The Uros Islands, Peru

Water is in my veins. I literary grew up in the water – as a toddler we always had a blow-up pool in the backyard, as I grew older my parents bought me a slip ‘n’ slide, or two, and once we went through a few of those, placing the sprinkler under the trampoline on a hot summer’s day was better than heaven; I was forever doing squad swimming, both mornings and afternoons during my school days, I’d spend my entire summer holidays at the beach, or on my Dad’s boat… Even these days, when work and other commitments unfortunately take priority, I still make that bit of spare time to go for a jog along the beach, or around the bay, just to get a glimpse of the ocean, of the water. I’ve been very fortunate to have lived the majority of my life on Sydney’s northern beaches to be able to indulge in my love of water and the ocean. It must be in my blood. Both my parents come from the seaside towns on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. For generations we have lived by the sea, with the sea. So I always feel so refreshed and alive when being on the water. And this is exactly how I felt spending a beautiful sunny day floating on Lake Titicaca, on the Uros Islands, known as the floating islands, located on the Peruvian side of the lake, only a short boat’s trip from the town of Puno.

Just a little bit of information about the Uros Islands and the people who inhabit them:

The Uros Islands are inhabited by a race of people who pre-date the Inca civilisation. During their time, the Incas failed to take much notice of the ‘uncultured’ people of the floating islands, whom they believed to be simple and inferior, living on floating reed constructions, rather than in ‘grand cities’. Although the Uros people today have inter-married with local Aymara people, their civilisation and their customs still live on, outlasting that of the Incas. Although the Uros people do continue to live according to their traditional lifestyle, they have not completely rejected modern life – some people have motorised boats and solar panels to run electrical appliances, and most children attend school on one of the larger islands on the lake or in Puno.

There are approximately 40 floating islands that make up the Uros islands. These islands are constructed from totora, a native rush reed which grows on the banks of the lake. The dense roots of this reed create the foundation of the floating islands, which is about a metre in thickness. As the totora rots, more and more layers need to be added, meaning that the islands are in a constant state of repair and construction. Many of the islands change shape and size over time, accommodating the needs of the family which inhabits the island. The totora is also used in the construction of their houses and boats, and is also eaten and used for medicinal purposes by the native people.

It was quite a strange, yet relaxing sensation being on these islands. The ground constantly undulates with the flow of the tide and current, feeling almost as though you were on some enormous waterbed. I still remember the feeling – I could have laid in the sun for hours, breathing in the refreshing lake air and the smell of the totora reed. The people of the islands were happy to show us how they lived – it was rather amazing to think that these people actually lived on these islands – it all seemed a little surreal, as though I was in some sort of bizarre theme park. Although the Uros people do rely heavily on tourism today, I still felt that in visiting the Uros islands, I was gaining a true snapshot into the lives of this extraordinary civilisation.

A day trip to the Uros Islands is most definitely on the ‘gringo trail’ to do list. There are many boats leaving Puno at numerous times of the day at you can complete the round trip within about 3 hours. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time, but some trips offer an overnight stay on the islands with one of the local families, as well as visiting some of the other nearby islands on the lake, which I’m sure would be well worthwhile.

Words & Photography by Jade Spadina