The first time I visited Peru in 1999, I deliberately avoided the floating islands of Uros, because they struck me as too touristy.
I was one of those insufferable backpackers looking for the “real Peru”: though that didn’t stop me joining an organised tour made up mainly of gringoes to hike the Inca trail to Macchu Picchu, of course.
Re-reading my diary from those days, it confirms that I was mostly hanging out with other gringoes, though I did cross paths with Argentines, Columbians and Chileans, and ended up meeting my wife from Salta on a bus on that same trip!
Twenty three years later, now also partners in Poncho Tours, Alicia and I returned to Bolivia and Peru, and specifically to Copacabana, on the banks of Lake Titicaca, where we first met.
We re-traced the bus journey from Copacabana in Bolivia to Puno on the Peruvian side, with our less-than-impressed 17-year-old son Calixto.
We had already stayed in Isla del Sol and done a day long hike the length of the island, and this time Alicia had booked a trip to the Uros islands.
The Uros are identified as one of the oldest indigenous peoples of the American continent: anthropologists, explorers and archaeologists think their origins stem from Polynesia, the Amazon or northwest Argentina.
The nomadic people arrived at Titicaca, the highest altitude lake in the world, on the borders of Bolivia and Peru, and with the expansion of the Inca empire around 500 years ago, they built floating islands as refuge from the more warlike tribes.
The folk here continue to use the indigenous languages of Aymara and Quechua, and live from fishing, artesania and tourism.
The islands ARE touristy, as most people visit on a day trip, but now some islanders have opened their homes to the public: staying with them, and learning about the history and culture makes this a completely different experience.
We took a cab from Puno bus station to the shoreside, and within minutes our delightful hostess Leia arrived in a taxi boat to take us to her home.
When we visited in September last year, there were 120 islands on Uros, with a population of around 1,300 people.
The islands themselves are ingeniously constructed with reeds 2.5m deep, on which our hosts’ home, including our guest bedroom and the dining room are built, also from reeds, and the base is constantly replenished to make sure they don’t sink.
In 1947, the Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl sailed across the Pacific in a boat similar to those constructed by the Uros people, demonstrating the possibility that pre-Colombian tribes could travel large distances.
We stayed with Mario and Leia at wonderful hosts, taking us out in their boat to illustrate how they harvest and fashion the “totora”, the reed weavings which form the bedrock of all the islands.
My advice would be: avoid the day trip and stay at least one night with some of the locals for a truly enriching experience.
There are more photos on our Instagram page and here are some links to interesting articles (all in English):