A VISIT TO LAKE TITICACA
Straddling the borders of Peru & Bolivia is the vast and beautiful Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. Considered the birthplace of Inca culture, numerous sites and ruins can be seen and visited in the area. The various islands and cultures found on the lake preserve old traditions and languages, yet are uniquely distinct from one another. A visit to Lake Titicaca is both eye opening, but also a reminder that some cultures may soon be lost to modernity and the draw of city life.
**This mini guide only focuses on the Peruvian side of the lake.**
TRAVEL TIPS FOR LAKE TITICACA
Flights | From the Peruvian side of the lake, visitors must fly to Juliaca Airport, located about one hour from the lake. Major Latin American airlines such as Avianca and Latam operate flights from around Peru.
Getting to Town | As mentioned, the Juliaca Airport is located an hour to an hour and 15 minutes from Puno, the main city on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca. You can grab a bus directly outside the arrivals terminal (approx 18 soles per person) to Puno or a taxi directly to your accommodations (approx 70-80 soles). Taxis and cars are readily available upon arrival.
Altitude | For those coming from sea level or lower elevations, it is important to note that Lake Titicaca and Puno are at 3800m or roughly 12,500ft. Some people may experience altitude sickness so be sure to stay well hydrated, rest if needed, and keep ibuprofen on hand. Due to the height, the sun is also stronger here so don't forget sunscreen.
Language | Spanish is spoken throughout Puno and the region, however, old native languages such as Aymara and Quechua are also spoken in the area and exclusively so on the islands of the lake.
Where to Stay | I stayed at Hotel Libertador and had an overall pleasant experience. The hotel is removed from town on its own mini peninsula, providing beautiful views from every room as well as walking paths around the property. The decor is a bit dated, but the hotel is functional and the staff is super friendly and helpful. Rooms are about $130/night and include breakfast.
Credit Cards & Cash | While credit cards are widely accepted throughout town, if you wish to purchase goods from the markets or from any of the islands on the lake, cash is the preferred and often only method. Tour operators also often only accept cash.
Climate | In the words of our boat guide, Lake Titicaca & Puno have two seasons: cold & colder. Despite this statement, we had sunshine for our entire stay and thus recommend bringing layers to add or remove as needed throughout the day. Sunglasses and sunscreen are a must!
WHAT TO DO
Stroll the Town | The town of Puno is considered to be one of the centers of Peruvian folklore, hosting traditional festivals full of vibrant music, dancing, and dress. Visit the Baroque-style cathedral in the Plaza de Armas or stroll the pedestrian shopping avenue of Lima Street. Pop into the colorful Cafe Bar de la Casa de Corregidor and peruse the market stalls before sitting down to a leisurely lunch in the charming outdoor courtyard.
Visit the Uros Islands | The Uros Islands are the floating reed islands made by the Aymara speaking peoples of Lake Titicaca. There are over 100 floating islands today, but with the temptations of urban living on the mainland, these floating islands may not exist through my lifetime. Although touristy, a visit to these islands is informative and unique. I recommend using All Ways Travel to book your tour to Uros (you can combine islands, as we also visited Taquile Island, below, on the same tour).
Taquile Island | Unlike the Uros Islands, the language of Taquile is Quechua and its inhabitants are world renowned for their handwoven textiles and knitting, having received UNESCO distinctions and honors. Boys learn to knit at a young age and are accepted and moved through their lives by the quality of their hat's knit, an interesting cultural practice you'd be hard pressed to find elsewhere. The island is terraced for agricultural purposes (a practice influenced by pre Incan cultures) and affords stunning views of the lake, and on a clear day, the snow-capped mountains of Bolivia.
A full day tour to both Uros & Taquile including hotel pick up cost $30/person. Lunch on Taquile Island featured a quinoa soup, grilled trout, rice, and vegetables and cost only 20 soles or roughly $6. Other activities I didn't have time to do on my own that may be worth exploring are Amantani Island, the Sillustani ruins, and Inca Uyo Fertility Temple.