A village made of reeds: visiting Peru’s Uros reed islands

Imagine rebuilding your entire home every few years. That’s the name of the game for the 2,000 people who live on the Uros reed islands, perched on top of glistening Lake Titicaca in Peru near the Bolivian border. Obviously this is a must-do for anyone heading to Peru—I mean, where else can you see entire islands built on REEDS?!

The Uros tribe has been living on the lake since, well, forever, and built their village by gathering the totora reeds that grow in the lake. After constructing a strong clay base made up of cubes of earth tethered together, they chop down large bushels of reeds, then layer them on top of each other. Of course the problem is that reeds disintegrate over time, so villagers need to keep adding more to stabilize the island, and frequently have to completely rebuild them. Despite that obvious inconvenience, they’ve found a way to morph their old ways with modern life, and use solar power for the lights in their reed houses and showers, and have installed eco-toilets that don’t need a plumbing system. Brilliant!

Uros Kahanti. homestay puno

Uros Khantati.

Where to stay

While there are boats that will shuttle people back and forth from Puno for quick tours of the islands, a much better option is to actually stay overnight. This is possible by booking a homestay, the most popular of which is offered at one called Uros Khantati. For more than a decade, Victor and Christina have been hosting visitors in their community, giving tourists a chance to see what daily life is like. It all started when their Dutch friends encouraged them to start renting out some of their huts, and soon Lonely Planet caught wind and published a spot about Khantati in one of their books. Lo and behold, it’s become a popular little place and recently won a national tourism award!

Our room on the reed islands. uros

Our room on the reed islands.

Christina is a giggly, lovely woman who can cook up a storm and thinks that pretty much everything around her is hilarious. Quiet, friendly Victor is the one who takes guests out fishing, and teaches them how the islands are built thanks to the little models they’ve constructed.

Viktor demonstrates how he fishes. uros

Victor demonstrates how he fishes.

Uros Khantati charges 170 soles per person per night, which includes transfers from Puno, three meals a day and all activities. Highly recommended!

What to do

Those who venture over to the islands for a day trip can expect to be taken by boat around the different islands—there are actually about 70 of them, which are home to nearly 400 families. If you’re lucky you’ll catch a glimpse of a ‘school bus’…aka a boat packed full of kids being dropped back off at home. Cute! Anyway, tour operators will also be sure to drop you off somewhere where they’ll try and guilt you in to buying souvenirs, which many tourists end up complaining about saying it takes away from the authenticity of the experience. Truth be told they also do this at homestays too, so be prepared.

If you’re lucky enough to get a room at Uros Khantati, you’re in for a treat when it comes to the activities department. Not only will you get a full explainer about how the islands actually work, but Victor will take you out fishing both in the morning and at night, when he puts out his nets. The real highlight though is what you WEAR during all this—full, traditional Peruvian outfits. Seriously, there’s no way to get out of it once Christina starts dressing you up like her little doll, so just go with it!

Dressing up with Christina.

Dressing up with Christina.

One of the greatest things about the whole experience is how darn relaxing it is out there. The islands are extremely quiet thanks to that whole no-traffic thing, and it’s not like there are TVs or internet so you’ll be forced to entertain yourself. Grab a good book, lay back in one of the hammocks, and take it all in. Forget the beach: now, you can brag about that one time you suntanned on an island made of reeds!

PRACTICALITIES:

Currency: Peruvian soles

How to get there: You will need to travel to the city of Puno in southeastern Peru, which is regularly serviced by buses throughout Peru as well as Copacabana in Bolivia. Alternatively, you can fly into Juliaca airport which is about a one hour drive away, and catch a shuttle bus to Puno or hire a taxi for about 90 soles.

Must do: It’s extremely important to pack warm clothes, as it gets downright freezing as soon as the sun sets! Thick blankets and a hot water bottle are provided to keep you toasty in bed, but wool socks and a toque might also help keep away the chill.

Who needs a school bus when you have a boat?

YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY:

How to get to Machu Picchu

How to get around in Lima, Peru

Why Cusco, Peru is worth more than a stopover visit

The oasis of Huacachina, Peru—and those crazy dune buggies!

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3 Responses

  1. December 2, 2014

    […] A village made of reeds: visiting the Uros reed islands […]

  2. January 9, 2015

    […] A village made of reeds: the Uros Reed Islands […]

  3. June 30, 2015

    […] A village made of reeds: the Uros Reed Islands […]

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