More than just a wonder of geography, the lake is also home to several indigenous communities who have managed to thrive well above 12,000 feet for thousands of years. For them, Lake Titicaca is the birthplace of the Sun. It’s these unique communities — and the spectacular landscape they call home — that truly make the lake an essential part of any Peruvian adventure.
The Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca includes numerous islands, the most famous of which are the floating reed islands of the Uros people, originally built to prevent attacks from the mainland. Despite being subjugated by the Inca over time, the Uros have continued to live on the islands for centuries, surviving off of the bounty of the lake and trade with neighboring communities.
Unique ways to experience the islands
Bundled, floating masses of reeds are home to entire villages, topped with small reed huts, children playing, local festivities, and woven reed boats that ply the waterways. However, these islands are some of the most popular places to visit on the lake.
In high season, daily ferries travel to and from the mainland taking hundreds of tourists to marvel at the spectacle of people living on floating islands. Tourists take rides on reed boats, visit reed homes, climb a reed watch tower (formerly used to guard against unfriendly visitors), and snap lots of photos. The islands — delicate to begin with — are being degraded with the increase in tourism.
To have a more unique and authentic experience, we highly recommend staying overnight at a local homestay after all the crowds have left for the day. In addition, you’ll be providing valuable income for the local family you stay with.
As well, Lake Titicaca has much more to offer than just the floating islands; some of the more stunning experiences can actually be found on the lesser-visited islands such as Taquile and Amantani.
To make the most of your visit to Lake Titicaca, spend a few days exploring these islands. Here’s an example trip plan that takes in the best of Lake Titicaca in a short, three day itinerary:
Day 1: Lake Kayaking & Hiking (Puno to Llachon to Amantani)
The best way to experience the islands is by sea kayak: You get to feel the vastness of the lake and connect with it in the same way that people have been doing so for centuries. Your local guide will arrange the transport, kayaking gear, and lead your through the history of the area during the paddling trip, as well as arrange accommodations and meals for you on the islands.
Start your journey in the village of Llachon, a small fishing and farming community on the Capachica Peninsula and a great launch point for kayaking to the islands. The peninsula can be reached overland or by a short motorboat ride from Puno. Leave early (7am) so you have time for breakfast in the village before gearing up for your journey.
From Llachon, it is about a 3-hour paddle (10km) to the island of Amantani. En route, your guide may put out a fishing line and troll while you paddle. If he catches anything, you can bring it to your island hosts to cook for dinner.
On arriving at Amantani’s south side, tie up the kayaks and enjoy a well-deserved rest on the beach. Have a picnic lunch and enjoy a swim if you don’t mind the brisk water temperatures.
From the beach, walk up terraced fields to a small cluster of homes where you’ll spend the night in simple, friendly, family accommodations. Drop your bags and meet the family with whom you will be staying. Feel free to relax and take some time to learn about the local way of life.
In the afternoon, hike to the top of one of the two peaks on the island for magnificent sunset views of the lake from a pre-Incan temple. Return to your host’s home and enjoy a home-cooked dinner of fresh fish and locally-grown vegetables from the terraced gardens.
Expert tip: Communication with homestay families will be a mix of Spanish and Aymara, so use a reputable company that provides a tri-lingual tour guide who can translate for you.
Day 2: Lake Kayaking & Hiking (Amantani to Taquile)
Enjoy a simple, hearty breakfast with your host family before you embark on another paddle from Amantani to the island of Taquile (3 hours, 10km). If you time your trip well, there may be a local festival underway on Taquile.
The local community on Taquile has several annual celebrations that they have been leading for hundreds of years. Colorful costumes, scary masks, and choreographed dancing characterize the festivals and provide a taste of how life is celebrated on the island. Best to check in advance with your local operator if any festivals are scheduled for your visits. If there aren’t any festivals happening, your homestay family may still be able to demonstrate some of the traditional dances and costumes.
You can also visit a school and learn about development and various challenges facing the island communities. Before dinner, be sure to hike to the island’s peak for another spectacular sunset view over the Andes. Sleep in the home of another local family and enjoy locally grown, home-cooked meals.
Expert tip: Due to altitude, it can get quite cold at night (even on warm days), so pack warm gear for the sunset hikes to the island peaks.
Day 3: Reed Boats & Photography (Taquile to Floating Islands to Puno)
On your third day, wake up early for sunrise over the Andes. Enjoy breakfast with your homestay family, then leave the kayaks behind with your guide (who will take them back to Llachon), and take the ferry to the floating islands.
Here, you’ll have a chance to tour the islands with a local guide. The floating islands provide a fascinating glimpse into life on the lake as well as the impact of tourism on cultural heritage, both positive and negative.
After the tour, hop back on the ferry and continue on to the mainland. The ferry takes about an hour, and you’ll land in Puno with enough time to explore the narrow cobblestone streets and a few small shops before dinner. Book a decent hotel, as you deserve some creature comforts after three days of kayaking, hiking and adventure on the Lake!
Expert tip: If you have extra time, we recommend staying an additional night on the Uros Islands. Local homestay providers, such as Uros Khantati, provide travelers with deeper perspective on the floating islands, the Uros people, and their complicated relationship with tourism. You can easily the arrange to take a ferry back to the mainland the next morning to continue on your journey.
Connecting Lake Titicaca with the rest of your Peru itinerary
Given the altitude of Lake Titicaca (12,000+ feet!) it’s best to visit the lake after acclimatizing at Cuzco and Machu Picchu. The 8-hour drive to the lake from Cuzco can also be fun and interesting in its own right. There is also a beautiful (but slightly pricey) train ride that takes you from Cusco to Puno, which is an excellent way to relax and watch the countryside roll past.
After Lake Titicaca, many travelers continue on to visit Colca Canyon and the Condors, finishing with a visit to Arequipa before flying back to Lima. For those with a bit more time, it’s worth adding on a stop at the Nazca Lines and the oasis of Huacachina.