Floating Islands and Homestays: Lake Titicaca

After our days in the Amazon, and a brief stop over again in La Paz we made our way to Lake Titicaca. Lake Titicaca is highest navigable lake in the world and is the largest lake in South America. It sits on the border between Peru and Bolivia.

First we stopped at the Bolivian side at Copacabana.

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The journey there was interesting in itself, as after a few hours drive we were all asked to disembark whilst our bus made the ferry crossing with us trailing behind in tiny boats. And from the picture below you can see why they weren’t keen for us to be on the bus at the time…

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Once in Copacabana there isn’t an awful lot to do other than visit the Isla del Sol, but that it after all why we’d come. Boats leave regularly from the port and the trip can be done as a day-trip or some choose to spend the night on the island itself. We opted for the day-trip, fearing the winter winds and cold nights on an island with no central heating. However if we did the trip again, we would probably opt to stay the night. The island is beautiful and in a day there is barely enough time to take it in.

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Once we disembarked we walked across the beach and headed for the Inca Ruins. Guided tours of the island can be arranged but are not vital – on the short 30 minute hike to the ruins all the locals point you in the right direction even if you just hesitate to catch your breath.

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After the ruins and brief stop at the mirador (viewpoint) we started off on the 7km hike across the island. If you prefer you can opt out of the hike and make your way back to the original port were the boat will be waiting, but if you feel up to it, you can be picked up from the other side of the island a few hours later. And the views really were spectacular.

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A word of warning to those considering the 7km hike – there is only just enough time to do this hike in time to catch your boat. We are of average fitness and hike in the UK but bear in mind the island is undulating and is at altitude, so it will be tougher than what you are used to. Don’t hang around too long at the ruins and set off early. Also pack some sandwiches. We literally made it in time to jump on the boat and after hiking for 3 or so hours we were starving! But the views are worth it.

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The next day we set off early for Puno in Peru. Puno is not much to write home about but is the gateway to homestays on the floating islands. After some deliberation we decided to go for the two-day, one night homestay tour. Sam and Claire, our travel companions, were convinced at our promise to act as translators between them and our family for the night. (Thankfully our Spanish later proved to be just good enough, if very broken!)

However first we made our way to the floating islands. Originally the Uros people constructed these islands as a method to hide from the Inca invasion. Now they are still inhabited but are mainly a tourist attraction.

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To start with we were given a demonstration as to how the islands were constructed. Essentially huge rafts of reeds are anchored down. These same reeds are used to create their houses and the boats.

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Next it was off to the island of Amantani to meet our Mamas and Papas for the night. The accommodation was basic, no running water and minimal electricity, but it was welcoming and homely.

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Long story short, I had caught a stomach bug the previous evening and after spending the morning throwing up I opted to spend the rest of the afternoon in bed. With some lovely herbal tea prepared by the Mama, tea is the local cure for everything, I was quite at home under a mountain of blankets.

Meanwhile the others headed off to the highest viewpoint on the island to watch the sunset.

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By the time they returned I was recovered enough to take part it the evening celebrations. Before we knew it we were attired in the traditional dress and were off dancing with the entire village. The local children couldn’t stop giggling…and you can see why…

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Only Sam really pulled off the look…

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Soon it was early to bed, as the cold was setting in, and at sunrise it was early morning goodbyes to our family and back on the boat. We would highly recommend the homestay experience to anyone and it provides a livelihood to the families on the island. Speaking even minimal Spanish certainly enriches the experience, as at dinner we were able to learn about the life of the family and the island. If you don’t speak Spanish – try and link up with someone with the basics, or fumble your way through a phrasebook. The families are well used to this!

Later that day we hiked over the island of Taquile.

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We were treated to a trout lunch (from the lake of course) and demonstrations of the local handicrafts.

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Unfortunately by this point Iain had caught the stomach bug and so by early afternoon we were a little bit glad to find ourselves back on the mainland in Puno. But we thoroughly enjoyed the two days and would recommend it to anyone!

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