When people think of Peru, I imagine what comes to mind is either Machu Picchu or llamas. And those are very accurate assessments as far as I’m concerned. There are indeed a surprising number of llamas and Machu Picchu is arguably the most historically significant landmark in the country.
But what ended up being my favorite trip during my time in Peru, was Lake Titicaca.
That may have come from having no preconceived ideas or expectations, but I also believe that Lake Titicaca is a grossly under appreciated tourist destination in Peru.
Our journey started off with a rather long bus ride from Cusco. After about 8 hours of winding roads and cramped seats, I don’t recall any of us feeling that great.
But we got into Puno eventually, ate some pizza at a local joint, and spent the night in a hotel that ran out of water after about 3 hours of us being there. Thankfully I had my shower before that happened.
The next morning we made our way down to the docks. I have a really pleasant memory of being turned loose by our teachers to find breakfast and wandering through the port area looking for snacks and goodies to take on our boat ride. The morning air was chilly and the light was still soft and warm.
We then got on a roughly one hour-long boat ride towards the floating islands we were meant to visit that day. There was lots of seating inside the boat but a brave few of us sat on the top, despite the frigid air, and ended up being treated to one of the most magical scenes I’ve ever experienced.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m from Florida, and so I’ve been around water and boats my whole life. But this was so different. It was so cold, and the water was so still that it felt incredibly surreal.
After a gorgeous boat ride we arrived at the floating islands of Uros.
There are many of these little islands but our school arranged for us to visit one that gave demonstrations of how people would have lived on them many years ago, and how some people still do now.
The demonstrations and information was all very interesting but a group of us quickly became completely enraptured with one of the little boys who was living there.
He was much more inserted in the little candies than he was with us.
But when we left, he watched us leave. He stood at the edge and stared for a while as the wake from the boat gently pushed against the edge of reeds.
This is my favorite photo that I have ever taken in my whole life. It captures so much of what Peru is. Peru has so much tradition, so much life and energy, but also so much poverty. Peru wears a brightly patterned hat, with sweat pants, and dirt caked underneath its fingernails.
This moment has stayed with me. And I hope that it always does.
We then made our way to the island where we would be staying the night. An island called Amantaní.
The docks that greeted us were lovely.
When we walked up to the village we were greeted with necklaces of flowers and the preparations were underway to cook peruvian potatoes in a traditional earth over.
While they worked on the oven we were taken to the homes we would be staying in. As per usual with traditional Peruvian structures, the door was too short for me. But the view was incredible and we were greeted by the friendliest cat in the world. I’m not kidding, this is a picture of him hugging me.
And this was the extent of our running water.
We made our way back to where they were cooking the potatoes and hung out there for a while until dinner.
Once dinner was ready we sat down to a table literally covered in tiny potatoes and hands reaching every which way to grab them. They were just small potatoes in different shapes and colors, and I don’t think they were seasoned or flavored with anything, but holy cow. They were some of the best things I’ve ever eaten.
After dinner we were given the option of making a hike up to the top of the mountain for sunset. I initially decided not to go, but was later talked into it somehow. And I will forever be grateful that I did.
To read the full story of that hike and see all the pictures, click here.
The hike was difficult, thanks mostly to the cold weather and strong wind, but once we got to the top it was stunning.
The next morning we were off again. The pale calmness of the day before had been replaced by deep blue choppy waters.
We headed to another island for a hike.
Along the way we stopped at an area where some women were selling hand crafts and the men were showing a traditional dance.
We slowly made our way up and up the mountain, the view getting even more incredible as we went.
And this guy, very majestically, watched over the whole thing.
The food was delicious and as we made our way back down the mountain we were told that now was the time if anyone wanted to try swimming in the freezing water.
So when we got back down to where our boat was, some people started changing into swim suits and everyone else sat back and called them crazy. The average water temperature is about 50 F (10 C) and really no one swims in it for fun. At all.
I deliberated for a while before I finally decided that the bragging rights of being able to say that’d swam in Lake Titicaca were worth it.
So I climbed up to the front of the boat and jumped.
That reaction should tell you everything. It was so cold that it hit you like a wall. My entire body was shocked, my muscles tensed up, and I hardly remember anything except flailing my way back to the dock.
But it was so worth it.
Afterward, all of us who had jumped sat on top of the boat and tried to warm up in the sun and dry off before putting our clothes back on. The weather still wasn’t exactly warm, at all, but the sun was so intense that it quickly dried all the cold water off of us.
So we sat in the sun on a boat in the highest navigable lake in the world and soaked up every last moment as we made our way back to Puno to head home.
Once we got back to Puno we got back onto small busses and prepared for the long ride back to Cusco. But this time the drive wasn’t so bad. I remember sitting in the back with some of the other girls from the trip asking each other deep questions and talking about the boys who studied with us.
I am so thankful to have been able to experience this incredible place. Lake Titicaca and the many islands littered through it are unique in the world. I don’t know of any other place like it.
So, as always, if you get the chance please consider coming to Lake Titicaca. I promise it won’t disappoint.
Thanks for reading!