These floating islands of UROS are located inside the bay of Lake Titicaca only 14 Km. (about 9 miles) away from the city (20 to 30 minutes of navigation time). The Uro people were simple fishermen and bird hunters and preferred to remain isolated from the more advanced civilizations. Their search for isolation may be one reason why they decided to live in mobile houses on the lake.
The Lake Titicacaoften called the “highest navigable lake” in the world, with a surface elevation of 3,812 metres (12,507 ft)
There are 50 islands that are made of floating reeds in Lake Titicaca.The people live there in peace and solitude (other than the boat loads of tourists that come every morning to buy their artisan crafts.
These Uros people, live on islands made of living reeds that float around the lake. The Uros people have been living on the lake for hundreds of years—they were forced to take up residence on the floating islands when the Incas expanded onto their land.
This unique floating islands is due to their construction. They have been created entirely with the buoyant totora reeds that grow abundantly in the shallows of the lake. The lives of the Uros people are interwoven with these reeds. Partially edible (tasting like nonsweet sugarcane), the reeds are also used to build homes, boats and crafts. 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.
In the shadow of the Andes, on the world’s highest navigable lake, they make their living from fishing and from selling their reed handicrafts to tourists.
The floating islands can accommodate from two to 10 families depending on their size. They keep rabbits, guinea pigs and ducks, and cook their meals over small fires placed on piles of stones. There are also ponds in the middle of the islands for trout farming.
Living on a floating island has its advantages. When the family gets too large or if there are disagreements in a village, a section of the island is sawed off and it floats away.
The women here braid their hair.They also have neon colored dyed clothing and a wide variety of hats.Their hats tell people their marital status.These women were married.
The photo of the woman above is a teenager about 14 years old but she already have her first child.
In this small community, young girls as early as 13 years old, started to have families. I met one, at 16 years old, she already have 3 young kids.
Usually 5-6 families live together on one small island. One tiny reed house contain several people and kids andcouple who would like to have privacy and consumate their love, have to do it in the boat and paddle it on the lake to make babies.
The Uros use the totora reed, which is plentiful along the edges of the lake, to make their homes, their furniture, their boats, and the islands they live on. As reeds disintegrate from the bottom of the islands, which are four to eight feet thick, residents must add more to the surface.
The Uros boast skilled needlewomen and their work is in demand by visitors, increasing income. The men, so good at weaving their own boats, also weave miniature ones to sell. Most of the people incorporate tourist visits from small groups like ours into their regular routines and offer natural hospitality.
The base of the islands is actually made up of floating blocks of soil called Khili. The soil floats on the lake thanks to all the rotting totora reed roots in it. Once the totora packed soil is cut out of the reed fields, the blocks are strapped together and covered with even more layers of fresh totora reeds. The totora slowly rots in the lake water so it is imperative that new reeds are added to the top of the island often. The upkeep on the islands is actually very time consuming and islands usually have to be completely rebuilt every 30 years or so. The Uros boast skilled needlewomen and their work is in demand by visitors, increasing income. The men, so good at weaving their own boats, also weave miniature ones to sell. Most of the people incorporate tourist visits from small groups like ours into their regular routines and offer natural hospitality
Much of the Urus’ diet and medicine also revolve around the same totora reeds used to construct the islands. When a reed is pulled, the white bottom is often eaten for iodine. This prevents goitres. This white part of the reed is called the chullo (Aymara [tʃʼuʎo]). Like the Andean people of Peru rely on the Coca Leaf for relief from a harsh climate and hunger, the Uru rely on the Totora reeds in the same way. When in pain, the reed is wrapped around the place in pain to absorb it. Also if it is hot outside, they roll the white part of the reed in their hands and split it open, placing the reed on their forehead. In this stage, it is very cool to the touch. The white part of the reed is also used to help ease alcohol-related hangovers. It is a primary source of food. They also make a reed flower tea.
Local residents fish ispi, carachi and catfish. Trout was introduced to the lake from Canada in 1940, and kingfish was introduced from Argentina. Uru also hunt birds such as seagulls, ducks and flamingos, and graze their cattle on the islets. They also run crafts stalls aimed at the numerous tourists who land on ten of the islands each year. They barter totora reeds on the mainland in Puno to get products they need, such as quinoa and other foods.
Nowadays, many of the young people paddle off in their boats to settle on shore and get jobs on the mainland. From thousands, the number of Uros still on the islands is down into the hundreds.
Visiting the Floating Islands
Most people visiting the islands are on a day trip from Puno. Boats leave early in the morning from the Puno port and the journey out to the islands is about 30 minutes. Once on the islands, the island “president” will explain the process for building the floating islands. You are also usually offered a chance to taste the totora reed and to take a short ride in one of the traditional reed boats.
Day tours either head back to Puno in the early afternoon or continue on for a few more hours out to the real (actually rock and stone) islands further out in the lake. These islands give you a second chance to see native pre-Inka tribal traditions.
The Floating Islands are an incredibly unique travel experience. That being said, the native culture has very much died away and the islands can seem very “Disneyland-eque.” Most of the Uros tribe has actually moved to the mainland due to the easier access to education and medical attention for their families. The few Uros who stay on the islands dress up in their traditional outfits for the tourists, but usually change back into jeans and t-shirts after they leave.
A visit to these Uros floating islands is part of my full-day Lake Titicaca tour from Puno in Peru last 2015. Half day was spent in this Island then headed by boat to another closeby Island, Taquile Island , where I spent the remaining of my day.
The whole experience was surreal but heartening. It’s good to know there are still cultures surviving in their traditional means as far removed from the western way of life as you can imagine.
But as for me after the tour, I went to my western way of life that is back to my hotel at Titilaka hotel. Which a contemporary luxury all-inclusive hotel at the shores of this peaceful lake Titicaca. All of lakeview suites are simply but luxuriously fitted with heated floors and spa bathrooms, including oversized tubs. I can’t imagine, this all-inclusive luxurious resort in such unexpected place.