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.