A Boat Trip to Meet Uros People on Lake Titicaca, Peru

Living on an island of reeds, in a house of reeds, sleeping on a bed of reeds, cooking on the fuel of reeds, and fishing from a boat of reeds? How intriguing is that?

Please meet the Uros People of Peru.

The Uros’ way of life has fascinated me for years. According to the story, when the conquistadores, Spanish conquistadors, invaded their territory, the Uros fled and decided to go and live on Lake Titicaca in Peru, which is South America’s largest lake and one of the navigable lakes at the highest altitude in the world (3810 meters).

Lake Titicaca is the largest freshwater lake in South America and the highest of the world’s large lakes. Titicaca is one of less than twenty ancient lakes on earth, and is thought to be there million years old.

“Languages, customs, beliefs and artistic works that remain until our days are evidence of ways of life and of cultural values of exceptional value that characterized the Uru inhabitants of the lake…”

~UNESCO

It must have been a creative mind to have come up with the idea to use the buoyant torora reeds, which grew (and grow) in abundance in the shallows of the lake, and which they already used for boats, to build islands and houses. Even though the threat of colonial invaders no longer exists, the Uros people (or Uru people) have continued to live on the water.

A specific part of Lake Titicaca is their home, inaccessible to outsiders so their culture won’t be contaminated, and only a number of islands can be visited which, as you can imagine, is a highlight when visiting Peru.

Uros People in Peru; here three women sitting on the reed island, one washing her hair, and behind them two torora reed boats

Visiting Llachón

Puno is the main destination from where people visit the islands. However, I had heard about a place called Llachón, on a peninsula northeast of Puno, which apparently was a not only beautiful region to visit, but also a quieter place from where to take a boat to the floating islands. The choice was easy.

Coen and I set off from Puno, drove the scenic stretch north of Lake Titicaca and down the peninsula. The last part was a dirt road, which meandered through agricultural fields and small communities. It was late afternoon and farmers were taking their sheep and cattle home.

An island of reeds in Lake Titicaca, home to Uros People.

A boat ride to the Floating Islands

In Llachón we met Primo, the owner of a hostel right on the plaza of the village, who could organize a boat trip for us. We hooked up with an Austrian couple and the next afternoon set out in an open boat.

I’ve visited Lake Titicaca several times but, to me, it remains one of the most bewitching places on earth. Its cobalt blue waters are hemmed in by agricultural fields and hills covered in scrub, with the snow-capped mountains of Bolivia towering overhead.

It took half an hour or so to reach two islands. We clambered on the shore of one of them and were welcomed by a couple of women. No doubt this is a touristy affair with a high level of ‘monkey watching in the zoo’ as I call it, which generally brings a feeling of ambiguity with it, but I have to say it was easygoing and fun. I compared it to a business transaction: we came to see how they lived and in

I compared it to a business transaction: we came to see how they lived and in return we would buy some of their craft and all this happened in such a pleasant way that everybody felt good about it.


Don’t Forget to Bring

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A Hat

Sunscreen lotion

Sunglasses


One of the Uros women showing handicrafts.

Meeting the Uros People

While Coen, always the photographer, took off to make use of the beautiful late afternoon light, I got to talking with two women. I wanted to know so much: How come the island doesn’t drift to the shore, how often do they change or add new reeds, do they drink the water from the lake? I wasn’t the first to ask these questions and they were well prepared.

They had built a miniature island so they could demonstrate to visitors how they anchored their island to the floor of the lake with ropes and wooden pens, how they replenished the reed (monthly on the island, houses every two weeks, beds every month – which could vary depending on the season) by adding new layers to the top, how they build their fires, make their handicrafts and cook their food. It was niftily done and a pleasure to listen to.

Homes made of reeds on an island of reeds of the Uros People, who live on Lake Titicaca

Modernity has penetrated the islands. They boil the water of the lake before drinking it, and since a year they have electricity thanks to solar panels. No more houses (or even a whole island) burn down because of a candle, which apparently was quite a common problem. Money has been introduced with tourism but they still have a money-free economy of swapping fish for other products like corn or rice with mainlanders.

We were invited to enter their homes, check out those beds made of reeds and covered with a thick layer of blankets. We chatted while they demonstrated their crafts of embroideries, miniature torora-reed boats and ceramic trinkets.

The inside of a reed home of Uros People, who live on Lake Titicaca.

Even though beforehand I had seriously pondered whether I wanted to go here, exactly because of that monkey-watching feel, I am glad I went. What I appreciated most of all was their honesty. They said they no longer used the torora reed boats – “They are just here for tourists, would you like to sit in one?” – but open wooden boats with an outdoor motor.

They didn’t hide the fact that they no longer cooked on reeds but on gas. Simple things, which gave honesty to the whole affair and prevented it from looking like some sort of mock-up.

Practical Information on Visiting the Uros People

  • Make sure you have some smaller notes and coins to pay the handicrafts with.
  • Taking photos is no problem.
  • In Puno are travel agencies to organize these tours, in Llachón check out the hospedaje (hostel) on the Plaza (the main square with the church) to see if they can organize a boat trip for you. I assume that other hostels in and around Llachón can no doubt organize this trip as well.

Organized Trips around Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca has much to offer. Some activities are perfectly done independently, others work well on a tour. Check what tours are on offer and see if they fit your needs.

Click on the images below to learn more.


Travel Guides for Peru

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Photos by Coen Wubbels. Follow our overland journey on Landcruisingadventure.com or on Instagram.

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