Updated on December 18th, 2020
As the largest lake in South America, Lake Titicaca is an essential addition to any Peru itinerary. Each island has its own personality & traditions, making it the perfect way to explore the culture of this fascinating country. To enhance this experience, I recommend staying overnight with a local family. Here is my guide on all you need to know about a homestay, Lake Titicaca style!”
Lake Titicaca, Peru
As part of a 3-week exploration of the wonders of Peru back in 2017, I made sure I had Lake Titicaca included on my itinerary. I was on the Absolute Peru tour with G Adventures which featured a unique opportunity to stay with a family on one of the islands. I was sceptical over how authentic the experience would be, a little nervous about the facilities we might have but also intrigued & excited over the prospect of this amazing privilege.
As a result, I am sharing my experience with you. If you go to Peru, you cannot miss the chance for a homestay, Lake Titicaca style. Through telling the story of my visit I hope to encourage you to do the same!
For all the information you need for your perfect Peru Itinerary, check out 3 Weeks to Discover the Wonders of Peru
Lake Titicaca lies on the border between Peru & Bolivia. It is the largest lake in South America & the highest navigable body of water in the world.
Inca legend has it that this lake is the birthplace of the sun. Where the earth, & life itself began. As a result, they call the lake “Cradle of the World”. Surely somewhere this mythical should be on everyone’s bucket list?”
Peru itself is a melting pot of different cultures & nowhere is this more evident than on the islands of Lake Titicaca. Despite the short distances between islands, the residents have distinct cultural differences. The most accessible islands from Puno & therefore most regularly visited, are the infamous Uros Floating Reed Islands, Taquile & Amantaní Islands. You can organise a Lake Titicaca homestay on any of these. As part of my tour, we stayed on Amantaní.
An Amazing 2 Day Homestay in Lake Titicaca – Why it Needs to be on Your Peru Itinerary
Top Tips for booking a Lake Titicaca homestay tour
If you find the prospect of spending a night with a local family tempting, then look no further. If you are travelling independently, it’s easy to pick up a one- or 2-day Lake Titicaca tour of the islands from Puno. There will be lots to choose from, for a full range of prices.
Most importantly, go with an operator who maximises the money given to the host family. This will not always mean the priciest option. Ask before you book to make sure that they rotate islands & hosts. This way your visit will benefit the whole community. If possible, see if you can pay the family directly.
Some organisations may give your hosts just what it costs to feed you for the night. This is not acceptable & going for the cheapest tour will not help the communities to thrive. Ask questions to make sure you feel comfortable with the tour you choose. The local people use the money from tourism to support themselves & it allows them to maintain their traditional lifestyles. They receive payment for your stay, but also through selling their handicrafts.
If you don’t want to do a tour at all, you can still get ferries to the islands but will need to have plenty of time on your hands. There is an admission charge for each island (less than 10 Peruvian Sol). There are details below on what to take, rules to follow & some tips on the local languages.
The starting point for any Lake Titicaca tour in Peru will generally be Puno. We started our day with a journey on ‘Peruvian limousines’. Our guide had introduced this with a glint in his eye. I was intrigued.
On leaving the hotel, we were greeted with a line of rickshaws, ready & waiting to whisk us off for our adventure. Racing through the streets of Puno was the perfect way to start our journey!”
Once we arrived at the dock, there were a few shops to buy some last-minute supplies. It is essential you take a gift for your host family, such as foods they cannot grow themselves. Here is the place to buy them – see below for details.
Uros Floating Islands
Our first stop was one of the famous Uros Floating Reed Islands, 7km east of Puno. For centuries the Uros community have lived on the totora reeds, plentiful in the shallows of the lake. They speak Aymara & originally chose to live on the lake to escape the aggressive Incas. The islands are built from the reeds, as are their homes & boats. The totora also provide sustenance when eaten. You can peel them like a banana & apparently it tastes similar to heart of palm. Our guide advised us not to sample them as they can play havoc with your system. You have been warned!
There are a number of islands closest to Puno which reminded me of a little of a Peruvian Disneyland. The residents seemed desperately vying for attention from passing tourist boats. We were lucky & ventured a little further out to one which stood alone.”
The base of the island is anchored with rope & once complete, they have a lifespan of 20 years. The totora reeds are constantly replenished from above & laid in a criss-cross fashion to form the islands. Three families lived on ours, along with their pet cat. Yes, I said cat! They also had power generated through solar panels. For 10 Peruvian Sol we were also able to have a short ride on one of the reed boats. The visit was concluded with the opportunity to buy some of their handicrafts.
The next stop on our Lake Titicaca tour was the beautiful Taquile Island. Taquile lies 35km from Puno & is only 7km2 in size. The island has a population of just 2200 Quechua speaking people & a very Mediterranean feel. We learnt about the local traditions while tucking into a delicious trout lunch, with a backdrop of the sparkling lake.
Knitting is a big thing here & the men take the lead on creating amazing designs to impress potential suitors. Key to the traditional male Taquile dress are the pointed hats which each man knits for himself. The ladies will judge their handiwork before deciding whether to marry them. They wear red hats if they are taken & red & white if they are single. The ladies themselves create ornately embroidered waistbands for their husbands.
If you are looking to buy handicrafts from Peru, then the store in the main square here is run by a community co-operative. Each item is marked to ensure the money goes directly to its creator.
Their handiwork is legendary. I bought a pair of fingerless gloves which have rarely been off my hands since!”
When I visited, the sun was shining, the lake was resplendent & with a couple of fellow travellers, I took my time to walk along the path which circumnavigates the island. It was a peaceful & beautiful afternoon.
Homestay Lake Titicaca – Amantaní Island
Amantaní is again an Aymara speaking island which is mainly agricultural, with the residents cultivating their own food.
By the time we arrived, it was dark as we were whisked away by our lovely host Sandra. She was dressed traditionally & looked resplendent in her bowler hat & multicoloured skirts. Sandra led us on a short walk to the family home she shared with her husband, Roberto & cute 7-year-old daughter Evelyn.
As the elder stateswomen of the group, my roommate Sandy & I had struck it lucky! We were shown to our own pristine ensuite room with a bathroom & fully functioning flushing toilet. It was way more than we were expecting. We hadn’t requested any special treatment but it appears we were more fortunate than some of our friends.
Top tip – if you have any specific comfort requirements for your stay, speak to your guide ahead of time. There may be a choice & it could put you at the front of the queue for the best room!”
Sandra had prepared dinner for us on the small stove in their main living & dining room. It was a simple but delicious vegetarian feast of soup & stew with rice, washed down with lots of tea. Another surprise came when she amazingly also spoke some English. This made communication a lot easier between us all. Sandra & Roberto told us they were in their mid-twenties. To us, they looked significantly older. The family clearly shared a lot of love, a wicked sense of humour & had a real bright spark in cheeky Evelyn.
Sandy had had the brilliant foresight to bring a few souvenirs from home in Canada. The family (especially Evelyn) loved them.”
When she presented her gifts it created a real bonding moment between us all. I wish I had been told this information before. Top Tip – Think ahead & bring a little something personal as a gift for your hosts.
However, I was struck more by our similarities than our contrasts. They lead a very different life to us, we don’t speak the same language or have any idea of the challenges & triumphs we have each faced. But we were still able to connect, to understand & to share a laugh together…generally at our expense!
Kayaking on Lake Titicaca
We were up early for a traditional breakfast which we helped Sandra prepare. She had mixed some dough & we took it in turns to stretch into flatbreads which she then fried. We had them warm with jam & a boiled egg – perfect sustenance for our morning activity, kayaking!
Interestingly, not many people take up the chance to mess about closer to the water, but I would thoroughly recommend taking out a kayak if you get a chance. The peace & tranquillity as you paddle around this vast & mystical lake is spellbinding.
Then it was dress-up time! When we returned, Sandra was all prepared with outfits for us to act out our own version of their beautiful traditional look. I loved it! We re-joined our fellow travellers, all traditionally dressed as we shared stories of our adventures. Trust me, Sandy & I had been very fortunate!
Our hosts danced, we tried unsuccessfully to emulate them. We all laughed together before we were whisked back to the boat for our return trip to Puno.”
The Effects of Altitude
Lake Titicaca sits at an elevation of over 3800m. Therefore my advice is to have some time before you head to the lake to acclimatise. I had been living at altitude in Bolivia & Peru for 6 weeks before my visit. You may be breathless & not able to do as much as you would usually.
However, most importantly, days can be warm & sunny & the altitude means the sun is more intense. Sunburn can be a real issue. In addition, temperatures can plummet at night so make sure you bring plenty of layers.”
For more on Bolivia, head to 3 Amazing Days on Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni (Salt Flats) & Beyond!
If you are interested in learning about the effects of altitude, check out my posts about Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.
What should you take for your Lake Titicaca Homestay?
- Warm clothing as mentioned, it gets cold at night.
- Waterproof jacket or poncho.
- Warm &/or peaked hat & sunglasses.
- Walking boots & socks.
- Money in Peruvian Sol. Ensure you have small notes as you will not be able to get any change on the islands.
What to buy in Puno
- Fruit & food from the dock in Puno before you leave as a gift for your host family. Consider tinned milk or fish, cooking oil & pasta, basically anything they cannot grow themselves is appreciated.
- A gift from your home country to make the visit more personal.
- Torch with batteries
- Sleeping bag (not essential) or just a liner if you are worried about using their bedding.
- Personal medication & toiletries.
- Hand towel.
- Your curiosity & a sense of humour!
Rules for visiting the islands
- DO NOT give the children sweets! There is no dental care available. You are not helping them.
- NEVER give anyone money unless it’s in exchange for a purchase. Even giving a banana or a pencil can encourage begging in the future.
- DO NOT give money to the family you stay with; this could change expectations for the future. The food you bring is enough & only do that if you are staying overnight.
- ALWAYS ask before photographing anyone & never offer money to do this. You may be asked for a “tip” for the photo & if so give a small coin (no more than 1 Peruvian Sol)
- DO enjoy any clothing you may be offered by your family while you are on the island but don’t feel any pressure to buy it at the end. If you do like it, feel free to ask the price.
- DO bring back all your non-degradable rubbish, plastic etc. I hope this goes without saying!
In conclusion, the coronavirus has led us all to appreciate & re-evaluate how we travel & the impact we have. A Lake Titicaca homestay is a unique opportunity to connect with the fascinating people of Peru & give a little something back to the community. I hope I have given you all the information you need to do this in a sustainable & ethical manner. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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