5 Best Sights in Lake Titicaca, The Southern Andes and Lake Titicaca

Amantani Island

Fodor's choice

This island has a small set of pre-Inca ruins that are a highlight of a visit here, along with the experience of the traditional life of its mainly agrarian society. Not as pretty as Taquile, Amantani is dusty and brown, though the island is renowned for its homestay programs that bring in boatloads of visitors each day, giving some, albeit touristic, insight into the life of the people here. Facilities and food are basic but cozy. Every tour operator in Puno runs overnight trips here, usually combined with a stop on the Uros Islands and Taquile. Most of the younger generations here speak Spanish and even a smidgen of English, but the older generation speaks only Aymara. Amantani has a population of about 4,500. Sacred fertility rituals are held in its two pre-Inca temples, one of which is dedicated to masculine energy and the other to the feminine. The island is 45 km (28 miles) from Puno and almost three hours away by boat from Taquile.

Islas Los Uros

Fodor's choice

Known as the floating islands, Islas los Uros are man-made islands woven together with totora reeds that grow in the lake shallows. Replenished often with layers because the underbelly reeds rot, these tiny islands resemble floating bails of hay and average 3 meters (10 feet) thick. They were originally created so communities could escape from attacks from stronger, more aggressive neighbors. Today they stay in one place. While some travelers marvel at these 40-plus islands, some call them floating souvenir stands. Yes, locals sell trinkets, but visiting the floating islands is a glimpse into one of the region's oldest cultures, the Uros. Now mixed with Aymara culture, it's a form of human habitation that evolved over centuries. The closest group of "floating museums" is 7 km (4.35 miles) from Puno.

The islanders make their living by fishing, hunting, cutting reeds, collecting eggs, trapping birds, and selling visitors well-made miniature reed boats and other handicrafts. Virtually every operator offers a stop to the more touristed of these islands as part of their standard lake tour but you can also find trips (or ask your tour operator specifically) to islands less visited where you can get a more intimate look at the culture.

Taquile Island

Fodor's choice

East of Puno in the high-altitude sunshine, Taquile's brown, dusty landscape contrasts with green terraces, bright flowers, and the surrounding blue waters. Snowcapped Bolivian mountains loom in the distance.

Taquile folk, both men and women, are known for weaving some of Peru's loveliest textiles, a UNESCO Intangible Heritage. Islanders still wear traditional dress and have successfully maintained the cooperative lifestyle of their ancestors. The most important piece in Taquile's obligatory knitted "uniform" is the chullo. This large, floppy hat is worn high on the head and indicates a man's social status: if it's red-and-white, he is single; if it's red/pink, he's married. Here, weaving is also often the basis of social relations. For example, if a man wants to marry, he most show that he can make his own chullo.

Taquile's steep hill has long, curvy trails leading to the main square, where islanders often perform local dances for tourists. There are many ways to reach the top of Taquile, where there are Inca and Tiahuanaco ruins. The most popular way is to climb the 533 stone steps, though if you want to avoid an arduous walk, some tours will take you to the other side, thus avoiding the steps. The island is 35 km (22 miles) from Puno, and the trip takes about four hours in a slow boat and two hours on a speedboat each way with no transportation on land once you arrive. There are a few shops and small restaurants, as well as an excellent textile store. Overnight stays are primarily based in local homes, and most tours include lunch with a local family. Note that the annual Taquile festival the third week of July is a great time to visit.

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Anapia and Yuspique Island

In the Winaymarka section of Lake Titicaca, near the Bolivian border, are the Aymara-language islands of Anapia and Yuspique. This off-the-beaten-path two-day trip can be done with a tour operator or on your own but due to logistics, using an operator is probably best. There are 280 families living on the islands, very few of whom speak English or even Spanish.

The trip usually begins in Puno, where you board a bus for two hours to the village of Yunguyo near Punta Hermosa, where you catch a 1½-hour sailboat ride to the flat but fertile Anapia. On arrival hosts will meet visitors and guide them back to their family's home for an overnight stay. The day is then spent farming, tending to the animals, or playing with the children, and also includes a hiking trip to nearby Yuspique Island, where the women cook lunch on the beach. Typically, fresh fish is served with huatia (potatoes cooked in a natural clay oven and buried in hot soil with lots of herbs). Yuspique is not very populated, but is home to more than 100 wild vincuñas.

After returning to Anapia you'll follow an evening's activities of traditional family life, such as music or dance. All Ways Travel runs tours, with the proceeds going to the families. You can do this trip on your own for about S/300 by following the itinerary and taking a water colectivo from Punta Hermosa to Anapia. Public transportation to the islands only runs on Thursday and Sunday.

Llachon Peninsula

One of the peninsulas that form the bay of Puno, Llachon juts out on the lake near Amantani and Taquile. The land is dry and barren with rows of pre-Inca terraces, and original ancient paths and trails, which are great for exploring. Locals are more than willing to guide visitors on a light trek to Cerro Auki Carus. Here a circular temple remains the sacred place for villagers to honor the Pachamama (Mother Earth). As the highest point on the peninsula, Cerro Auki Carus serves as an excellent viewpoint to admire the splendor of Lake Titicaca. You can venture out yourself from the port in Puno via water colectivo and then arrange a homestay once in Llachon, or for slightly more money, you can have a tour operator arrange the accommodations for you. By land back from Puno it's about two to three hours. Llachon is also a great place to kayak. Cusco-based Explorandes as well as Edgar Adventures offer kayak excursions around here.