When we arrived in Puno, the sun was shining. I was extremely excited to explore the Uros floating islands that I had heard so much about. These floating islands were such a mystery to me at the time, but it’s safe to say I came away with an unforgettable experience and perhaps a slightly new outlook on life.
There are many different ways to book a tour to the Uros floating islands on Lake Titicaca. We were coming down from Peru so we got there using Peru Hop. If you are coming from Bolivia, you may want to look into using Bolivia Hop.
The Uros People
Before I get into the tour itself, let me give you a brief background on this fascinating group that live on these amazing floating islands. The Uros people are an ancient indigenous Peruvian tribe that have lived on the Uros floating islands on Lake Titicaca for centuries. They were forced to take up residence on the highest navigable lake in the world when the Incas expanded onto their land and drove them out. The Uros people originally had their own language, but have abandoned it in favor of Aymara over the years. So the question still remains: how do these islands float and how do the Uros people live on them?
The Uros Floating Islands
The Uros floating islands and everything on the islands is made from a reed called the totora plant. When I say everything, I mean everything! Homes, boats, furniture, a church, a school are all made from these reeds. There is even a watch tower made of the totura plant on one of the islands. This was once used for defensive purposes but is now just a monument. The plant is also used as a healing medicine and for tea!
This intriguing plant is found in abundance all along the outskirts of Lake Titicaca. So is there a flaw to these amazing reeds? Yes! These reeds eventually disintegrate to the bottom of the lake which means residents have to constantly maintain the island. The base of these islands can be up to 12 feet thick. The totora reed is so much more than a plant to the Uros people. Their whole culture is built around this plant and without it they would not be able to survive.
Although a very traditional people, the Uros are not completely against modernization. The island contains a huge solar panel given by the Peruvian government, enough to power any electrical needs to those families who live full-time on the islands. The Uros people want to protect their culture but are not averse to technology. Since the 1970s, tourism has been a huge source of income for the community. Even though tourism is as high as it’s ever been, it is hard to say how much longer they will remain a community on these islands. Each year more and more young people are attracted to the university life in Puno and Lima, meaning that each year fewer and fewer people are commiting to living on and maintaining the island.
The Uros people’s unique way of living has caused them to become a hot spot for tourists traveling Peru and Bolivia. We used Find Local Trips to find our tour. They provide a variety of choices with a range of prices and options. Our tour began on a spectacular-looking boat made out of the totora reed (of course). As we were arriving by boat on the island, we are greeted by some friendly locals wearing colorful traditional clothing.
The first step onto the Uros floating islands is a memorable one. The soft spongy surface feels surprisingly secure and it is truly amazing to think every square meter is hand-built by the whole community. We were then given a tour around the whole village and saw how life works on a day-to-day basis. We were shown inside the homes of the islanders, all made from this totora plant which they have so much dependency on. We then collected the reeds ourselves and went fishing on Lake Titicaca! We then saw how they cook traditional dishes with the fish we caught that day!
I was sad to leave the Uros floating islands. There is an opportunity to spend the night on the Uros floating islands but we were unable to do so. Visiting the Uros floating islands on Lake Titicaca is something you must experience if you are traveling Peru or Bolivia. It was one of the highlights of my whole trip. The simplicity and community spirit will give you a different perspective on life and show you how material things are not needed to live or needed to be happy.