Peru is more than just Machu Picchu and the Incan sites. One of the most unique experiences I’ve ever had in this amazing country was exploring the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca, which is also located on the Bolivian border.
It is the highest navigable lake in the world and arguably the largest in South America. If you’re in Peru, be sure to visit for a rich cultural experience.
Here’s a detailed guide on planning a trip there.
REASONS TO VISIT
You may be wondering, what makes it so special or different from other attractions in Peru. Here’s what I’ve found from my trip:
As the foundation of pre-Hispanic cultures of the Andes (since the 9th century), Lake Titicaca has become home to indigenous people such as the Quechua and Aymara today.
What’s even more interesting is, the first Inca king and an ancient god Viracocha were said to be born at the lake. Hence, the Incas considered it to be birthplace of the Incas and birthplace of the sun.
You get to explore three different islands
If you’re doing a full homestay tour like I did, you’ll be taken to the Uros, Taquile and Amantaní islands.
One of the Uros floating islands
Each island has a different character and tribe.
For instance, the Uros floating islands are formed out of tortora reeds, and inhabited by the Uros Indians. While this seems strange to outsiders at first, it was for good reason. In case of an external threat, the inhabitants would be able to relocate anytime and construct another small island of their own easily.
Fun fact : To sustain the islands they have built, the Uros people have to use fresh reeds to replenish the islands at least once a week during the wet season, and once each month in the dry season.
The Taquile island is, however, known for textiles and it’s the men there who do most of the knitting work.
Incredible cultural experience
You get to live like a local on Amantaní Island, which is home to the Quechua.
Each group of visitors would be taken care of by a local family; their accommodation, breakfast, lunch and dinner would all be provided.
Everyone was also invited to participate in their traditional dance on that night! As part of the local traditions, we were dressed in traditional outfits.
At Lake Titicaca, you get to interact with and learn more from the locals than you normally would in the touristy spots in the rest of Peru. It was definitely an eye-opening experience.
Disconnection from social media
Internet connection and electricity is non-existent on the island, as the locals tend to lead a primitive life. But power is generated from sun panels.
While this may be an inconvenience to some people, I think it’s a great way of just being in the moment and truly experience all that this trip has to offer.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
While Lake Titicaca is accessible all year round, the best time to visit is anytime during the dry season – between February and September. There is generally a pretty slim chance of rain over this time period.
Every February, you also get to experience the Virgen de la Candelaria – an two week festival (featuring folklore music and performances) held in Puno, the closest access point to Lake Titicaca.
VISIT SOLO OR AS PART OF TOUR GROUPS
This is one of the questions that I get asked quite a lot, as getting to each island isn’t as accessible as the major sightseeing spots in Peru.
Let me start off with visiting as part of tours first.
Going With A Tour Group
If you want a peace of mind and everything to be pre-arranged for your convenience, booking a packaged tour is the better option. You can do so either online or in person in Cusco or Lima.
Whether it’s overnight accommodation or getting between each island, everything is included in the tour package.
Not only that, but one of the best parts of booking a packaged tour is meeting different people especially as a solo traveler.
Some people in my tour group (from Argentina and the U.S.) were traveling solo as well, so it was somehow easier to break the ice and know each other better. But we also met a couple of other travelers from Austria, Bolivia and Germany!
|NOTE : The locals could speak only their native language. If you have any personal or specific request, the tour guide would be the best person to let the host family know.|
There are also benefits to going alone, especially spending less than booking a tour in advance. For instance, the cost of a round trip ticket starts from about 30 Sol (approximately USD 9.50).
Also, you get to explore each island at your own pace, and discover hidden gems at each site that tour groups may miss out on.
The best DIY trips can usually be found in Puno. Just make sure that you get there at least a day before your trip, so that you’ll have ample time to look around for boat tour operator selling tickets for transportation to the islands.
In most cases, you get different options – whether it’s a full day tour or overnight stay at one of the islands (usually at Amantaní). In this case, you would need to arrange everything (such as scheduling and itinerary) by yourself.
|NOTE : All boats pass through Uros island first. It’s the first stop for everyone, but you can try to make arrangements with the boat operator on customizing the rest of your itinerary.|
WHERE TO BOOK YOUR TRIP
You can either do so directly from a tour operator located in Puno (for DIY trips) or online in advance as explained earlier. For the latter, I recommend these companies or platforms:
FindLocalTrips is an excellent place for finding tours in South America that cater to all types of budget and travel styles, especially for Lake Titicaca.
Depending on which tour you’re interested in, prices start from USD 10.
All Ways Travel
Whether you’re interested in half day tour or the full 2 day 1 night homestay experience, going with All Ways Travel would be a great choice.
It even offers transportation between Cusco and Puno as well.
Tours Lake Titicaca
Compared to the first two options, you may not find a wide range of tours available for Tours Lake Titicaca. However, it still offers some amazing day and overnight trips.
|NOTE : The boat ride from Puno to the lake usually starts in the early morning. So you should get to Puno at least the day before and stay there overnight if you’re traveling solo or your packaged tour doesn’t offer transportation from your location.|
HOW TO GET THERE
As mentioned earlier in this guide, Puno is the starting point for the tour due to its access to the islands. From there, you’ll take a boat to the islands.
That being said, here’s a couple of ways to get to Puno:
Book With Specific Bus Tour Services
One of the best companies is Peru Hop, which is essentially a hop-on-hop-off bus service. You’ll basically stop by some of the most beautiful places along the way to your final destination.
For instance, one of the passes they offer entails a trip from Lima to Lake Titicaca. Along the way, you’ll stop by incredible sites such as Paracas National Reserve and Colca Canyon (Arequipa), before arriving at Puno to take the boat to the lake.
This is perfect for those who’re a little more adventurous.
Another well-known bus tour service is Inka Express. Like Peru Hop, it offers stopovers at incredible sites (such as the Viracocha Temple) along the way from Cusco to Puno.
At the time of writing, a one way ticket costs around USD 50.
Going Through A Tour Operator
If you book your trip with one of the tour operators, they would most likely be able to arrange transportation from your location to Puno for a fee.
Get There By Yourself
Puno is accessible by bus and rail transport from Cusco and Lima. However, I would recommend traveling from Cusco, as it’s the closer access point.
Depending on your budget, getting to Puno by bus could be the cheapest option.
In fact, this is the most popular option and with good reason. Traveling along the route between Cusco and Puno is a pleasant one, with smooth roads and great views along the way. The entire one way journey lasts only less than four hours.
At the time of writing, you’re looking at around 85 Peruvian Sol (approximately USD 19) generally for each ticket per person. This is for regular buses especially Cruz del Sur.
|NOTE : Ticket prices on the weekend are generally higher (between USD 27 – 32). Book your ticket on a weekday instead if you’re on a budget.|
If you prefer a much more luxurious and comfortable means of getting to Puno and can spend more money, consider booking a rail ticket with Peru Rail.
Train services operate every day of the week except Tuesdays. However, the Cusco-Puno route operates only on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday whereas the Puno-Cusco route runs on Monday, Thursday and Saturday.
It takes 10.5 hours to get there from Cusco but you get spectacular views of the Andean mountains and countryside.
Prices for each one way ticket per person (including lunch, tea and onboard entertainment) are around 733.95 Sol (approximately USD 225).
Alternatively, you can fly from Lima or Arequipa to the airport in the city of Juliaca (Aeropuerto Manco Capac). It’s the airport closest to Puno, which doesn’t have one itself.
There are shuttle buses that run from the airport to Puno for about 15 Sol per person.
WHAT TO PACK
Depending on the length of time you will spend at Lake Titicaca, below are the items I recommend everyone to bring along:
1. Windbreaker jacket
3. A long-sleeve T-shirt (or more if you’re hiking, staying overnight or doing both)
4. Good pair of trainers or hiking boots
5. Scarf and beanie
8. At least one huge bottle of water (for drinking water, and rinsing your mouth after brushing your teeth)
9. Flashlight (there’s no electricity, remember?)
10. Hand sanitizer
11. Camera gear
12. Extra batteries for your camera (the view there is stunning!)
13. Power bank (for charging your phone and camera)
14. Extra cash