There are some destinations that just fascinate you from the first moment you hear about them – for me, that was the islands around Lake Titicaca in Peru. As soon as I saw videos of the islands on television, I knew one day I would just have to visit there. That opportunity finally came when I booked a trip to Peru to visit Machu Picchu (of course) and also to stop by Lake Titicaca, near Puno.
The most well-known islands on Lake Titicaca are actually manmade. For centuries, villages have literally floated down the river atop islands made from reeds and other materials. However, there are also several larger, natural islands such as Taquile Island. It is easy to combine both on a visit, so we decided to do a tour of the floating islands and then an overnight home stay on Taquile Island.
In the end, the warm hospitality and cultural exchange that we experienced on our Taquile Island homestay was one of the highlights of our trip to Peru.
Our 2-day excursion started early, with a boat ride to Lake Titicaca. Along with about a dozen other visitors, we got on board some traditional boats and began our journey down the enormous lake. It wasn’t long before we arrived at the most well-known floating island, Uros.
On the island, we had a brief tour with a local guide and we learnt about life on the islands. I was surprised to see many satellite television dishes on the top of the traditional thatched-roof houses – there are definitely some mod-cons on the island nowadays! For the most part, however, people live fairly traditional lives, wearing beautiful clothing and sewing handicrafts. I bought a gorgeous tapestry as a reminder of my time visiting the floating island!
It was really amazing to find out about this element of Peruvian culture, however, I was really looking forward to the Taquile Island homestay. I had chosen Taquile Island because it is a lesser known island amongst Lake Titicaca, and I was hoping to learn more about everyday life there.
When we arrived, we were warmly greeted by our host Cielo who was wearing beautiful, traditional clothing. We were then shown to our room, a humble but comfortable bedroom to the back of their family house. I was very impressed with the beautiful view out over the lake that the family enjoyed!
Most Taquilenos speak their own dialect known as Puno Quechua although our kind host had also been working on his English and knew enough to get by. Between this and my rudimentary Spanish, we managed well! Cielo introduced us to his wife and son – his son was doing his homework and was proud to show off a little bit of English to us.
After we met the family, Cielo took us on a tour around the island. Like most things around Puno, Taquile Island is at a very high elevation, so he was careful to take us slowly! I was so fascinated to hear about the island traditions including how the wearing of a pom-pom in a certain way denotes whether a young person is married or not, and that both men and women participate in handicrafts such as knitting and needlework.
It was wonderful to hear about traditional life and Cielo was so kind in answering all of my questions.
After our walk, we returned home to have a traditional dinner that was prepared by Cielo’s wife and served in their cozy dining room. We spoke more about life on Taquile Island, and despite our language barriers, we were soon laughing loudly together. Cielo was particularly amazed to hear how expensive quinoa is in my home country, as it is a staple of Taquilenos’ diets.
Cielo was also honest about some of the challenges facing the culture on Taquile Island, such as that nowadays many young people prefer to leave the island in search of jobs on the mainland.
Following our delicious dinner and many cups of tea, we retired to our bedroom for a warm and comfortable night’s sleep, before wishing the family goodbye in the morning. After a final stop at the beautiful deserted beach, it was time to head back to the boat and then to Puno.
All in all, it was an amazing experience to stay with the local family on Taquile Island. I felt that I learned so much and also had a true exchange of cultures and ideas. I left knowing so much more about the traditions of the Taquilenos, as well as the importance of preserving culture and language. It was such a genuine experience that added so much to my time spent on Lake Titicaca.
For me, travel is about learning of others cultures, beliefs and traditions; that is my favourite part of travel, as it broadens your horizons, challenges your assumptions and teaches you about both the similarities and differences of all people across our globe.