To visitors to Lake Titicaca, a boat trip to the floating islands, a unique tourist destination, is a must. These islands are made and re-made from the totora reeds which provide home, sustenance and transportation for their residents. About a two hour boat ride fromPuno, on the Peruvian side of the lake, the largest of about 40 islands and the main destination is the ialand of Santa María. See mapshowing location of Uros islands and Taquile island off Puno, Peru.
These floating islands are the home of the Uros tribe, one which pre-dates the Incan civilization. According to their legends, they existed before the sun, when the earth was still dark and cold. They were impervious to drowining or being struck by lightning. They lost their status as super beings when they disobeyed universal order and mixed with humans, making them susceptible to contempt. They scattered, losing their identity, language, and customs. They became the Uro-Aymaras, and now speak Aymara. Because of their simple and precarious lifestyle, the Incas thought them worth little and accordingly taxed them very little. Yet the Uros, with their basic reed homes outlasted the mighty Incas with their huge stone temples and mountain-top enclaves.
The totora is a cattail type rush growing native in the lake. Its dense roots support the top layer, which rots and must be replaced regularly by stacking more reeds on top of the layer beneath. The islands change in size, and more are created as the need arises. The largest island is currently Tribuna. The surface of the islands is uneven, thin, and some liken walking on it to walking on a waterbed. The unwary might not notice a thin spot and sink a leg or more into the frigid waters of the lake.
The islands are part of the Titicaca National Reserve, created in 1978 to preserve 37 thousand hectares of marsh reeds in the south and north sectors of Lake Titicaca. The reserve is divided into two sections, Ramis, in the provinces of Huancané and Ramis; and Puno, in the province of the same name. The reserve protects over 60 species of native birds, four families of fish and 18 native amphibians species. There are three islands in the lake, Huaca Huacani, Toranipata and Santa María.
The floating islands are protected within the Bay of Puno and are home to 2000 or so Uros, who claim to have “black blood” are consequently immune to the cold. They call themselves be kot-suña, or people of the lake, and consider themselves the owners of the lake and its waters. They continue living by fishing, weaving and now, tourism. They catch fish for themselves and to sell on the mainland. They also catch shore birds and ducks for eggs and food. Occasionaly, if the level of the lake decreases, they may plant potatoes in soil created by the decaying reeds, but as a norm, they are not agricultural. The reed boats quite often have an animal face or shape on the prow and are a favorite photographic subject.
The Uros residents of the islands create their homes from the reeds. The roofs are waterproof but not humidity resistant. Cooking fires are built on a layer of stones to protect the reeds. Residents wear layers of clothing, mostly woolen, to protect themselves from the cold, the wind, and the sun which at this altitude can burn fiercely. Many women still wear the distinctive derby type hat and full skirts.
Taquile is an island on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca 45 km offshore from the city of Puno. About 2,200 people live on the island, which is 5.5 by 1.6 km in size (maximum measurements), with an area of 5.72 km². The highest point of the island is 4050 meters above sea level and the main village is at 3950 m. The inhabitants, known as Taquileños, are southern Quechuaspeakers.
In 2005, “Taquile and Its Textile Art” were honored by being proclaimed “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO.
Taquileños are known for their fine handwoven textiles and clothing, which are regarded as among the highest-quality handicrafts in Peru. Knitting is exclusively performed by males, starting at age eight. The women exclusively make yarn and weave.
Taquileans are also known for having created an innovative, community-controlled tourism model, offering home stays, transportation, lodging for groups, cultural activities, local guides and restaurants. Ever since tourism started coming to Taquile in the seventies, the taquleans slowly lost control over the mass day-tourism operated by non-Taquileans. The local Travel Agency Munay Taquile has thus been established to regain control over tourism.
Taquileños run their society based on community collectivism and on the Inca moral code ama sua, ama llulla, ama qhilla, (Quechua for “do not steal, do not lie, do not be lazy”). The island is divided into six sectors or suyus for crop rotation purposes. The economy is based on fishing, terraced farming horticulture based on potato cultivation, and tourist-generated income from the approximately 40,000 tourists who visit each year.
The wildlife on Taquile includes rams, sheep, cows, guinea pigs, chickens. Dogs and cats are rare and if wanted a permission from the authorities of the community is needed.
Taquile also offer a wide range of typical dishes. Breakfast consists of two pancakes with sugar or bread with eggs with a cup of tea made from either Muña or Coca. For lunch, you get a vegetable soup, fish with rice and a tomato and onion salad. For dinner, the taquilean people serve a nice vegetable soup with bread.
The majority of the inhabitants on Taquile are Catholic. They adapted this religion harmonizing their ancient culture with the new Christian culture. The mother earth (Patchamama), the principal Andean deity which directly controls harvesting, fertility, offering a number of payments (offering) each year and three coca leaves prior to each activity or trip. God is present throughout the year in the festivities. There are two Catholic churches (the largest in the Centre and the other in Huayllano) and an Adeventist church (Huayrapata).
Taquile has a radio station and is equipped with generators, although islanders have elected not to use them in favour of solar panels. The island has the curious distinction of being free of dogs because the natives consider them, as well as cats, delicacies. And although chicken is eaten, it is not raised on the island due to problems with foxes. You encounter a number of flowers and trees on the Island, among which are Kolle, the tree used to roof the houses and for firewood, the Cantuta flower (the national flower of Peru), the Chukjo (used as detergent) and Muña (for stomach disease). A variety of flowers on the island are used as natural medicines, like Muna. The coca is brought from Puno and mainly comes from Cusco.