The indigenous people believe that the sun was created on Lake Titicaca and and you could definitely feel the strength of its rays on the largest high altitude lake in the world at 3808m. Lake Titicaca straddles the border of Peru and Bolivia and is now the main crossing point for backpackers between the two countries. I spent time on both sides of the lake and visited a few of it’s islands to try and understand it’s ancient cultures.
The lake is arguably most famous for the floating islands of Uros on the Peruvian side of the lake. The images of traditionally dressed people living on islands made from reeds making handcrafts is seen as a symbol of Peru’s interesting culture and a must see on the gringo trail. So I decided to visit them on a day trip from Puno which also took us to another island called Taquile.
I had been prepared for the overly commercialised and touristy nature of the Uros islands, but I actually found it excruciating being there. We visited one island where we were told a family lives and were greeted by its members and shown around the small piece of floating mass. Instantly handicrafts were brought out and laid down and we were taken in to see a house which looked incredibly set up. We only spent 45 minutes on the island but it wasn’t long before I was sitting down waiting for the boat to leave again because I wasn’t interested in buying anything or being dressed up for photos.
Despite that, the history of the islands was interesting and the fact that people lived like that once upon a time is pretty amazing. There are about 50 islands clustered together made out of the Totora reeds that grow in the lake. The Uros people escaped the main land to live on the islands when the Incas began their expansion across the continent. Although they still claim to live a traditional life on the islands, of course they all have solar panels now and mobile phones and the experience led me to question how many of them actually live there full time.
We moved on to Taquile which is a small island inhabited by 2200 people. Tourism is also now the main income for them and it was pretty obvious with handcraft products and postcards for sale. However, we took a walk across the island to have lunch at a family restaurant and it was evident that people still live authentic traditional lives even once the tourists have gone. The island was covered in farms and terraces.
I took a bus from Puno, Peru to Copacabana on the Bolivian side which took three hours and demonstrated how big the lake actually is as we drove around the edge of it. Copacabana is a small village but has become a popular tourist destination due to it being the main jumping off point for a visit to Isla del Sol, one of Bolivia’s biggest attractions.
I went for a day to the island and took the boat in the morning to the north side at Challapampa. From there I hiked up to the Chincana ruins on the northern tip and then turned south to walk the path that runs all the way down the middle of the island. It took me nearly three hours to walk the length of the island which gave me incredible views over the blue water below. The lake appeared that large that I felt like I was walking near the ocean.
I finished just in time for lunch which I had at a restaurant in the village of Yumani overlooking the lake. I was then able to catch the afternoon boat back to Copacabana. It’s a beautiful island but it definitely capitalises on the tourism. On my walk from north to south I had to purchase three tickets, one to see the northern end and the ruins, one ticket just to walk on the path and another when I got to the southern end just to enter the village.
I can definitely see Lake Titicaca’s appeal. It’s beautiful blue water and warm weather and the promise of discovering authentic culture. I enjoyed my time there, however, I don’t really believe it will be my ‘highlight’ of Bolivia as Lonely Planet suggests it might because I felt tourism had really damaged some of the authenticity. Although at the same time I can’t really blame the people for making good money from people who are willing to pay!
*post adapted from my trip here in November 2015 and from my previous site elishasbigtrip.wordpress.com