Machu Picchu Travel

Uros Floating Islands

Uros Floating Islands

Lake Titicaca holds many secrets and one that had been nearly unknown to many through history is the existence of a man made island group hidden right at the heart of the World’s Highest Navigable Lake

The Uros floating islands are the main attraction in the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca, where over 1,800 indigenous people made a home entirely of ‘totora reed’ an aquatic plant that grows on the lake.

These artificial islands hold a great cultural expression since their inhabitants come from a 3,000 year-old history, making it one of the most important civilizations in South America. The Uros people are responsible for this engineering masterpiece and here we’ll tell you all about it.

While organizing a trip to Peru with the most authentic attractions, the floating islands of Uros should definitely be on your bucket list. As soon as you get on the boat, you’ll be amazed by the natural beauty of the place to later be spellbound by the cultural expression of this place.

History of the Uros People

The origin of the inhabitants of these famous floating islands date back to thousands of years ago, long before the Incas. However, there’s no exact documentation that hints at the nature of this civilization though it is believed that they are descendants of the first cultures of the Andean highlands.

The Uros people used to live at the banks of Lake Titicaca and later migrated to these man made floating islands due to the ‘political’ uncertainty of that time, hundreds of years ago. Since then, they have lived in these marvellous totora rafts, trying to avoid any contact with enemies.

The Uros spoke a different language, now lost due to the integration of the Aymara and Inca cultures. Nowadays, some of them speak Aymara and others Quechua. During pre-Columbian times, they used to live off totora reed collection for the maintenance of the islands, fishing and bird hunting.

Currently, there are about 100 totora reed islands on Lake Titicaca and about 1,800 people live in them. The Uros Islands hold a rich cultural environment where most of their traditions have been preserved for hundreds of years.

The Floating Islands Over Time

It is estimated that the Uros inhabited these lands about 3,700 years ago and, as we mentioned earlier, they built a mobile floating city to evade their enemies. However, the Incas later found out about this long-kept secret in Lake Titicaca and forced many into slavery as the Spaniards eventually did.

As you already know, these artificial islands are located on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca, a few miles away from the city of Puno. However, the floating utopy was initially located near the center of the lake but due to a devastating storm in 1986, they had to move closer to shore.

Totora reed is an endemic plant of the lake used for many purposes. Besides being the principal element for the construction of the islands, the Uros managed to implement this natural material to build their houses and boats.

Although the islanders used to live a simpler life based on the natural resources of the lake and its surroundings, nowadays they have adapted into a more modern lifestyle though maintaining their traditions deeply rooted to their generations.

The Floating Islands of Uros are now an important tourist attraction, an initiative that started in the beginning of the XXI century. Currently, the Uros people’s main income is through tourism, a movement that also improved their sanitary facilities and allowed them to embrace modern technology.

How do they build the Uros Floating Islands?

For a fact, these totora reed islands are certainly an engineering masterpiece, especially considering how long ago the originals were constructed. About seven families live in these man made islands, and each of them are in charge of the construction and maintenance of them.

To make an island, they create a base layer out of totora roots, which grow abundant across the lake. The Uros people are in charge of collecting the plant to later tie them up and stacke many layers of totora on top of the totora root base.

These floating islands are then anchored in one place with ropes and eucalyptus stakes into the bottom of the lake. The base is about two meters thick, which is why it takes a lot of effort and time to build up. 

However, these islands have to be maintained weekly or monthly depending on the seasons as the reeds start to rot away and eventually disintegrate. Each island can last up to 30 years with constant maintenance, adding new layers of totora reed once a week during the rainy season and once a month during the dry season.

Visiting the Floating Islands of Uros

For those asking themselves how to visit the floating islands of Uros, there are different ways to do so. Depending on the type of experience you’d like to have or your time disposition, you can visit this man made attraction with these options:

1. Lake Titicaca Half-Day Tour
In case you’re limited on time but still want to see the best of Lake Titicaca during your short stay, here’s an option that can help you with that. 

The Lake Titicaca Half-Day Tour will take you through the vast deep-blue waters of the world’s highest navigable lake, allowing you to explore the Uros islands and Taquile.

The experience can be arranged for a morning or afternoon schedule, giving you time to explore the city and two of the main attractions in the lake in one day. 

2. Lake Titicaca Full-Day Tour
For those with a bit more time in Puno, here’s a boat tour that will take you through the cultural expression of Lake Titicaca in one day.

The full-day tour to Lake Titicaca will allow you to get immersed in this natural wonder and its attractions without missing any detail at all. On this occasion, you’ll be able to get to know the renowned artisan expression of Taquile Island, the impressive Uros islands and one of the largest islands on the lake, Amantani.

3. Lake Titicaca Homestay
There’s a more intimate experience that takes you on a full immersion in the cultural heritage of the lake. On this occasion you can stay in one of the islands and learn about their daily lives.

In the Lake Titicaca Homestay experience, you’ll get to explore Amantani, Taquile and the Uros islands. You’ll be able to know about the traditions and customs of the place, as well as taking part in the routinary activities such as fishing, collecting totora reed and much more.

Would you like to experience the Uros floating islands? Contact our travel specialists and make your way through the vast lake titicaca like a local expert.

Viagens Machu Picchu cares to provide everything you need to have a great experience across Peru. If you’re eager to know more about what to do in the ancient country of the Incas, check our travel packages and start planning the trip of your life.