Can you imagine yourself living in the home like the one presented in a photo below? This is the reality of indigenous people of Bolivia and Peru – the Uru society. Follow my travel story about Uros Floating Islands to find inspiration for your next journey. I took all the photos published in this article.
What are Uros Floating Islands?
Uros Floating Islands are unique for the one reason – they haven’t been created by nature. Yes, these islands are 100% hand-made by indigenous Bolivians and Peruvians called Uru. As you can notice on the photographs included in this article, the material used for building the islands is reed. More precisely, the islands are made of totora reed which is a plant that naturally grows in the area. Is totora reed a durable material? The answer is definitely not! Indigenous people work a lot to maintain the islands by, e.g. adding new layers of the ground. What is interesting, the local society did not completely reject technology or education. Some families own a solar panel which provides energy so TV or radio can work. The Uru even have their radio station. 🙂
My trip to Uros Floating Islands – how to get there?
I had the opportunity to visit this destination last April. As you probably know, seasons in Peru are reversed, so my trip took place in the middle of autumn. To reach Uros Floating Islands (there are around 80 of them), firstly, I travelled to Puno – a gateway to Lake Titicaca. Lake which is so immense that it reminds a sea. During April, it was sunny but quite cold regarding the temperature (the elevation of the islands is 12,500 ft. / 3,810 m). A relatively easy way to visit Uru people from Puno is by boat. It does not take long to reach the destination. If I remember correctly, we arrived at islands after 40 – 50 minutes.
I can summarise my adventurous trip to Uros Floating Islands with the three following adjectives.
My group consisted of around 15 people and a guide. The Uros experience lasted around 2 hours. During the whole trip on Lake Titicaca that lasted two days, I also visited Taquile and Amaranti islands. If you’re planning to reach Uru in the future, I recommend taking a joint trip like me.
The Uros islands made a huge impression on me. The surface of islands was pleasantly soft and stable so don’t worry, you will not get nausea there. The mentioned before solar panels were very interesting for me as for the first time in my life I saw indigenous people using alternative forms of energy so efficiently. Also, I was intrigued by the life of the inhabitants. On the one hand, their way of living is modest and with many sacrifices. On the other, the everyday reality seems to be away from the fast pace of life so typical of Western culture. I would say that their existence is utterly different from what we all know from our lives.
What is interesting, totora reed can be used not only to build the islands or boats. For the locals, it is also a form of a snack. 🙂 They call it “a local banana” and I have to admit that it is a quite unusual meal. As I visited the island last year, I don’t remember the taste of the reed well, so you will have to discover it on your own. Another attraction that I recommend is to take a ride on the totora reed boat (you will have to pay a couple of soles extra). As I talk about touristic attractions, the important question is whether tourism harms Uros Floating Islands?
Tourism on Uros Floating Islands – threat or opportunity?
Mass tourism is always a challenge regardless of whether we talk about cities, natural parks or other spots of interest. In the case of Uros Floating Islands, mass tourism is simply not acceptable. Imagine hundreds of people visiting these islands at once. The Uru people would not be able to maintain, e.g. the stability of the reed ground. Nevertheless, responsible tourism provides both, threats and opportunities for this destination.
Regarding threats, even a small number tourists who are regularly visiting islands may accelerate the pace of destruction of non-durable totora reed. For locals, it means that they have to work harder to maintain their homes safe. Also, another threat is that this kind of tourism is quite invasive in my opinion. What I mean, is that on islands my group visited local homes of inhabitants. I consider this like interfering someone’s private life.
On the other hand, tourism is a way of earning money for the locals. And steady income is desirable for them. Many Uru women specialise in handicrafts which they sell as souvenirs (their works are beautiful by the way). As a tourist, I did not feel there like an uninvited guest. I also consider that tourism is a way of spreading knowledge about the culture and habits of indigenous society. As long as the group of travellers is not huge, the degree of islands destruction is also possible to control. As I’ve mentioned before, my group consisted of just 15 people, and there were no other groups at the same time. If you want to leave a positive impact on the society, I suggest supporting locals by buying their handicrafts. Of course, there is no place for littering or destroying islands on purpose.
Have you already been to Uros Floating Islands? Is this destination on your bucket list? Let us know in the comments – we can’t wait for your travel stories!