Excerpts from the Lonely Planet – Peru:
Lake Titicaca’s islands are world famous for their peaceful beauty and well-preserved traditional agrarian cultures, which you can see up close by staying with families on the is- lands. A homestay here is a privileged glimpse at another way of life that you’re unlikely to forget.
That said, the excruciatingly slow chug across the lake (whatever you do, don’t forget the sunblock!) is not necessarily more enjoyable than seeing it from the shore, and negative impacts from tourism are being deeply felt in many communities.
Taquile has attracted large numbers of tourists since the 1970s. Tourism income goes mostly to the few families who own restaurants and guesthouses, and resentment towards tourists is increasingly evident in the community. The people of Amantaní tried to avoid this by introducing turismo vivencial.
Food and lodging were offered at a set price in family homes, not hotels, following a strict rotation system enforced by the community. Yet over time this system broke down, as tour agencies played favorites and some communities began to undercut others. Now, some communities barely profit at all from receiving visitors, and most islanders still live in poverty despite decades of tourism.
Just 5km east of Puno, these unique floating islands are Lake Titicaca’s top tourist attraction. They’re built using the buoyant totora reeds that grow abundantly in the shallows of the lake. The lives of the Uros people are interwoven with these reeds, which are partially edible (tasting like hearts of palm) and are also used to make their homes, their boats and the crafts they churn out for tourists.
The islands are constructed from many layers of the totora, which are constantly replenished from the top as they rot from the bottom, so the ground is always soft and springy. Be careful not to put your foot through any rotten sections!
Some islands also have elaborately designed versions of traditional tightly bundled reed boats on hand. Be prepared to pay for a ride or to take photographs. Intermarriage with the Aymara-speaking indigenous people has seen the demise of the pure-blooded Uros, who nowadays all speak Aymara. Always a small tribe, the Uros began their unusual floating existence centuries ago in an effort to isolate them selves from the aggressive Collas and Incas.
The popularity of the islands has led to shocking over-commercialization, and controversy rages over their authenticity, with many puneños (residents of Puno) claiming that islanders sleep on the mainland.
It’s worth noting that more authentic reed islands do still exist. These are located further from Puno through a maze of small channels and can only be visited with a private boat. The islanders there continue to live in a relatively traditional fashion, and prefer not to be photographed.
KAPOORS ON THE ROAD