Visiting the Floating Islands of the Uros on a Budget
Puno is the main jumping off point for tours to the floating Uros Islands on Lake Titicaca. With such a high level of tourism, you’re going to get a less personal experience but it’s going to be very affordable.
Despite what you may think, Lago Titicaca stands for something other than breasts and poo. “Titi” translates “Puma” and “Caca” translates to “Rock”. If you turn a map of Lake Titicaca upside down, you can actually kind of see the shape of a Puma.
We chose to lump our entire tour into one “full-day” excursion to the floating islands of the Uros and the larger, natural island of Taquile. For 100 soles ($30 USD) per person, we were loaded onto a wind-protected boat with a number of other tour groups, spent 8-hours touring the lake and had a full lunch on Taquile Island at no additional cost.
Uros Islands (half-day): 50 soles ($15 USD)
Includes just the portion of the tour to the floating islands and back. Learn about the people and life on the islands and enjoy a ride on their handcrafted boats.
Uros, Taquile and Amantani Islands (2 days / 1 night): 215 soles ($65 USD)
Enjoy the benefits of the other two tours but spend a night with a local family on one of the islands. Stay in their home, have dinner with them and get an authentic experience with families happy and willing to share their way of life. Includes transportation to the islands, 3 meals and the overnight stay in Amantani.
*All of these tours can be booked almost anywhere in town. We booked ours the evening we arrived and left for our tour the next morning. A friend of ours in Cusco recommended the overnight tour but we didn't have time. If you’d like contact information for a discounted rate, email us and we are happy to give you the name and number of our “connection” in Puno :)
The Floating Islands of the Uros People
Even though our boat to the Islands was full of people, each of the floating islands accepted only 10-15 tourists so it was a LITTLE more personal once you arrived to your island and met the family inhabiting it.
The History: during the Incan invasion, the Uros people attempted to escape using boats on Lake Titicaca. With no where to go, they built homes on the boats and lived that way for 80 years until they learned to build the reed islands.
Maintaining the islands is a constant process. If reeds aren’t cut and added to the top of the island every two weeks, they will begin to sink. And if they don't anchor the islands, they could end up in Bolivia ;) Typically, an island can last 30-35 years.
Just building the very first part of the island takes almost 5 months (this doesn't mean they’ll have an entire island built in this time… only the roots and the floating base).
Their main food source is fish from the lake but the recent introduction of King Fish and Trout is becoming a problem because they eat the smaller, native fish in the area. Their other options are to set traps to catch birds and bird eggs, which they use in soup or dry in the sun. They have also developed a tolerance for eating the roots of the reeds and drinking water from the lake (not a good idea for tourists).
Cooking is done on stone ovens, which they must elevate to prevent fires. Until recently, fires were a regular problem but with a recent donation and the availability of solar panels, candles and fires are far less common.
These days, it is obviously much easier to access the mainland and obtain textiles and alternate foods. It is typical for the women of the island to gather together and prepare large amounts of food for everyone on the 90 islands in the area.
Teachers come from Puno to teach primary through high-school, but the population is still declining (with most people eventually moving to Arequipa/Lima for greater opportunity).
The fun boats you see in so many photos are really no longer used for transportation. They function primarily as tourist vessels. For example, we paid an additional 20 soles for a ride around the islands. Each one is filled with around 7,000 plastic water bottles, covered with reeds and then painted using bright colors.
We enjoyed learning about the Uros people and are thankful they welcomed us to the island. While tourism is their main source of income, it still requires that they allow hordes of people into their homes on an almost daily basis. If you have some extra spending money, maybe you can support their small businesses by purchasing some of the handcrafted goods they make (we bought a baby mobile and don’t even have a baby… ;) but it was unique compared to most things we’d seen in all of the other touristy, factory-made shops in Peru and it felt really hand-crafted, which we liked).
If you took a private tour from Puno, had the chance to visit the other cities surrounding the lake, shipped your car across the Titicaca ferry to Bolivia, toured the lake FROM Bolivia (which we hear is really awesome), or stayed in a great hotel in the area let us know!!
It would help future travelers (and us if we get the chance to re-visit) :)
See you down the road,
Meg (+ Tyler)