their tours last minute.
Other things to do besides Lake Titicaca
If, unlike us you’re planning on staying in the Lake Titicaca region for longer, then there’s plenty to keep you entertained.
Lake Titicaca Homestays
If you have time, then opt for a two day floating island tour. These tend to include a one night homestay with a local family and a visit to Taquile Island on the way back to Puno.
Sillustani is a large pre-Inca burial ground which overlooks Titicaca. It has a series of cylinder shaped funeral towers throughout and it’s a great place to spend half a day.
Isla del Sol, Bolivia
Widely agreed to be the most picturesque part of Titicaca, Isla del Sol has stunning lake views and sacred Inca sites. You can take a guided tours for half a day, a full-day or as a two day trip. The two day trip is the best way to really experience the island.
Hike to Comunidad Yampupata
If you’re craving more adventure after the rather touristy floating islands then you can hike from Copacabana to Yampupata. This hike takes you along a pristine peninsula which is home to local farmers and fishermen. Upon arriving to Yampupata at the tip of the peninsula you can pay one of the villagers to take you across to Isla del Sol in a rowboat.
How to get to Puno
Buses are the easiest and cheapest way to travel in South America. Here are a few options for getting to and from Puno.
Public buses leave from Cusco (5 hour journey) and Arequipa (6 hours) every hour or so. Prices vary widely often dependent on how good your bargaining is, but also depending on company. Expect to pay between US$7.50 and US$23. Cruz del Sur tend to have the best service and are a company we used on many occasions.
You can also take the Inka express which is a special tourist bus between Puno and Cusco. It stops at several Inca sites along the way and takes 8 hours between destinations. A ticket costs US$45.
If you’re going to La Paz after Lake Titicaca, the easiest option is to buy a morning or afternoon bus which goes via Copacabana. The journey from Puno to La Paz takes around eight hours and costs approx. US$15.
Peru Hop also sell a bus pass which includes Puno (although it didn’t when we were in South America). These tend to be more expensive that the local buses, but you’ll get English speaking guides and door-to-door service. It’s the best option if you’re travelling solo for the first time, or are worried about finding your way.