The History of Uros
The story behind Lake Titicaca and floating reed islands, and the reason why it’s a popular traveler destination is because of the incredible ingenuity it took for the pre-Columbian tribe, the Uros, to build their own islands. The story told is that the Uru were a group of people that came out of the Amazon forest hundreds of years ago. At the time, the Incans were the main inhabitants surrounding the lakes and when they didn’t accept the Uru taking up their own lands, the Uru fled to the reeds for security. They built up the islands, learned to fish and hunt for small game and eggs. If there were other needs the Uru would trade with those willing. Being on the islands was a much safer place for them as they would be looked down upon from all “mainlanders.” This perception of them continued on after the Spanish colonization and even into today.
The islands supported their people in terms of food and shelter, and also from harm from other tribes. It has only been in the past 50 years (or so) that tourism has started to take shape. The island construction ran into difficulty when the rains hit and the island began to drift, so the Uru decided to move them in closer to Puno. This is how the tourism began and when travel agencies started bringing tourists out. Many of the Uru children are now studying tourism and returning to their island homes to continue to maintain their heritage while adopting certain modernities (e.g. using western medicine, buying salt, wearing manufactured clothing, etc.).
Seeing small villages like this that support the same lifestyle they had hundreds of years ago are truly amazing to see. On the tours, they teach how the islands are constructed, how the Totoro reeds have more than one benefit – they are a food source as well – and how their lifestyles can continue without too much disruption. Truly a fascinating history and a must see when you are in Peru!
Places to Visit in the Lake Titicaca Area
- Puno city
- Floating islands of Uros (Isla de los Uros)
- Isla del Sol (Bolivian side)
Unique Things to See and Do in Puno and Lake Titicaca
- See Yavari – the oldest steamship on the Lake
- Visit Coca Museum and learn the history of the coca plant
- Stroll through Cathedral de Puno – constructed in 1757
- Tour the Museo Naval with an exhibit of reed boats and steamers
- See Casa del Corregidor – a 17th century house
What to Bring
Along with your raincoat and poncho, another recommendation is to bring a windbreaker for the alpine winds that blow across the lake. They can be bitterly cold and just a poncho won’t cover it. The best is if your raincoat can double as your windbreaker which means covered zippers and a narrow neck area. Bring a fleece layer or base layer for combating the cold.
Sunshine in the Altiplano region is more intense than down at sea level, and it can be deceiving because it’s not that hot. Wear sunscreen at all times to avoid the burn. And if you are travelling in the dry season, chapped lips and dry skin can be a problem for some. For those with extra dry skin, petroleum jelly works great for the lips. You can buy small little containers of it or if looking for a natural lip gloss, bees wax is the next best option.
Getting Around Lake Titicaca
Located in the southern part of Peru at the Altiplano basin in the Andes, this lake borders Peru and Bolivia. You can gain access from both sides. The Peruvian side is in the Puno region, and the Bolivian side is within the La Paz. There are five major rivers that feed into the lake and there are over 40 islands, some being quite populated. The lake sits at an elevation of 12,507 ft (3,812 meters) and has a depth of up to 900 ft.
Did you know…?
That the floating islands, Amantani, Uros, and Taquile are made of Totora reeds.
Did you ALSO know…?
That of the 40+ islands created in Uros, there are some that have up to 10 families living on them.
Getting to the lake is easily done by bus, and it probably the most popular way to travel. The bus ride from Puno and Arequipa are both about 5 hours long and cost about S/40 or $13US. If you are travelling all the way from Cusco you can either take a coach bus (~7 hours) or take a tour bus that will show you some sights along the way.
Travel By Train
For stunning countryside viewing, the journey from Cusco to Puno by train is a great way to get to the lake. The train travels along at altitudes of over 3500 ft. The train runs all year round and is considerably more expensive than the bus – over $280US one way. If you purchase a return ticket the price drops considerably for both ways, and will cost about $450US. Once you arrive in Puno you can catch a taxi for fairly cheap, which will take you directly to the lake and your accommodations.
Best Time of Year to Travel to Lake Titicaca
The Altiplano regions of Peru are colder due to their altitude. The temperature ranges from -8 to 4°C on the low end to 16 – 18°C on the high end every day of the year, and within each day! Layers are essential. May to August is the most popular time to visit as it is the dry season. December to March is the rainy season so expect cooler days and make sure you bring rain wear. A lot of tourist-type stores will sell rain ponchos for a couple of soles (~$1-3US). It’s recommended that you buy a couple of extra since they are thin and easy to pack and come in handy! If you’re backpacking through Peru invest in a pack cover.
Ready to plan your visit to La Paz? Check out these popular guides and trips.