Some small platforms of totora stand out among the intense blue of the Peruvian part of Lake Titicaca, near the bay of Puno. They are the Floating Islands of the Uros in Lake Titicaca, an ancestral people that live in small communities in the middle of the highest navigable lake in the world.
The yellowish islets on which these inhabitants build their houses are built with a type of reed called totora that grows in the water. The aurochs collect their roots when they float, in the rainy season, they cut large blocks and join them until they form the Floating Islands in Lake Titicaca that can last up to 23 years.
The Uros are a fascinating and unique ethnic group in the world: they are able to build their own Floating Islands of Uros by taking advantage of a type of plant that grows in Lake Titicaca, called totora. We delve into their extraordinary way of life, in full harmony with the environment, and we offer you some tips so you can visit them.
Who are the Uros?
The Uros call themselves “men of water”, and there are very few cultures on the planet that live with such a close bond with the aquatic environment. Their origins are lost in history, but some historians point out that they date back to a time before the Incas and that it was precisely the advance of this empire that prompted them to build in the water, something that allowed them greater security and easy access to its main resource: fishing.
Currently the uro ethnic group is considered extinct, although some Aymara took up the witness of this very particular way of life. And it is them that can be visited today.
Located at about 3,800 meters of altitude, the lake in which the Uros live is surrounded by mysticism. Titicaca – which means stone puma – is according to legend the place from which Viracocha, the Sun God, emerged, who in turn sent Manco Capac to found the prosperous Inca culture in Cuzco.
The Uros, for their part, were one of the first cultural formations of the Altiplano and their origin dates back to pre-Inca times. According to some theories, they came from Bolivia but migrated to coastal areas after major droughts occurred between 900 and 1,200 AD.
At first they lived on the mainland but decided to build floating islands to avoid being conquered by the Tiahuanacos, Collas and Incas. In addition, they discovered that in the middle of the lake they had more means of survival thanks to hunting and fishing. Their original language, Pukina, was gradually lost and they adopted Aymara, which they continue to speak along with Spanish.
Each island has a president and there is a maximum boss for all of them.
Although the way of life remains traditional, small solar panels can be seen next to some of the houses that provide them with about three hours of electricity at night.
How do they build the Floating Islands in Lake Titicaca?
The key is a plant called cattails. This reed has a high buoyancy due to its environmental conditions (it grows on the shores of Titicaca) and its accumulation and braiding is the only material used for these Floating Islands of Lake Titicaca. It is worth noting that the base, in contact with water, ends up rotting and these gases contribute to buoyancy.
These organic Floating Islands of Uros, up to three meters thick, need constant care of renewing layers of braided dry plants to maintain their integrity.
To maintain them, every 20 days a new layer of reeds is added to the surface and the islands are anchored with ropes, stakes and stones that sink to a depth of about three meters, explains the president of one of the communities.
On each island, between five and seven families live together, subsisting on hunting and fishing, which they then sell or exchange in the Puno market. In addition, they make beautiful and colorful embroideries and totora crafts that they sell to tourists who visit them.
Also the houses and some of the boats they use are made with cattails, a plant that they also eat and use as medicine. The houses, rectangular in shape, are small one-piece rooms where the whole family sleeps.
As for the boats, which can have as many as two floors, they take about six months to build and can be used for about seven years.
Why do the Floating Islands of Lake Titicaca remain static?
If you have wondered how the islands do not move with the currents and winds, this is a key question to avoid sunrise on the other side of the lake! The islands are “anchored” with trunks or blocks of reed roots that reach the bottom of the lake and hold them at a fixed point.
It is for this reason that the Uros cannot build too far from the coast, since the depth would prevent them from mooring their islands.
How to visit the Floating Islands of Lake Titicaca from Puno?
The archipelago where the Uros live is less than 6 kilometers away from the port of Puno (Perú), on Lake Titicaca (at 3,810 meters above sea level). Although the number of islands fluctuates, since they are made of organic material and some are abandoned and others created anew, there are currently approximately fifty. Most of the Floating Islands of Uros are within the limits of the Lake Titicaca National Reserve.
Full Day Tour tot eh Floating Islands in Perú
Upon arrival at one of the Floating Islands in Perú, the women of the community will greet you with their typical clothes and songs, likewise the chief of the island will give a cordial welcome in her native language, Uro. You will meet the family that lives on the island and they will show you their way of life. You can also tour the island, take photos, and if you are a lover of memories of the places you visit, you can buy handicrafts. In the same way, you can take a ride in her boat made of totora, which costs around US $ 3.
The approximate price of the full day tour to the Floating Islands in Perú is US $ 10 per person.
There are different programs for experiential tourism in the Floating Islands in Perú. They vary depending on the days which one wishes to remain part of the community. In terms of amenities, there are now solar panels on the Uros Islands to provide light at night and ecological toilets for visitors.
We recommend you the Amantani & Taquile Island 2 Days Tour for a complete community tourism experience with the Uros.
Below, we detail approximate prices for the visit:
- Entrance to the Island: US $ 1.5
- Cost of boat transportation: US $ 3
- Cost of lodging: US $ 52 per person per night. Includes food and activities