Thinking of taking in the northern islands of Lake Titicaca? There are several reasons to consider travelling independently: you can stay two nights instead of the standard overnight the agency tours offer; you have more chance to get to know your host family and explore the island on your own; the host family receives more of the proceeds and do not have to wait for the agency to pay them.
Here is what you do: Arrive at the pier at the end of Av. del Puerto in Puno by 7:45 am, the morning you wish to leave and go to the booth where boat tickets are sold. Make it clear that you want to stay two nights on Amantani. They will give you a ticket and assign you to one of the boats. When the boat’s guide arrives, make sure he also knows that you plan to stay two nights. He has to arrange the host family and make sure there is room on the boat that returns in two days.
The boat stops at the Uros (floating) Islands, which are a little touristy, but also quite fascinating. Only a few people still live there as they always have on these unique artificial islands. While there, you can take a short trip in one of the reed boats for a small fee. It is very relaxing.
One of many floating islands and a reed boat. Notice the solar panels and our guide using his cell phone! (Photo: Cathy Fulton)
The next stop is Isla Amantani. Your host family will meet you at the boat and escort you up the steep street to their home where you will enjoy a hearty lunch. Be prepared to walk slowly at this 3800-meter altitude. The families provide lodging and meals on a rotational basis so all the families offering accommodation get a fair shake at hosting tourists. The guide will invite you to join the rest of the group to hike to the top of one of the two hills on the island to see the sunset. Later, you may be invited to enjoy an evening of dancing. Dress warmly even during the summer because the evenings can be quite chilly.
Accommodations with your host family are basic but clean and comfortable and they will do everything they can to make your stay a special one. (Photo: Cathy Fulton)
The next day, take a leisurely walk through the village, to the top of Pachamama, or ask for directions to see the Inkatiana, a royal throne carved in stone. In the evening, enjoy hanging out in the town square and meeting the locals. I had the delightful experience of having a young man show me how to knit colors using the unique Peruvian technique.
If you climb up Pachamama, you will walk through several of these dry-stone arches. (Photo: Cathy Fulton)
On the third morning, after an early breakfast, your host will accompany you back to your boat. On the return trip, you will have the opportunity to visit and have lunch on Isla Taquile. Be prepared for a bit of a hike up to the village and then back down again to the boat, but it is worth it! The island is famous for the very fine knitted products made by men (women are mostly responsible for the spinning and weaving). Be sure to visit the Tejidos de Hombres center to be amazed by this intricate work.
The walk up to the village on Isla Taquile. (Photo: Cathy Fulton)
You will return to Puno mid- to late-afternoon. Don’t be surprised if almost everyone falls asleep on this last leg—Altitude + Hike + Hearty Lunch+Slow boat ride = Siesta…
- Before taking a trip out on the lake I recommend that you spend at least a couple days beforehand at this high (3800 meters) altitude to make sure you won’t suffer from severe altitude sickness. You don’t want to get out on the islands and become seriously ill.
- It is customary to bring a gift of fruit to your host family since very little fruit grows on the island.
- When I did this trip in 2014, the entire trip cost me S/100 for the three days which included transportation, lodging, an excellent guide, and meals—an amazing bargain!
- If you are traveling independently, you will be paying the host family directly for lodging and you will probably want to purchase some textiles and tip your guide, so be sure to bring plenty of cash in small bills.
Cathy Fulton is a somewhat nomadic US citizen who has spent two (southern-hemisphere) summers in Peru. She enjoys staying in one place for one to two months savoring the local way of life, getting to know locals, hiking, and exploring the food and fiber. You can read more about her Peruvian slow travel experiences here.