According to the Andean believes, Titicaca ("Titiqaqa" in Quechua) is the birthplace of the sun. It is also the largest lake in South America and the highest navigable lake in the world (3,812m above sea level). Titicaca Lake is part of Peru and Bolivia, but cultures and ways of living are the same here independently of official borders.
Coming from the Colca Canyon we drove around 280 km (5h) until Puno, a Peruvian city on the shore of the Titicaca Lake. We booked 2 nights at the Tierra Viva Puno Plaza, right in the city center and we left the car in a private parking space recommended by the hotel. In the first night we just had a light dinner and rested due to avoid altitude sickness (although we drove through higher altitudes during the night there is less O2 so sleeping above 3,000m is usually more difficult).
There's nothing special to see in Puno. It is just a convenient location to cross to Bolivia and/or visit the Lake Titicaca. It is a very commercial city too. Since there is less than 4km of flat land between the lake and the foothills, the city grew upwards onto the hillsides (generally with the poorest areas living into very steep unpaved streets). It is not a rich city and it seems local people currently live mainly from agriculture/fishing and tourism.
Next day we decided to visit the Uros Islands so we went to the port of Puno where we took a local ferry and paid the small fee to visit these islands (mandatory). The ferry took around 30 minutes but before arriving into one of these 42 floating islands we started to see the totora reeds - the vegetation used to built these islands and the population's houses. We also saw Uro's men and women sailing in the lake fishing and collecting totora.
When we arrived into one of the islands, one Uro's man explained us how they build these islands, how long it takes, how they build their houses and how they live. He also showed us where his kids' school is located (in another island just in front).
Originally, the Uros lived of the lake the water and the purpose of these islands' settlements was mainly defensive (so if they had a threat they could be moved along the lake). In the past they didn't speak Spanish but currently most of them do. Also it is estimated that only a few hundred (of the 2,000 Uros' descendants) live in the islands; most have moved to the mainland.
Maintaining these islands requires a lot of work. The reeds at the bottoms of the islands rot away quickly so new reeds need to be constantly added approximately every 3 months. Nowadays they also "imported" some modern stuff, like radios, motors for the boats and solar panels to be able to assist TV and charge their mobile phones.
After assisting the interesting explanation about life at the Uros islands they tried to sell us stuff they make. Everything is much more expensive than in the mainland so they argue it is to help their children to study and to get medicines... it's tricky but you can help a bit buying something small and handcrafted by them.
After, we took a boat trip in one of their traditional boats (although they had a boat with a motor pushing the one we were!) to see other islands around. We stopped in another island (biggest than the first one and with a restaurant) where we stayed for another 30 minutes actually doing nothing. There was nothing to do there so we just enjoyed the sun at approx. 3,900m of altitude before catching the ferry again to Puno.
This was probably one of the most touristic things we've done in our entire trip across South America. And that's why we didn't like it too much...
Next stop: Cusco (Peru!)
- Careful with altitude sickness! Titicaca Lake is the highest navigable lake in the world (3,812m above sea level) and rapid ascents to altitudes greater than 2,500m can be harmful for your health. The best prevention is to spend at least 2 nights (but if possible more!) at each rise of 1,000m, eat light, avoid alcohol, drink coca tea and rest a lot! Don't come to Puno right after landing in Lima (and it is always better to visit Arequipa and/or Cusco before Titicaca Lake).
- Main costs to visit the Uros Islands: Taxi from the city center to the port (5$S/each way) + Ferry (10$S/person/both ways) + Islands main entrance (5$S/person) + optional but almost mandatory: typical uros boat around the several islands (10$S/person)
- When in the Uros Islands, you will feel a lot of pressure to buy handicraft stuff made by the uros families. It is optional, of course, but you can always buy something small just to compensate their free explanation about the way the island is built and how they live (we bought a small boat made of totoro for 10$S)