A trip to Lake Titicaca is a must on most people's South American itineraries and it was possibly the place I was most looking forward to visit. Located between Peru and Bolivia at 3908 m, the 8400 sq metre lake is the highest navigable lake in the world. On the Peruvian side most people tend to stay in Puno, keeping this as a base and visiting the nearby islands.
Experiential (i.e learning from experience) seems to be a buzz word in travel these day and if you're looking for a different experience with bucket loads of luxury and comfort thrown in, then TITILAKA a hotel on the banks of the lake an hour out of Puno fits this bill perfectly. They've cleverly positioned the hotel on a remote peninsula with wall to ceiling windows that make full use of the stunning lake views, that's if you've booked a sunrise room. Those with a sunset room won't be disappointed with equally scenic views over the reed beds and distant hills. Looking out onto the water is rather like being on a cruise ship and the hotel's all inclusive nature means like being on a cruise ship, there's no shortage of delicious meals on offer. The quinoa pancakes at breakfast were a winner all round. Except this isn't a cruise ship, it's a small boutique hotel with only 19 rooms and has more of an upmarket, chalet feel to it as guests gather round the log burning stove in the evening to swap tales of their activities. There are plenty of the latter on offer from the more obvious visit to the floating island to hikes and cycle rides through the neighbouring countryside, kayaking through the reed beds and a visit to the weaving community of Copamaya.
Here you're greeted by Celedonio and his family, all smiles and bemused laughter. There are no other travellers around and it's the one to one nature of this tour that appeals. The family are keen to explain their weaving techniques and traditional attire (single women wear an elaborate and extremely colourful wee willy winkie style hat with a flower shaped rim). Sadly, I was one of the oldest wearers of said hat. The women were genuinely saddened by my single predicament at what they thought was such an advanced aged, that they knocked several soles of the beautifully weaved cushion I went on to purchase, as I had no "crazy, lazy husband" to support me. My little Spanish hasn't improved enough to have this kind of conversation but what's great about this tour is that the guide is happy to sit down and translate a lengthy conversation between us girls, no matter how silly.
A trip to Lake Titicaca wouldn't be complete without a trip to the Uros legendary floating islands. The people of Uros are a proud culture who due to persecution by other groups found refuge by living on man made islands. They call themselves kut-suna or people of the lake and claim to have "black blood". I was a little surprised to find how "disneyfied" the whole experience was but still fun, especially the opportunity to dress up in the traditional dress. However, the bowler hat and full skirt look is not a good one and any photos taken have swiftly been deleted. I was also amused to hear that if you fall out with your neighbours, you simply have to cut your island in half, float away and peg yourself in somewhere else.
Much more authentic is a trip to Taquile Island, a 7 sq km secluded island of weavers whose textiles have been hailed as heritage masterpieces by UNESCO. Most tours take you to the more visited northern part of the island. Titilaka is only an hours boat ride from the more remote south and its where their tours take you. Again, you get the more exclusive experience and another lesson in local headwear. Here the women cover their heads with black shawls with colourful pom poms at the end. Single girls get to have larger pom poms which they can twirl around and flirt with, oh if only life in the west were that simple. One young girl had a smattering of English "the sky is blue, the sun is yellow" she told me, extremely apt phrases on an island where indeed the sky is always blue and the sun makes a daily appearance.
Isla del Sol or Sun Island was an unexpected surprise in the Southern Bolivian part of the lake. I hadn't expected a Mediterranean like island with white sand beaches, no roads but an inca trail crossing the island from North to South, easily walkable in a day with astonishing vistas at every turn. The island, the birthplace of the Inca Empire is again aptly named, I now know why everybody wears a hat at all times. Having spent a considerable part of my life on the Suffolk coast, I love big sky's, marshes and creeks. Lake Titicaca was scaringly familar (even the water was as cold as the North Sea although considerably bluer) and it's probably why I loved it so much. It's a magical place, seemingly at the end of the world, where the never ending sky meets the never ending blue of the water, combine this with interesting islands to explore and a fascinating indigenous culture making it so far the top place on The Petra Trail.
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