Puno is a Peruvian city which sits 3860 meters above sea level and is home to Lake Titicaca. The great lake borders Peru and Bolivia and is the world’s highest most navigable lake. What is even more impressive is that on this lake live civilizations who inhabit islands made out of reeds, yes you heard correct reeds!
After an 8-hour bus journey, we arrived in Puno ready to check out the mysterious floating islands for ourselves. We booked a tour via Peru Hop and went to check into our hostel until our trip to the islands that afternoon. Cozy hostel was… anything but; I mean the beds were warm (Thank God) but you could definitely store meat safely in the Arctic temperature of the dorms and common room and the shower required a few stern words and a bit of a wrestling match to get it to a tepid temperature.
At 3pm our guide picked us up to take us on the transport boat over to the Island of Uros, one of 87 floating islands on the lake. As we approached, we could make out several colourfully clad women waiting to greet us in the shadow of a giant flamingo statue ( apparently each island has their own symbol which is crafted from reeds and presented for all to see at the island forefront).
If this post has left you feeling inspired to travel, check out my ‘Guide to 24-hours in Puno’ post here!
We were greeted warmly and lead to a seating area to receive a little history lesson about the origin of the islands. The inhabitants originally took to the lake to escape harsh Spanish taxes and backbreaking work in the mines. The islands were a haven where its inhabitants sustained themselves on fish from the lake and travelled inland to trade. Now, tourism is their main source of income and the women spend their time stitching intricate table cloths and cushion covers while the men make model reed boats and mobiles for tourists to purchase.
The Totora reeds used to build the islands and Contiki boats can also be eaten and are known locally as “reed bananas.” When offered a chance to try this intriguing bit of foliage of course we said yes! Verdict: it wasn’t wholly offensive but I think I’m going to stick to normal Bananas in the future! We then learnt how the reedbeds which form the island were made through an intricate weaving process to make large blocks which are attached together. The island itself was 3 meters deep and the layers have to be replaced every 2-3 weeks to stay afloat. I can’t help but wonder who first came up with this crazy yet genius idea to build an island out of reeds and live on it and what indeed everyone thought of this eccentric tax dodger. I mean it really seems like the stuff of madness!
The next day after a pretty decent night’s sleep in our Arctic room we decided to take a jaunt up to the viewpoint as aside from the floating islands, there was very little else to do in Puno. It was only a short uphill walk to the top but boy does the altitude make life hard! 2 steps feel like 20 and I’ve never felt as unfit in my life (I’m not going to try and deceive anyone pretending I’m usually Jessica Ennis, but even for me the effort required to keep moving was ridiculous!) On our walk we met a four-legged friend who was quite the charmer. He met us at the start of our climb with expectant eyes and a waggy tail and unlike the dogs we were used to on our trip who came for a sniff and promptly carried on with his business, much to our amusement he joined our little excursion the whole way to the top. Sasha and I had quite fallen for our new friend who we’d taken on an unintentional dog walk. He was also incredibly photogenic! Moral of this story, dogs are great no matter where you are in the world!
That evening before our night bus to Cusco, we unashamedly went on a hunt for some non-Peruvian food. Now call me what you like but I am just not being wowed by the carby stodge we’ve found Peruvian food to be. I mean admittedly, we have been eating pretty cheaply but the variety is definitely lacking and they need to invest in a greater range of herbs and spices other than salt and sugar. We successfully found a restaurant serving pizza and call us bad travellers (and I really don’t care, I refuse to apologise) but GOD IT WAS SO GOOD!!
Onto Cusco next, marking our last destination in Peru. A week of touring the sacred valley, climbing Machu Picchu and Instagramming the crap out of Rainbow Mountain!
If you enjoyed reading about my adventures, check out more travel diaries here. However, if you fancy something a bit more useful click this link for how to’s, top tips and must see and dos from Peru and beyond!