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Discovering Lake Titicaca, Puno, Peru

Titicaca Puno Peru 1Titiqaqa – Quechua spelling – is known as ‘the highest navigable lake in the world, with surface elevation of 3,812 meters (12,507 ft).’ [1] The Titicacas’s name is interpreted as ‘puma’, due to the shape of the lake. Temperatures are influenced by the high altitude rather than the tropical latitude. The locals joke to have the cold season and the colder season; the cold season being the dry one and the colder season being the rainy one. The temperatures rarely get over 15°C during the day and the drop below the freezing point at night. Sun rays are very strong in this high Altiplano location, so 50+ sunblock is a must. A pair of comfortable water-proof shoes too.


If you don‘t want to worry about anything there is a great three-day tour leaving Cusco in the morning on a sightseeing bus following the Ruta del Sol through Andahuaylillas – known for its church, Raqchi – Wirachocha Temple, La Raya – the highest point on the route with beautiful mountain views, Pukara – famous for its torritos and pre-Inca culture, that arrives to Puno late afternoon. These buses also go the opposite way. After a night in the hotel, the next morning there is a ferry ride to the famous floating Uros Islands, and then to the natural Amantani Island. The overnight is in a typical home stay with a local family. The final day visits the natural Taquile Island and comes back to Puno again. The tour finishes here.

There are different transport options to and from Puno:

• Bus to/from La Paz or Copacabana, Bolivia
• Plane to/from Juliaca Inca Manco Capac International Airport – about 1.5 hours ride from Puno
• Andean Explorer train to/from Cusco

The fastest way to visit Lake Titicaca and Puno from Cusco is to take an overnight bus to Puno that leaves daily at 10:00pm (25USD one way). It arrives to Puno at about 5:00am. As soon as you get off at the Puno terminal there will be a travel agent offering one day tour to Uros and Taquile (or even a morning tour to Uros only). The tours usually start at 7:00 or 8:00am, so there will be enough time to have breakfast. There are restaurants upstairs at the terminal. The whole-day tour is back at about 5:00pm and you will be dropped either on the Plaza de Armas, your hotel, or the bus terminal. As the bus back to Cusco leaves again at 10:00pm there is enough time to visit the Main Square, see the center, have dinner, do some necessary shopping at the near Plaza Vea supermarket (clean public bathrooms!), and walk back to the bus terminal. The buses can usually be boarded 30 minutes before they depart. Turismo Mer has currently the newest, therefore safest and most comfortable, fleet. You are back again in Cusco at about 5:00am. If you head to Bolivia instead the Hop Bus is a comfortable option.

‘Kamisaraki.’ ‘Waliki.’

‘Hello.’ And the answer: ‘I’m fine’ in Aymara language spoken today by the people on the Uros Floating Islands. ‘Always a small tribe, the Uros began their unusual floating existence centuries ago in an effort to isolate themselves from the aggressive Collas and Incas.’[2]

Each island has a watchtower and anchors, so it can be moved somewhere else if necessary. The original Uros language got lost due to intermarriages between the islands people and the indigenous from the shores. The last full-blooded Uro woman died in 1959 – she was the last Uros Language speaker.[3]

Welcome song - Uros

Welcome song – Uros

Today those of the 86 floating islands that joined the tourism industry are rather a living open-air museum, where visitors are allowed to take pictures, can buy unique souvenirs, learn how the islands are build and about the lifestyle, and take a ride on one of the totora reed boats (an extra 10 soles per person fee). Totora reed is the principal building material for islands themselves, houses, furniture, boats, also fuel for the kitchens, and even a food source – some types are edible. Totora patches are also home to different species of ducks hunted for meat and eggs. Fish, eggs, etc. are used in traditional exchange called trueque with the land communities – people from the floating islands need eucalyptus poles for anchoring the floating islands and other items not found on the lake.

TIP to escape the crowd: Every hour or so between 6:00am and 4:00pm there are ferries that go from Puno to the more isolated further away Uros Floating Islands, where life hasn’t been much affected by the tourism industry (10 soles return trip).[4]

Quechua - Aymara - Puno
The main village on the Quechua-speaking natural island of Taquile is located at almost 4,000 m. During the about half an hour hike up there is time to make stops to catch your breath and take pictures of the breath-taking views. If you want to take a picture with the locals, however, ask permission first and give a small tip or buy a souvenir. Children sell bracelets and other small items along the way up and down. You will reach the main square in about 30 minutes. Visit the textile center on the Main Plaza to see the knitted handicrafts exclusively made by the males. Taquile knitting tradition belongs among the best in the world and has gained the title ‘Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’ by UNESCO. Museo Folklore Taquile passed the Plaza on the way to the other side of the island situated in one of the houses is also nice to see.

Making natural shampoo

Making natural shampoo

Till today the Taquile community practices unselfish ayni, which can be loosely, translated ‘today for me; tomorrow for you’ or ‘all for one; one for all.’ They also follow the Inca code: ama sua, ama llulla, ama qhilla – do not steal, do not lie, do not be lazy. Local people are hardworking and honest. Following these norms the visitors are equally shared among the families for lunch and overnight stays. The menu follows the traditional islanders’ diet – quinoa soup, egg omelet or fried trout (or a combination of both), which will surely be the most delicious you have ever tried, fried potatoes cultivated on the island’s terraces. For drink there is muña or coca tea. After lunch you will walk down to the other side of the island to board your ferry.

Longer Titicaca Lake tours take visitors to the Amantani Island as well. It is a natural island, where the local people speak mostly Quechua. They too share their homes with the visitors and provide meals. At night there is a traditional dance show, in which tourists are offered to participate and try the traditional clothes.

In none of these places on Titicaca Lake there are cars, and crops are produced by hand. Since recently some homes have started using small solar panels. If you want to bring a small gift to the children – pencils, crayons, note books and other school utensils are most welcomed. Don’t bring any chocolates or sweets that would cause dental decay.

Biggest Fiesta – Virgen de la Candelaria

Virgen de la Candelaria is a patron saint of the city of Puno. Its festival takes place during the first two weeks of February. With thousands of people taking part and hundreds of dances it belong to the three most important South American festivals together with Rio de Janeiro Carnival in Brazil and Carnaval de Oruro in Bolivia. It is a diverse display of music, dances, and costume design. People often save during the whole year for this festival as it is also a peak in spending and alcohol consumption.

Special Thanks To

With this article we would also like to stress and appreciate the effort of the volunteer Community Park Rangers for their important and notable contribution to fighting contamination threats to the pristine environment and life of the people. Thank to these rangers Lake Titicaca and its shores have become visibly cleaner, healthier, and so more beautiful.

 

[1] Wikipedia

[2][4] Lonely Planet

[3] Foortprint Handbook Peru, 9th edition, July 2015, Robert & Daisy Kunstaetter, Ben Box

 

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