Lake Titicaca is an experience not to be missed while traveling in Peru. Sitting high in the altiplano joining Peru and Bolivia, it is the legendary birthplace of the Incan empire, and its beauty does not disappoint. While the most convenient place to take in all that Lake Titicaca has to offer is the city of Puno, the real magic is to be had taking a boat trip out to the islands of the lake.

At the end of the dock in Puno one can find the offices of a few different boat transport companies that offer various deals on getting to the islands. While it is possible to take a day trip to island hop, to really get a feel for the different cultures of the islands it is better to take a two day trip and spend the night with a host family on one of the islands.

The most frequently visited and convenient of the islands are the floating of islands of Uros, only a half-hour boat ride away from Puno, and famous for the fact that they are built entirely on and with the totora reed that grows in the lake. The islands are populated by the Uros people who live in houses made of totora and travel by canoes made of totora. While it is worth the quick trip to feel how your feet squish as you walk, the section of the islands that tourists can visit has a bit of a Disney feel, allowing one only to access sections of the island that are filled with tourist shops. This however allows the Uros people to continue on with their lives without having tourism completely wipe out their traditions.

A three hour boat ride away lies the island of Amantaní, on which the Quechua people live. The island receives only a few tourists every day, and host families are available to receive guests who would like to spend the night. Like most others, is very dry and sculpted by stone terraces that serve simultaneously as walls and walkways that crisscross and wind along the island. Most houses are made of adobe and do not rely on electricity. The lack of cars and electric buzz is a refreshing welcome that is joined by incredible views of the turquoise Lake Titicaca. The island is formed by two hills, Pacha Mama and Pacha Tata, both with ceremonial sites on top. While tourists can hike to the sites, people are only allowed inside the temples once a year, during the traditional festival in which the island’s population splits in two, each half migrating to their corresponding hilltop.

A 45 minute boat ride away is the island of Taquile, populated by the Aymara people. This island receives more tourists and has some restaurants, shops, and a few hostals. A nice activity is to walk from the dock uphill to the center of town (a 45 minute walk) where there is a plaza and a weaving cooperative as well as some restaurants, then walk down the 500 steps to the dock on the other side of the island. The views are astounding and it is interesting to observe the different customs of the Aymara inhabitants.

Visiting the islands of Lake Titicaca is an unforgettable experience. If you have already gotten to Peru, go the extra mile (or few) to take in the astounding beauty of Lake Titicaca’s shining waters and the unique age-old traditions of its people.