Los Uros: Visiting the unique floating islands on Lake Titicaca, Peru
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The floating islands of the Uros are a thing of legends. Known as the ‘water tribe’, the Uro people are a fascinating community who first started building islands out of blocks of reeds packed together in the middle of the world’s biggest navigable lake in order to escape the pillaging of the fearsome Incas.
The layers upon layers of reed blocks eventually rot and sink into the lake, but the Uros keep the islands floating by adding more and more fresh layers of blocks to the top as this happens.
It’s a truly magnificent feat, and even more incredible to think how many centuries this way of life has been upheld.
We’re always a little hesitant of any kinds of activities that involve seeing how a minority community lives, so this post will walk you through our experience of visiting Los Uros floating islands in Peru.
After you’ve finished reading about Los Uros in Puno, check out these posts:
Los Uros are fairly far out into the expanse of Lake Titicaca, so the closest town you’ll have to connect through on the mainland is a small but vibrant place called Puno. Although there’s not much in terms of tourism going on in the town itself, it makes for a very pretty stay without the usual attempted pizzazz of the gringo trail.
In fact, I’d say it’s a pretty good introduction into how the average townie Peruvian lives their life.
Puno is very close to the Bolivian border, which makes it a great stopover before you head to bigger cities. If you’re going to Arequipa from Copacabana via bus (or the other way around!), you’ll have to change at Puno, so you may as well make a day of it and stay at least one night, maybe two.
Despite having been pushed out onto the lake over a thousand years ago, to this day, the islands of Los Uros are still made in the same way, as are their huts. However, they have managed to modernise with the installation of solar panels, TV antennae and motor-powered boats!
The people of Los Uros are only around 30-40 minutes from mainland shore, so they have regular contact with outside cultures, regardless of tourism. That made the idea of visiting them feel a little less iffy.
Still, we were torn as to whether we would go and visit the Uros islands. Visiting indigenous tribes is often both a tourist trap and a human zoo, exploiting people on both sides of the transaction.
However, after talking to other people we met on the road that had been to visit Los Uros, we were reassured that it wasn’t a circus show.
We were offered tickets for a boat ride plus visit to one of the families’ islands for 25 pesos from the bus driver on our way from Copacabana, so took the plunge. The next day, we just had to walk down to the lakeside pier and find the boat that matched our ticket.
At least in the low season, the place is in no way overrun with tourists, and we didn’t feel cringy being there.
Each boat company goes to a different island, each island being run by a family with 5-7 huts, so nowhere gets overwhelmed. When you arrive on the island, you are shown around by the family themselves, after they demonstrate how they built their island using reeds.
Although the families do get a cut from the boat company, they also take this opportunity to eagerly show you their wares on sale – blankets, jewellery, scarves, wooden statues; you name it.
You are then offered a ride on a traditional boat to the next island for an additional 10 soles each. The next island is more of a communal one, which is run by several different families and includes a small coffee shop and several artisan shops for handmade souvenirs.
For the equivalent of £5, the tour to Los Uros floating islands was very good value for us, and we didn’t get any impression that the community resent or feel embarrassed by us being there; in fact, they were extremely friendly and proud to teach people how they live. This tourism is crucial to the Uro people’s survival on the islands, and not having to move to the mainland for work.
That being said, we were very selective with the kinds of photos we took; not wanting to intrude by sticking cameras in kids’ faces or through people’s windows. We highly recommend you do the same!
Can you stay on the floating islands of Los Uros?
Incredibly, yes! In recent years, a few of the islands have been developed by the local families to accommodate tourists for the night. Most of these stays will be all-inclusive as the family cooks local cuisines for you, or might even invite you to eat with them.
There are quite a few options with varying degrees of authenticity, have a look:
If you’d prefer to instead stay on the mainland in the town of Puno, we recommend checking out Pukara Puka Kantuta.
What other islands are nearby Los Uros?
You’ll also see tours to and stays on the islands of Taquile and Amantaní. These are much larger, soil islands that neighbour Los Uros and are each inhabited by several thousand Quechua-speaking people.
They’re both very peaceful parts of the Earth and a wonderful way to experience the quiet of Lake Titicaca. Book a tour that can easily get you to and from these islands.
Recommended stay to enjoy Puno & Los Uros: 1 night if staying in Puno, 2+ nights if staying on the floating islands
Now that you’ve reached the end of this (very short!) post on Los Uros floating islands in Peru, have a gander of: