Lake Titicaca: The Floating Islands
In the shallows of the lake, reeds grow tall. Teaming with life below the surface, on it a select few have made their livelihood and their home.
A short excursion from the Peruvian side of Titicaca (around 2hrs) you will come across the inspiring floating islands of Lake Titicaca. Around 100 islands exist with people working and living on them. Many have adapted to accommodate tourists but it is evident that they are still used as homes for many.
The islands themselves range in size, the one we visited had 5 families (around 20 people) living aboard it. They are constructed solely of reeds sourced from the lake itself. The method of construction is a blend of man and nature. Between December and April reed roots are cut from the lake bed in blocks of soil, they are then floated to where the community want to build the island. The blocks are then staked and tied with rope (originally this would have been natural fibre rope weaved from the reeds themselves). Over a period of 4 months the reed roots grow binding the blocks together forming the island.
Layers of reeds are now placed down up to 1m thick to form the ground and to condition it the community organises games to squash the reeds down forming a solid if not a little bouncy platform
With a few extra layers of reed underneath, buildings are constructed; Simple structures woven from reeds. Traditionally round huts, many now have apex roofs which are more practical.
During the dry season the islands sit low in the water, but during the rainy season the island floats as the lake level rises. 6 anchors around the island secure it to the lake bed, making sure that the community wake up each day in the same place.
The reeds also provide a source of food. The white end near the roots is a tasty/interesting treat that you can try, Called the Lake Banana.
The people speak ‘Aymara’, which is an older language than ‘Quechua’ found elsewhere in Peru. On most islands you will be met by the President, who holds the post for a year. He will welcome you with a native phrase to which you can reply “Waliki”. They are very friendly and happy to share knowledge of their life and even welcome you into their homes provided you are respectful.
They have few hobbies, most of which we would consider chores. Fishing, hunting, collecting duck eggs and handicraft.
The men create intricate items from the reeds which are for sale from the moment you arrive. The island we visited were not pushy at all and there was little need to barter with prices fairly low.
The women spend time delicately producing intricate embroidery work depicting culture, daily life and ancient traditions.
Again these are for sale and beautiful cushion covers were around 40 sol with larger works at 100 sol. It is worth noting that they will not have change available for you so plan ahead and bring plenty of 10 sol notes, even 50 sol notes will be too much here.
For transport, the people use modern skiffs but traditional reed boats made on the island are also around. Paddled with an oar or 2, they are extremely buoyant.
For a small fee of 10 sol they will take you out on the ornate and giant “Mercedes Benz” as they call it, to see where how they collect the reeds.
A trip to the floating Islands is a fantastic opportunity to see real and original Peruvian culture preserved. The islanders may have adapted to modern life, with solar panels and speed boats, but because of how and where they live it is a unique life and worth a visit.
Easily combined with a visit to some of the large islands like Taquile or even an overnight camp on a beach, just find yourself a boat and driver and head off for an adventure.