Peru & Bolivia

Summer 2006

Part 3: Lake Titicaca (Peru)

<< Part 2: MP and the Sacred Valley    -   Back to Index   -    Part 4: Into Bolivia >>

August 1st (day 7): Puno

Cuzco to Juliaca

In the morning I took a bus from Cuzco to Puno. The ride took seven hours but since the 8 other tourists on the bus were all Flemish or Dutch, there was a lot of talking and time went fast. The landscape was gorgeous most of the time and we crossed a pass at 4335m, so this trip was also good for acclimatization.
This was taken at the 4335m pass

The bus first stopped in Juliaca, the capital of the region at some 30km from Puno and the lake. This place looked rather miserable with most streets being unpaved and all buildings having exteriors of raw bricks. There were lots of colourful rikshaws driving around though.
Rikshaws in Juliaca

Lake Titicaca and Puno (3820m)

Lake Titicaca lies on the border between Peru and Bolivia and is the largest lake in South America, measuring 170 by 60 kilometers - roughly 1/3 the size of Belgium. More remarkable though is its altitude of 3820m, which makes it easily the highest navigable lake in the world. Some old guy in Lima told me this Peruvian joke: Lake Titicaca belongs to both Peru and Bolivia, and therefore they each got their fair share: Titi for Peru, and Caca for Bolivia :)

Puno is the main city and harbour on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca. There's nothing of interest to see in town, but being built on hills overlooking the lake does give Puno some charm.
Lake Titicaca. Actually Puno lies by an enclosed bay of the lake, that`s why you see land on the horizon.

August 2nd (day 8): Uros Islands and Sillustani

I'd initially wanted to spend two days on the lake, staying the night on the island Taquile, but when I heard it takes 5 hours by boat to get there, leaving little time to explore the island, I decided to skip it. Instead I made two half-day trips and then headed straight for the Bolivian border.

The floating islands of the Uros people

Centuries ago, the small tribe of the Uros people started living on floating islands on the lake to isolate themselves from the much bigger and warlike Inca and Colla tribes, and their descendants continue this unique lifestyle to this day. Their islands are made of tightly bundled reed. At the bottom of the islands this reed rots away in the water, so it has to be continuously replenished at the top with new reed. The islanders live in huts which are also made of reed, and they move between the islands on boats which are made of... you guessed it.

I took a boat from Puno in the morning. Most of the Islas Flotantes are quite near the coast from Puno and our tour of three islands only took two hours. That was long enough though since the islands are all alike.
Leaving Puno
Las Islas Flotantes
I love this pic. On all the islands locals were selling souvenirs - in fact it seemed tourism is their only economic activity nowadays.
And this one.
That building on the left was a post office or a school, not sure. On the right are the tourist boats.
Two local girls on their own little boat
Tourists in a reed boat
A local in his boat

Walking on the floating islands was a funny sensation, because the reed is clearly not solid ground but feels rather mushy. These particular islands near Puno were entirely geared towards tourists, with most of the locals selling souvenirs, but I've read that further away there are other floating islands where the inhabitants still live the traditional way - good for them.
I happened to spot this sight from one of the viewpoints. I`m afraid this is where the locals <i>really</i> live.

Sillustani (3930m)

The Colla tribe mentioned above once dominated the Titicaca region but were later assimilated by the Inca tribe. Their language, Aymara, is still one of the most widely spoken indigenous language in Peru and Bolivia though, along with Quechua (the Inca language).

The Collas used to bury their noblemen in funerary towers called chullpas that can still be seen scattered around the hills of the region. Their masonry was of a quality similar to that of the Incas, but while the Incas used blocks of any shape, the Collas used only rectangular blocks.

The most impressive chullpas are in Sillustani, a peninsula in lake Umayo, some 25km from Puno. I'd seen some pictures of these towers and wasn't interested enough to want to go there, but since I had an afternoon to fill now I decided to go to Sillustani anyway and what do you know: I absolutely loved the place. Not because of the towers though, but because of the fantastic landscape.

I had to go there on a guided tour because that was the only way to get there. I listened to the guide for a whole two minutes before I lost my patience and just asked him when the bus would leave. I had 2 hours so I decided to rush all around the peninsula. On the far side, where the group didn't even go, I was delighted to find this fantastic panorama:

That flat-topped island was a real beauty, as was the whole landscape both on and around the peninsula. I especially loved the somewhat barren colours. Few landscapes come in colours more beautiful than those of Sillustani.
This is the tallest surviving chullpa at 12m high
Tower stumps on a corner of the peninsula
The flat-topped island in lake Umayo
The coastline of the lake
The island from a different angle
Cattle on the shore
A collapsed bridge near the entrance to the peninsula

While the towers themselves aren't very impressive, they do add character to the landscape without drawing attention away from it.
An intact chullpa base
The inside of the tallest chullpa
I`m guessing these towers date from a later and less sophisticated age
Two local women with an alpaca
Staring at the sun

Desaguadero (3827m)

Normally I would have just stayed in Puno that night and taken a bus to La Paz the next day, but instead I got a turbo-traveling idea: I'd head to the border town Desaguadero that same evening, stay the night there, and then use the time saved the next day to visit Tiwanaku.

It all worked out, but it wasn't fun. While my bus was supposed to drop me off in Desaguadero at 22h "a la mas ultima", it only got there at 23h30 and I found myself in a seemingly dead city with no street lights and no map. There was a rikshaw driver though, a nice guy who drove me around the dark city to look for a hotel. The first one didn't open its door but the second had a room left.

The hotel was cold and miserable. I've seen many wonderful and amazing things during my travels, but this was the first time I saw a toilet with a big open window right next to its door.
In case you don`t believe me

While I was in another toilet the electricity died and it wouldn't come back again that night. Fortunately when traveling I carry my small backpack with me always and everywhere - to dinner, to mountain tops, and even to the toilet - so as to protect my valuables, and luckily I keep a flashlight in it, or I would never have found my room again in that big hotel, it was pitch black and noone else was awake.

So I just got into my sleeping bag, watched an episode of Futurama on my media player, and called it a day. Things are never totally bad when you're well equipped :) The next morning I entered Bolivia where I'd spend a fantastic two weeks.

<< Part 2: MP and the Sacred Valley    -   Back to Index   -    Part 4: Into Bolivia >>

Cy Mon 12 Feb 2007 @ 15:58
I enjoyed your photos, especially of Arbor de Piedra! How fragile it looks. Thanks for your tips on traveling to Machu Pichu on

Daria Thu 07 Dec 2006 @ 00:20
Ammmazing photos and exciting views!!! :)
I can't find the right words!

I bet in real life these views were much more breathtaking :) At some point I envy you - you had a chance to see all this beauty by your own eyes!
But the same time thank you very much for sharing this beauty with us :) This way it is also very nice ;)

Looking forward to seeing new pics and reading new reports ;)

Godsmurf Thu 30 Nov 2006 @ 00:11
It'll be 90% nature pics in the rest of the report. You ain't seen nothing yet :)

Well apart from some really wild desert llamas I saw penguins, condors, flamingos, pelicans, other birds, and sealions!

Fia Wed 29 Nov 2006 @ 15:07
Excellent pictures! Very beautiful sceneries! As usual I prefer mountain pics before buildings. ;-) I especially like the green colours of the mountains and the blue colours of the lakes that you visited.

By the way, you didn't happen to see any wildlife? Apart from that creepy millipede I mean. (And lamas don't count as wild.) :-)


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