While thousands of tourists make the trip to Peru each year to explore the ruins at Machu Picchu, there’s another destination that shouldn’t be overlooked.
About five miles off the shores of Lake Titicaca in southern Peru, the man-made Uros Islands offer a glimpse into the traditional life of the Uru people. The archipelago of 120 floating islands provide stunning, unobstructed views of Lake Titicaca, and perspective into the daily lives of the 1,200 people that live, work and in some cases, go to school on the islands.
Made from stacked and woven totora reeds, the islands are a distinctly unique creation of the Uru people. Travelers who make their way to the Uros can tour a handful of islands to learn about their construction and catch a ride on a traditionally built totora reed boat. There are also a number of local artisan stands that sell handcrafted goods that make great souvenirs.
However, the trek isn’t for the faint of heart. While slowly cruising through the waters of Lake Titicaca may sound like a relaxing retreat, the trip to reach this secluded destination is anything but. Lake Titicaca is the highest lake in the world at 12,500 feet above sea level, leaving travelers prone to crippling altitude sickness. While the experience is one not to miss, travelers should be prepared when visiting the isolated locale.
Visitors are advised to take precaution when heading to destinations above 8,000 feet as altitude sickness can cause a litany of ailments—symptoms include nausea, fatigue, shortness of breath, headaches, and increased heart rate—and in some cases can even be fatal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When traveling to the highest parts of Peru, tourists are encouraged to ascend gradually, allowing their bodies time to acclimate. That’s why many travelers leave Puno for the end of a multi-city trip, hitting Lima (1,300 feet above sea level), then Machu Picchu (8,000 feet) and Cusco (11,000 feet), before heading to Puno and Lake Titicaca.
For such a physically taxing experience, many travelers opt to spend a few days in Puno to have enough time to acclimate. Hotel Libertador is a great retreat for those looking for a relaxing luxury experience as the hotel offers plenty of amenities for the weary traveler, including a spa, restaurant, and even an oxygen room. Travelers can also book both private and group trips to the Uros Islands, for an additional fee. For those not staying the night, there are many tour operators that offer frequent trips to the islands, and there’s a ferry that leaves hourly from Puno’s port in the center of town.
Puno is also the midway stop for the Belmond Andean Explorer, South America’s first luxury sleeper train. Departing from Arequipa, the train stops in the city center before heading to its final destination, Cusco. If you don’t have plans to head to Arequipa, travelers also have the option of booking a one-night stay aboard the luxurious train, hopping on at Puno’s port. The train offers unparalleled views of remote southern Peru as it winds through the Andes Mountains, making for a great photo opportunity.
So when you’re planning your next (or first) trip to Peru, make sure to set aside a few days to explore the Uros Islands. The experience of learning about the culture of the Uru people, cruising through Lake Titicaca, and taking in the beautiful scenery is simply unrivaled.