Floating Islands of Lake Titicaca

The floating islands of Uros in Lake Titicaca are a great place to visit.

On the southern highlands bordering Peru and Bolivia there is a famous lake, Lake Titicaca. It is 285 meters deep and has a surface area of 8,300 square kilometers. It is one of the biggest lakes in South America and the highest navigable lake in the world.

Lake Titicaca houses many animals such as trout, kingfish and other native fish, ducks, geese, flamingos, Andean ibis, seagulls, and many llamas. It is the ancient territory of the Incans who believed that the sun god sent down his son and daughter to make the lake which they then walked out of. But despite all that it’s mostly famous for its floating islands.

The floating islands of Uros are made from tortora reeds which grow abundantly in the lake. The islands are created by first cutting (with a saw) a chunk of matted roots of the reeds from the coastal areas of the lake. The massive chunk of roots is then dragged to where the new island will be and is anchored in place with up to ten anchors, depending on the size of the island.

Once they have the base of their new island in place, the inhabitants pile up layer after layer of fresh reeds on top. The matted base is approximately one meter thick, and they pile up to three meters of fresh reeds on top. Once the island has been built up sufficiently, they can build their house and other structures from yet more reeds. Depending on the size of the island, there may be from one to seven families living on it.

When storms come, wind pulls out the anchors and the islands drift off to one side or the other. After the storm has passed, the people tie the island to boats and drag it back in place before re-anchoring it to the lake bottom.

For cooking, the local people have discovered a way to protect their island from burning: build their fire on rocks or matted roots/mud. They build up a few layers of protection under their cooking area and then don’t have to worry about burning the reeds of the island.

The Uros people dress in brightly colored skirts and jackets. They encourage tourists to visit their islands as one of their main sources of income is from the sale of their handicrafts.

It is said the floating islands have been around for hundreds of years. In the beginning, people built the islands and lived on the lake in order to escape payment of taxes to the Incan empire. Now, many generations have grown up in the islands and know no other life. There are schools and clinics on the islands.

The floating islands of Uros can easily be visited as a day trip from Puno, Peru.

 

The women of Uros wear traditional clothing in bright colors.
Their homes are completely made of tortoro reeds.
Tourism is one of their main sources of revenue, so they welcome boats of tourists to the island.
The women sell their handicrafts to tourists.
The floating islands are actually floating in Lake Titicaca and are anchored into position.
The base of each island is a massive block of matted roots from the reeds. On top of that they pile layer upon layer of fresh reeds.
Life on the floating islands is harsh – weather and lack of natural resources make life challenging.
Some of the islands have small solar panels to provide electricity for a television.
To cook, they pile up layers of matted roots in order to protect the reeds of the island from burning.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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