On our recent trip to Peru, we traveled from the Sacred Valley by train to the city of Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca. (That train ride was an unforgettable experience. And, in case you missed it, here’s our post about our visit to the Sacred Valley.)

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Street scene, downtown Puno

We found the city of Puno itself to be pretty unremarkable. It has its charms, but mostly it’s a somewhat grungy agricultural and industrial center for southern Peru. We spent two full days in Puno before taking the bus to Arequipa, and that was plenty of time. Most memorably, we got to explore the lake and learn about two colorful and ancient indigenous peoples based there: the Uros, famed for their floating reed-island homes, and the residents of Isla Taquile with their colorful knitting and weaving traditions.

A Life Afloat: the Buoyant Uros

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A Uros family welcomes a new group of visitors to their island.

The Uros people have been living on their floating islands, crafted of dried totora reeds, for several centuries. They originally decamped to the reed islands as a defense against the invading Inca. Over many years, they lost their original language, and now they speak a combination of Aymara and Spanish.

Sadly, only about 2,000 Uros remain, and roughly half live on the floating islands. They’re struggling to preserve their way of life as the modern world continues to encroach upon and threaten their culture, including (according to our tour guide) a plan to explore for oil in the lake. If oil production ramps up, the reed islands may not survive.

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This cross section of a Uros island shows how thick it is. The men explained that they continually top the island with new reeds to keep things fresh and prevent the island from rotting away. Walking on the island is interesting – it’s a bit squishy, but the fresh reeds keep things dry.
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This lady lives in the small dwelling behind us and was happy to show us inside.
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The lady’s kitchen is very basic
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Uros handicrafts for sale
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One of the Uros reed boats.
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This handsome man rowed us over to one of the other islands.

Yes, the Uros islands are touristy – but tourism is one of the things that is keeping these people afloat, so to speak. That made visiting the Uros an easy decision, and we were happy to have the experience and purchase some souvenirs.

Where Men Knit: Isla Taquile

Taquile is a lovely island about 40 km offshore from Puno. About 2,000 people live there, and, like the Uros, they fiercely guard a unique culture that dates back many centuries. The Taquileños speak a dialect of Quechua, the language of the Andean people, and their heritage is intertwined with that of the Inca. In fact, the island is laced with old Inca-era terracing that the locals still use today to grow crops.

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From the boat dock, we had a 20-minute walk to get to the top of the island.
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Many centuries-old, Inca-era terraces remain, and they’re still used to grow crops.
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Taquile has a very Mediterranean feel. Most of the homes are situated on the high ground, with a lovely view of Lake Titicaca.
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Main square, Taquile

The Taquileños are best known for their knitting and weaving, recognized as some of the finest in Peru. The men are trained to knit as young boys, and their knitting skill is considered a benchmark of their suitability as a mate by prospective brides. The women do some mighty fine weaving in their own right, and we we charmed by the way they spin the yarn by holding the bobbin in their toes.

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This young man demonstrated his knitting expertise. The white on his cap indicates that he is single and looking for a wife. The greater a man’s knitting skills, the better the catch he is!
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The knitwork is incredibly fine and tight.
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On Taquile, the men knit and the women spin and weave. Nice footwork!
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Beautiful fabrics hand-woven by the Taquile women
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This lady has been spinning for a long time. The stories she must have!

Our Tips for Lake Titicaca

  • Rather than book a boat tour in advance, we wandered down the main pier from Puno and chatted up one of the numerous boat operators. They all offer basically the same types of services, but be sure you choose a fast boat. We were able to book an eight-hour tour for about $40 for both of us, which included visits to both islands, an excellent, English-speaking guide, and a simple lunch of fish, rice, and coca tea on Taquile.
  • We stayed three nights at the Hotel Tierra Viva Puno Plaza for about $60 including breakfast. It was secure, comfortable, and centrally located near the main plaza and numerous restaurants.
  • Restaurants we enjoyed included Mojsa, La Casona, and the Cafe Bar de la Casa del Corrigador. There are also numerous little cevicherías that serve up the freshest ceviche and some true local flair. I think the one we tried was Cevichería Ricopez.
  • Other sights. The main plaza and cathedral are lovely and teeming with all kinds of activity. The Museo Carlos Dreyer is worth a visit – the former home of a local artist who also collected a treasure trove of pre-Inca artifacts. We also spent an interesting hour wandering around the Puno cemetery, with its stacked concrete tombs and colorful memorials to the dearly departed.

19 Comments

  1. Great blog post, as always. You folks do a terrific job and those who plan to follow you should take your tips to heart.

  2. Loving your pictures. We enjoyed Puno, the Uros and in particular the Island Taquile, although we found the altitude to be hard at times 🙂 thank you for bringing back so many lovely memories.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      You are so welcome, Gilda! We got lucky – we adapted pretty quickly to the altitude. I guess it really depends on the person.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      You can always come back to South America! And you know some folks to hang out with in Medellin 🙂

  3. Aren’t people in Peru marvellous? I’ve always wondered how it’d have been had Spain not arrived. How it might’ve evolved.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      We ask ourselves that question every time we visit a new South American country. But there’s a lot to love about the Spanish culture here too.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Ha, that was such a revelation to us!

  4. Great post as it took me down memory lane. We kayaked to one of the islands and I have to say paddling at that altitude was pretty breathtaking! We could clearly see Bolivia on the other side of the lake. We enjoyed the islands and the lake in general – great photos and once again great writing!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks so much! We would have loved to do a kayak trip – maybe next time.

  5. Great post John and Susan. You two really get around. We actually visited Puno a couple of years ago. We followed a similar path as you did with a visit to the reed islands of the Uros, and Isla Tequile. I have a hat I purchased there that I use when shoveling snow! I almost missed both these great places, as I got terrible altitude sickness when I first arrived in Puno. Amazing what a few drugs can do! 🙂
    Dave

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Glad you liked the post, Dave! For sure, the altitude at Puno isn’t to be taken lightly. Glad you were able to feel better.
      – Susan

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