Lake Titicaca’s floating islands

Puno as a city seems to exist purely to satisfy the tourism attracted to Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake. Evidence of this can be seen in how every restaurant appears to be a pizzeria, apparently because once upon a time an owner heard that tourists liked pizza, and so he or she advertised this as their speciality. Word caught on and before you know it, every single restaurant advertises pizza…even if they don’t sell it, brilliant!

Our stay in Puno was short, acting only as a stopover before heading to Bolivia. With little available to do, we decided to pay a visit to the famous floating islands inhabited by the Uros tribe. After a short boat ride along the glassy waters, we stepped onto one of the small islands. We’d been excited to finally see the small islands that we had heard so much about, but in reality the experience was somewhat underwhelming.

The first thing that you notice is how spongy the ground is, carefully taking your next step as you try to find your balance. We sat through a short demonstration that explained how the islands are made of reeds packed into dirt and flattened down layer by layer, week by week. This was about as much as we learnt about the tribe and their way of life, with the rest of the visit fast becoming a tourist trap.

As you are ushered into a small house seemingly belonging to one of the families, you receive a repeat presentation of what you have just sat through and then are told to sit while you are presented with all of the items you can purchase at an extortionate cost. Although told at the start of the tour that there is no pressure for you to buy anything, when locked in the little house with nowhere to turn, you’re left with little other choice.

After managing to escape having purchased the smallest possible souvenir, something handy for my Christmas decoration collection, we headed over to have a ride on the ceremonial reed boat – at an extra cost of course. The boat ride was short, taking you only to another island not too far away while a little girl sang frerer jacka in the background and then requested payment for the performance. I imagine that the visit to the second island was to offer visitors the chance to eat something at their restaurant. However, with everything closed, we all hovered around awkwardly for as long as we could before opting to get back onto the boat early and wait to leave.

It’s a shame that the experience on the whole was quite disappointing, a tourist trap quite unlike the rest of our experience in Peru. But if there is anything to be grateful for, I’m just glad that we didn’t go for the two day one night homestay, next stop Bolivia!

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