Lake Titicaca: a few days between Islands and Folklore

Lake Titicaca is in the southern part of Peru, across the border with Bolivia. Located at the dizzying heigth of 3800m a.s.l. it’s the highest navigable lake and deserves a visit for its pretty islands and the colourful and lively communities that populate the area.

Folk festival in Puno

Puno and the Islands

The starting point for those who come from Peru is Puno. The city is pretty ugly and doesn’t deserve more than the necessary time. It’s all about a Plaza de Armas, a tourist strip with some restaurants and little more. Even the Central Market, usually our favourite place and focal point of every city we visited, is quite unremarkable. I feel almost guilty in writing that because it was here that we lived one of the best experiences of our stay: stranded in town while every other tourist was on some organised trip, we ended up in a colourful parade. It was beautiful and everyone was so positive and friendly that they made it up for all the time we didn’t enjoy the city.

Uros, Taquile and Amantaní

The only real reason to visit Puno should be the island that can be reached from there. To visit them there are two kind of standard tours:

  1. One day: visiting the islands of Uros and Taquile
  2. Two days: visiting the Uros Islands and sleeping on Amantaní; lunch in Taquile the next day

In each agency you’ll be shown beautiful photos but it’s all a massive tourist trap. The floating island of Uros are fascinating: how they’re built and maintained, and the history behind that, but it’s mostly a big floating souvenir shop where you’ll spend most of the time dishing out “no gracias” to people selling all sort of things. It’s less dramatic on the two other islands but it all feels pretty false, and everything seems made just to please the average squandering tourist. The night on Amantaní island will be spent in a family house, a beautiful way to directly finance the local communities but bear in mind this is no couchsurfing: you might find an exceptionally friendly family but otherwise you’re business as usual. They’ll provide you with a warm dinner and clean bedding and that’s it, most of them also speak mostly quechua which is fascinating but might make the communication even more complicated. Moreover you’ll be forced to take part to a town fest that will take place exactly when you are there, what a coincidence. They’ll dress you up and make you dance. If you have a passion for the deliberate entertainment you’re going to love it.

Where to sleep: Hostal Pukara (Jr. Libertad Nº 328). Good location, very clean, hot water and heating in the rooms.
Where to eat: La Casona (Jirón Lima 423). Tasty alpaca meat, craft beers. Otherwise the city is plenty of pizzerias with wood fired oven most of them are on Jirón Libertad, go for the busiest one.
Responsible Travel Agency: Any agency offers island tours, but this is the only one we found that gives importance to financing the local communities: at All Ways travel you will only pay the agency and transport fee while you’ll pay the rest directly to the hosting families.

How to get in Bolivia

After Puno it will be a relief to move to Bolivia, on the eastern shores of the lake. It takes 3 hours by bus and the ticket can be made directly at the bus station (if you want to save on the agency fees), or at the agency (if you want to save time and the moto-taxi fee to get to the station, which is usually 2 soles).
If you don’t need a visa it’s very easy to get in: you’ll just need to fill the papers you’ll be handed on the bus and go through the two border offices for the stamps.
The bus usually stops a bit before the border to change the local currency, the Bolivianos (which is roughly 10 to 1 Sol).

Copacabana and the Islands

Copacabana in Bolivia is just about more pleasant than Puno: the action happens all around Avenida 6 de Agosto, the classic bar-and-restaurants strip with the bus stops on one end and the harbour on the other.

Isla del Sol Bolivia

 

Isla del Sol

Isla del Sol is stunning and offers some unforgettable views: terraces peppered with white alpacas, white sand beaches grazed by the deep blue waters and, far at the back, the snowy caps of the Andean Sierra.
Boats leave Copacabana twice a day to the south of the island (the closest part, can be visited in one day), and the north. In the north is possible to visit the sacred sites of the Incas and, before them, the Aymara, from the port follow one of the guides that will lead the group for a one hour hike and will explain the history of the place, mixing facts and mythology.

The best route, if you arrive in Copacabana in the morning, is: take a ferry to the Comunidad Yumani in the south (if you take the 1pm boats you’ll arrive mid-afternoon) and start the trek across the island. It’s a quite easy hike of about two hours and you can stop anywhere to spend a night, there’s plenty of hotels and B&Bs so I wouldn’t worry to much about it. The next day you can visit the archaeological sites and take a boat back.

Where to sleep: If you don’t sleep on the island just look for a decent place near the port, which on Google Maps is marked here: Monumento Avaroa. Avoid the hotel Lago Azul and make sure your place has hot water and heating, you’ll need it.
Where to eat: you’ll be spoilt for choice along Avenida 6 de Agosto, which looks like a 3D version of the Lonely Planet suggestions page. We had a good meal at El Trebol, a place with a preposterous but charming decor and some tasty vegetarian options.

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After being in Rome a few times without even looking at the Coliseum I realised that there's more to travel than sightseeing: meeting the local culture is what, 10 years later, determined the birth of this blog.

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