We arrived at the Peruvian border only a few minutes after leaving Copacabana in Bolivia. We couldn’t believe it. Country 7 in South America already. We were instructed to jump off the bus head into the passport office. Let’s just say we were in and out within a few minutes and stamped with 90 days. Easy peasy. We then changed some money in exchange for some Peruvian soles and we walked into Peru. Yep. We walked into Peru and got ready to jump on the bus on the other side. Such a cool experience.
We were met by this rather impressive sign too:
A rather big welcome to Peru in your face.
So off we went and about 4 hours later we arrived in Puno, Peru. We had been pretty unimpressed looking out of the window on the way in and we were even more unimpressed when we jumped off the bus and were welcomed with a bus station that stunk of piss.
We found our way to our budget hotel which we cannot remember the name of we were met by bright green walls and a bed covered in about 3 duvets. It was really cold here too. Puno was honestly really underwhelming and quite depressing on arrival and it wasn’t remotely beautiful. Tonnes of grey buildings lined the grey lake. Maybe we did have a good deal over in Bolivia after all! That afternoon we headed out and found a cafe. We sat down and waited over 20 minutes and not one person would serve us. They completely ignored us and served the locals instead. We went to the take away area and tried to order a cake and coffee to which I was met with a laugh in the face and a roll of the eyes. We skipped dinner that night.
We were due to stay here for two nights so quickly booked a tour to the famous floating Uros islands online for the following day which cost us £12 each. The tour would pick us up from the hotel and include the boat and entrance to the islands etc…
We woke early in the cold room and waited to be collected for the tour at 10am. The bus arrived and we headed with two others towards the harbour. The harbour was even worse than the rest of the city and just so dreary. We found our boat and jumped on. It was a really decent boat with a funny English speaking guide so it wasn’t all bad.
For those that don’t know, the Uros floating islands occupy a corner on Lake Titicaca. It an extremely unique way of living and definitely a one time thing to see something them. The people of Uros are believed to be descended from the earliest inhabitants of Lake Titicaca. They’ve preserved this floating lifestyle for many hundreds of years. Harvested from beds that grow on the lake, the Totora reed forms homes, boats, and the very islands themselves. Typically the Uros live by fishing, bird hunting, and gathering bird eggs from the reed beds.
However these days, the Uros survive if not THRIVE on tourism. This has brought many modern conveniences to the islands, including toilets and solar panels. Truthfully the people of the Uros choose now to live on islands as they have sustained an income through tourism when they don’t necessarily need to. Many people argue that this makes the island seem somewhat ‘fake’ and forced.
When we first arrived into the islands we were really quite surprised how huge they were. There’s hundreds of them. It was honestly very surreal and the colours of the ornate boats just struck us so much. We headed to what would be our Island for the morning, we later learned that each tour company has three or four islands each and they rotate going to visit them during the week which seemed quite fair to me. We pulled up to the islands and were met by lots of ladies in traditional clothing helping us out of the boat and somewhat unconvincing smiles on their faces. The island was soft to walk on and the the actual huts and look out tower were so impressive. We were ordered to sit on the reeds which didn’t smell very pleasant and our tour guide whipped out a massive poster with lots of info on it, it was all pretty cringe. The so called ‘president’ of the island looks pretty unimpressed and gave us a long demonstration of how they build etc. He obviously DID want to show us but this was his job now: basically being a puppet for the tourists. The women sat outside their huts and bought out a ton of bits and bobs to sell. Then we were awkwardly sent to a hut where the woman was tying to sell a photo of us in traditional dress or to have a photo inside her house. We did go in and I was fascinated whether they actually lived in there, it was SO small, but I got freaked out in case they want d to charge me. We were then pretty much forced to buy things outside. They were asking unbelievable prices for things. The ladies then sung us a song looking slightly embarrassed and we all clapped along. The women were wearing amazing outfits though I must add and were friendly. Even more friendly when someone bought something though… shock…
We were then sold a boat ride on the giant reed canoe which was super cool and had cats heads on the top. We had to pay an extra charge for. Everyone agreed but it was quite weird when the guy pretended to paddle along even-though the boat had a motor on it.
We were then taken to the communal area which had shops and restaurants, truly the structures were really interesting to see but it was all just about buying stuff and they all looked so annoyed when we didn’t buy anything.
Before we knew it we were being whizzed back to mainland on the speedboat through the reeds. The most authentic thing we saw all day was probably the guys chopping down the reeds on the way back ready to repair their islands. All in all it was actually visually amazing and people really did and still do live there following that lifestyle. But it was all pretty awkward and just it sort of just exists now to try and make as much money as possible out of gringos and definitely not to share much with us about their lifestyle past or present.
I’ll let my photos do some of the talking so you can make your own decision:
The entrance was so cool.
Getting sucked into to buying stuff
Houses with solar panels
Such striking place for photos
Local ladies – if anything I would have liked to buy one of their jackets!
Riding on the boat. Was pretty beautiful no matter what
Entrance to the island
Most of the time was spent just looking at things to buy really…
The boats had all different animals and styles on. Like nothing I’ve ever seen before.
We quickly decided after getting back to the town that we should probably venture to our next stop in Peru and look for the next leg of journey. Puno was clearly a struggling town that was going through quite alot. The people were very unfriendly and to be honest they came across as quite hostile too. We didn’t regret our stop here at all and the islands were something so unique to add to our trip.
We settled on Arequipa as our next destination.