Navigating Lake Titicaca

17 Feb 2013

Imagine living in an island handmade out of thousands of dried bundled reeds. The Uros people do just that, on the highest sailable lake in the world, Lake Titicaca.

We emailed Victor and Cristina, who live in a small island they made for their family, and which is part of a community. Their email had just been printed on our brand new copy of The Lonely Planet (I know what you're thinking, gullible tourists), but the experience was not at all as expected.

The little man-made island was from out of a storybook. We were greeted by everyone who lived in that tiny piece of land, climbed atop a lookout structure also handmade by Victor, using only the Reeds that grow in the lake. The whole island is made of little huts which double as rooms. My man and I had a hut/room. This was it:

During the day there were many activities organised by Victor. He showed us about the history and heritage of the tradition of the Uros people as well as how they make the islands and how they have to keep collecting the reed to maintain the island. They collect reed every day and dry it out before topping up the structures. Everything in the island is made of reed: the bed, the huts, the tables, the land you stand on, the boats.....
"He tells us that each boat takes 1 month to make, and uses many bundles of totora, and 200 plastic bottles (a modern innovation). They slowly soak up water, becoming harder and harder to row, and are retired after 18-24mths. We make a mental note to give them our water bottles before we leave the island." Pearline
Victor and his wife Cristina have been trained in hospitality so they offer a really good experience. They have westernised their offerings a little to be more in touch with some of the tourists. They use only bottled water for everything and they have worked hard on improving the presentation of everything, from the food to the beds. Cristina tells me she had gone and bought loads of colourful blankets for the bedrooms before she went to a hospitality conference and learnt that the bedsheets should be all white.

Despite their effort, they still try to keep the experience as close to traditional as possible.
"This particular family is very interested in hosting kind, caring visitors, but the tourism they seek is far from mainstream as they wish not to exploit the authentic, fragile nature of Los Uros. They are working hard toward shaping and maintaining a specific type of tourism for their island. Solely through word of mouth, they invite travelers to learn about one of the oldest communities in the world, that of Los Uros." Libby
Cristina and her mother in law made the food everyday in a little hut/kitchen with produce that had been caught by her busband or produced in the area.

We drank coca leaf tea, which is a great help for the altitude. Did I mention Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world? (3,800m above sea level - about 12,500 ft)

Victor goes out in his reed boat to set up fishing nets. He took us with him to teach us how to do it. We enjoyed being out on this vast lake so much (it is SO sunny, quiet and open!) that we asked him if we could borrow his boat. He was happy to, and we spent a afternoon of calm and serenity just drifting around the lake (we couldn't work out how to paddle with one tiny oar!)

One of the most amazing things was watching the kids coming back from school on another reed boat. They would get near their islands and would get picked up from another boat meeting the main boat in the middle. The kids would just jump from one to another and go back to their respective houses/islands. (Each island holds the dwellings of the family members, so each island is a home for a mum, dad, kids, in-laws).

We loved being there so much, we stayed for two more nights. We liked the serenity, spirituality, the space to think, the time to talk. There's no electricity so there were no mobile phones, no radios, no TV, no chargers, no laptops. Just us. And people.

I made friends with Cristina and her mother-in-law. I learnt to embroider their motifs on cushion covers that they sell to tourists. They make most of their money off tourism. It's not much, but they live sustainably. On the picture below Cristina is platting my hair.

This island is about 45 minutes by motorboat from the mainland. It is surrounded by some other islands and then just the lake. There's no power current for miles and miles. So guess what? When you look up at the sky, you see the galaxy and beyond. Just like that. That's the Milky Way on the right bottom corner.

Now, isn't that just the way to live?

If you'd like to organise an overnight stay with Cristina and Victor, email or ivsit  . This is not a paid post.


  1. Wonderful, wonderful pictures!
    I particularly love the one with the lady making the table ready and the portraits!

    Oh, and I think I have never seen such blue skies before in my life!

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks Svenja! I loved the experience.

    2. Can imagine! I'd love to travel Southern America one day!


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