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Drifting Away: Lake Titicaca Floating Islands

Lisa Loverro, Centro Y Sur's intrepid travel guru explores life on Lake Titicaca.

During a trip to Peru a few years back, I decided to venture beyond the usual trek to Machu Picchu and headed up to the city of Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca, the highest commercially navigable lake in the world at just over 12,000 feet. My mission was to explore the many Lake Titicaca floating islands, including a visit to the man-made islands of the Uros located in the middle of the lake.

The ancient Uros people date back to a pre-Colombian past and although little is known about their exact history and how they came to Titicaca, one thing is for certain: Living on these islands made from thick reeds called totora, is a bit extreme.  Stepping foot on these islands feels much like stepping onto a raft floating in the water—you’ll bounce around as you would on a raft and feel a bit unsteady. Each island is very small in size; about 50-by-50 feet and is home to several families. As of late, the Lake Titicaca floating islands have become a popular tourist destination; some may even say “trap,” but there’s no denying you’ll be transported back in time as you explore these islands and its inhabitants. Their local boats, also made from these same reeds, are impressively large structures serving as transport between each of the floating communities.

Apart from the floating islands, there are other naturally formed islands on the lake to explore. I eventually made my way over to Taquile Island with a population of about 2,000 and its highest point resting at just over 13,000 feet. The island is most unusual, as all the males beginning at age 8 take up knitting and walk the streets practicing their craft. I purchased a pair of hand-knitted Alpaca gloves from a local man for $2 USD that are to this day still the warmest pair I own.

A visit to Lake Titicaca and its floating islands is well worth a visit for a glimpse into ancient culture and tradition. Fun Fact: The name Titicaca roughly translates to “Rock of the Puma” which refers to the lake’s shape of a large cat.

Photo by Thomas Quine