We’ve met lots of people since visiting Puno and the floating islands who have asked us whether they are worth visiting. I’ve always answered yes, but probably only for a day or two. We traveled from Copacabana to Puno, crossing the border for our first Peruvian stop. Puno itself isn’t the nicest town. It’s not awful by any stretch, but other than getting a boat out into the lake, or visiting some ruins an hour outside the city, there isn’t much for tourists there. However, the journey to Puno wasn’t long, it was an easy path to take to cross the border and the floating islands are very unusual and really worth a trip in themselves.
One sunny morning, we wandered ten minutes down to the pier from our hostel to get a boat out to the famous Uros floating islands. We picked a ticket kiosk and bought our tickets. When we asked when the boat would leave, the man replied “When there are ten people”. It was a quiet day so we boarded the boat and waited for about forty minutes for our boat to leave when there were finally eight other people on the boat. In the meantime we sat in the sun and watched other boats in the pier coming and going.
The crossing to the islands was fairly short, and we arrived on the first island to the sounds of women singing to welcome us. We felt a little uncomfortable, but thanked the women for their singing as we stepped out onto the spongy reeds that make up the islands. We were asked to sit on a bench in the middle of the island (which was big enough for about five or six small reed houses and approximately twenty people), and a local man, the island’s president, explained how the islands were built by weaving long reeds together. We were then ushered into one lady’s house and urged to buy some blankets from her. We declined politely (and guiltily) and stepped back into the islands square.
We soon got onto a traditional boat to take us to the capital island of the Uros islands, of which there are about fifty in total. Just as we were wondering how the boat was powered (far too big to row, but also with no engine anywhere to be seen), a small speedboat approached and docked into the back of our boat, to precariously push us along our way. After the engine faltered a few times and we floated aimlessly in the middle of the water, we arrived on the capital island. It is the only island with a restaurant, a post office and some small shops, again all made of reeds and pieces of wood. We bought a very expensive bottle of beer and found a spot to sit on the reeds to have lunch. Although we were on the largest of the islands, it was still pretty small and there was little opportunity to wander around before you reached the edges. We had expected to be able to wander around on the islands, but they were much smaller than we expected.
After having our lunch and beer, we boarded back onto the boat to take us back to Puno. It had been a fun excursion, even if it wasn’t quite what we had expected. It’s definitely the best thing to do in Puno, and once we returned to the mainland, we left the next day for our next destination, Arequipa. Toby and I both agreed that the best way to see the lake was definitely from the Bolivian side, especially from the idyllic Isla del Sol.