Lake Titicaca, Reed Islands & the Isla del Sol
Lake Titicaca is one of South America's most beautiful sights, situated like a giant mirror in the heart of the altiplano, reflecting snow-capped peaks, clear blue skies and the rich reds and greens of its fertile islands.
Lake Titicaca forms a large part of the border between Peru and Bolivia, so as well as a tour of the floating reed islands of the Uros and the 'real' islands of Taquile and Amantani on the Peruvian side, you can also take a trip right across the lake into Bolivia, perhaps staying a night on the beautiful Isla del Sol... Alternatively, you can just base yourselves in one of the lakeside towns such as Puno or Copacabana, and enjoy a day trip out onto the lake before heading on to Cusco or La Paz.
Where to Stay around Lake Titicaca
If you're coming from Arequipa or Cusco then you will need to spend at least one night in the town of Puno before visiting the Lake. Puno is by no means the prettiest town in Peru, but it has a reasonable selection of hotels on and around the main Plaza. Alternatively, several higher end hotels are found on the shores of the lake itself, offering beautiful lake views and large outdoor spaces, which can be much more pleasant than staying in town - and you can easily get a taxi into Puno to visit restaurants or other facilities if you need to.
On the Bolivian side, the town of Copacabana plays a similar role, although it's quite a bit smaller and much prettier. From Copacabana you can also get boats across to the Bolivian island of Isla del Sol, which has a handful of good (although simple) hotels and some of the most beautiful views on Lake Titicaca.
There are also options for staying on the islands on the Peruvian side, but these are at two extremes: on Amantani you can do a homestay with a local family, which is a fantastic experience but is obviously very basic; by contrast, on Suasi Island the exclusive Private Collection hotel offers you total luxury and exclusivity.
What to See and Do on Lake Titiaca
Obviously your main reason for a trip to Lake Titicaca is to experience the lake itself, but there's a surprising amount to see and do on the shores of the lake as well, so many people choose to include extra days to allow them to fit all the extras in too.
The Reed Islands of the Uros
One of the weirdest Lake Titicaca tours has to be to the strange floating islands of the Uros. Made entirely out of the local tortora reeds, these islands float on the surface of the lake and are constantly being renewed with new layers of reeds. People live, cook and work on the islands, with the largest even having schools and churches on them.
In order to help protect this unique way of life, visits to the largest islands are prohibited, but you can visit some of the smaller islands and enjoy walking on these giant reed rafts for yourself.
Amantani and Taquile
Visits to the Uros islands are usually combined with a trip to Taquile island, which one of the larger 'real' islands on Lake Titicaca. Here you can stop for lunch and see some of the exquisite textiles made by the islanders. Both here and on the island of Amantani, everything is organised co-operatively, and everyone has to obey the three Inca commandments: Ama Sua, Ama Quella, Ama Lulla, meaning Don't Steal, Don't Lie and Don't Be Lazy.
Both islands offer the chance to see some beautiful scenery, and you get some fabulous views right across the lake from the top of both islands. On Amantani, you also have the option of a homestay, which gives you a unique chance to enjoy some true Andean hospitality.
Isla del Sol and Isla de la Luna
The twin islands of the Sun and Moon are on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca, and although you can (just!) visit them in a day tour from Puno, it's much better to stay overnight on the Isla del Sol to allow you a chance to enjoy the spectacular scenery and Inca ruins. For us, this is really what a holiday to Titicaca is all about, and we think most visitors agree that these Bolivian islands are more beautiful than the islands on the Peruvian side, but whatever you do, don't let a Peruvian hear you saying that...
Puno and Sillustani
Although Puno is a colonial town and the major base for tours of Lake Titicaca, it doesn't have a huge amount to recommend it except for its location. The Cathedral sits on the western end of the Plaza and has an imposing baroque exterior but the interior is quite spartan by Peruvian standards. You can also head down to the harbour to see the Yavari – this steamship was brought in pieces from England in 1862 and brought by mules up to Puno, where it was assembled piece by piece to act as a cargo ship and gunboat for Peru’s navy on Lake Titicaca.
Puno is fairly well supplied with restaurants, however, and Don Piero and Pizzeria El Buho (both on Jiron Lima) are pretty good. Also on Jiron Lima is the excellent Pizzeria Giorgio, which despite its name actually offers a very wide selection of dishes and is one of the best restaurants in Puno. It’s also particularly good for vegetarians. Directly on the Plaza de Armas sits La Mojsa, which is popular with tourists and offers traditional food at relatively low prices. We suggest trying the Palta Mojsa – chicken breast with a creamy tomato and pesto sauce served with a whole fresh sliced avocado. Right at the top end of the scale, La Casona is probably the best in town, although a little more pricey.
Outside Puno itself, there are several sites of interest within easy reach, of which the most important is Sillustani. This small village has an astonishing congregation of Inca and pre-Inca funeral towers. It is still unclear exactly how they were constructed and they are defying archaeologists attempts to re-create them. There is a museum at the site (although the exhibits and displays are all in Spanish) and the location is beautiful so if you find yourself with a few hours to spare then it’s definitely worth a trip. A taxi from Puno should cost about $25 and won’t take more than 45 minutes. Make sure you ask the taxi driver to wait for you at the site (espere una hora, por favor) or you may end up paying twice...
Getting To and From Titicaca
There are several daily flights to Lima from the airport in Juliaca, which is just 45 minutes drive from Puno, as well as daily flights to Arequipa and Cusco.
Alternatively there are regular first-class coaches to Cusco and Arequipa, as well as a daily coach to/from Chivay in Colca Canyon. There are also several daily services on to La Paz in Bolivia via the Desaguadero border crossing.
A more interesting route into Bolivia is to take one of the regular tours across Lake Titicaca itself, stopping at the Isla del Sol before heading on to either Copacabana or La Paz. Somewhat confusingly, these tours don't leave from Puno, but from Juli which is a short drive to the east.
Finally, you can also enjoy one of the few railway journeys in Peru from Titicaca on the luxurious Andean Explorer train which runs 2-3 times a week between Puno and Cusco.
Tailor-made Tours in Titicaca
All our holidays in Peru are 100% tailormade, so if you'd like to customise any of the tours you see above, or just plan a trip completely from scratch then get in touch and let us know - we'll be delighted to help you plan your perfect holiday to Lake Titicaca!
Did you know?
For the Incas, Lake Titicaca was a sacred place and they believed that their creator deity, Viracocha, had emerged fully-formed from the still, cold waters of Lake Titicaca...