The floating Uros Islands are a group of more than 75 man-made totora reed islands floating on Peru’s Lake Titicaca. Its inhabitants, the Uros tribe, pre-date Incan civilization and continue to hunt and fish the plentiful land and waters they occupy. See all of our tours to the Lake Titicaca here!
These artificial islands hold a great cultural expression since their inhabitants come from a 3,000 year-old history, making it one of the most important civilizations in South America. The Uros people are responsible for this engineering masterpiece; read this blog to learn all about it:
History of the Uros People
The origin of the inhabitants of these famous floating islands date back to thousands of years ago, long before the Incas. However, there’s no exact documentation that hints at the nature of this civilization though it is believed that they are descendants of the first cultures of the Andean highlands.
The Uros people used to live at the banks of Lake Titicaca and later migrated to these man made floating islands due to the ‘political’ uncertainty of that time, hundreds of years ago. Since then, they have lived in these marvelous totora rafts, trying to avoid any contact with enemies.
The Uros spoke a different language, now lost due to the integration of the Aymara and Inca cultures. Nowadays, some of them speak Aymara and others Quechua. During pre-Columbian times, they used to live off totora reed collection for the maintenance of the islands, fishing and bird hunting.
Culture of the Uros
Peru is home to approximately 2,000 Uros people. Around 1,200 still live on the floating islands of Lake Titicaca. Harvested from vast beds that grow in abundance on the lake, the humble totora plant forms the backbone of Uros life. Homes, boats, and the islands themselves are all made of totora reeds.
As they have for generations, the Uros subsist primarily by fishing, bird hunting, and gathering bird eggs from the reed beds. Children are able to attend kindergarten and elementary school on the floating island. However, older children continuing their education must head to Puno.
These days, the Uros earn income through tourism. This has brought a few modern conveniences to the archipelago, including improved sanitary facilities and solar panels which reduce the risk of fires from open flames. They have embraced modern technology, with most islanders using cell phones and televisions powered by the solar panels..
As we mentioned, the inhabitants of the Islands of Uros are descendants of one of the oldest cultures in America, the Pukaras (1500 B.C). And in the absence of written records, very little is known about this mysterious pre-Inca culture.
For example, we know that the people of Uros spoke the mythical “Pukina” language, belonging to Pukaras. But this was lost to adopt another ancestral tongue called Aymara 500 years ago when they began to trade and interact with the Aymara people, inhabitants of the Titicaca lake borders.
At present, the Uros communicate in the native Aymara language. Despite having lost their mother tongue, they still maintain many other aspects of their original culture.
How do they build the Uros Floating Islands?
For a fact, these totora reed islands are certainly an engineering masterpiece, especially considering how long ago the originals were built. About seven families live in these man made islands, and each of them are in charge of the construction and maintenance of them.
To make an island, they create a base layer out of totora roots, which grow abundant across the lake. The Uros people are in charge of collecting the plant to later tie them up and stacke many layers of totora on top of the totora root base.
These floating Islands are then anchored in one place with ropes and wooden stakes into the bottom of the lake. The base is about two meters thick, which is why it takes a lot of effort and time to build up.
However, these islands have to be maintained weekly or monthly depending on the seasons as the reeds start to rot away and eventually disintegrate. Each island can last up to 30 years with constant maintenance, adding new layers of totora reed once a week during the rainy season and once a month during the dry season.
Uros Islands and The Constant Maintenance
A well-made island can last up to 30 years. However, the Totora reed occasionally disintegrates at the bottom of Lake Titicaca, so the inhabitants (again, mostly men) have to maintain the islands. In the rainy season, a layer of Tortora reed needs to be placed once a week.
On the other hand, in the dry season, a layer of Tortora reeds only needs to be placed once a month. Therefore, the ingenuity of the Uros culture was what kept them alive to this day. Even the furniture in their homes is made from this cane. Their tortora boats are in the shape of a canoe, but with animal head decorations on the prow. These usually have two figures of pumas in front, to honor the favorite animal of Lake Titicaca (Titicaca means puma stone in the Quechua language). Of course, the boats are used both for fishing and for taking visitors to the islands. In addition, like the islands, the boats are usually moored at the bottom of the Lake. But they can be moved if necessary. For all these reasons, the islands are considered one of the most famous landmarks in Peru.
Visiting the Floating Islands of Uros
For those asking themselves how to visit the floating islands of Uros, there are different ways to do so. Depending on the type of experience you’d like to have or your time disposition, you can visit this man made attraction with these options:
1.- Lake Titicaca Half-Day Tour
In case you’re limited on time but still want to see the best of Lake Titicaca during your short stay, here’s an option that can help you with that.
The Lake Titicaca Half-Day Tour: Will take you through the vast deep-blue waters of the world’s highest navigable lake, allowing you to explore the Uros islands and Taquile.
The experience can be arranged for a morning or afternoon schedule, giving you time to explore the city and two of the main attractions in the lake in one day.
*** Nowdays local people are offering lodging for tourist.
2.- Lake Titicaca Full-Day Tour
For those with a bit more time in Puno, here’s a boat tour that will take you through the cultural expression of Lake Titicaca in one day.
The full-day tour to Lake Titicaca: Will allow you to get immersed in this natural wonder and its attractions without missing any details. On this occasion, you’ll be able to get to know the renowned artisan expression of Taquile Island, the impressive Uros islands and one of the largest islands on the lake, Amantani.
See the detailed itinerary for the for the day tour here!
3.- Lake Titicaca Tour Homestay
There’s a more intimate experience that takes you on a full immersion in the cultural heritage of the lake. On this occasion you can stay in one of the islands; Taquile and learn about their daily lives.
Lake Titicaca Homestay experience: You’ll get to explore Amantani, Taquile and the Uros islands. You’ll be able to know about the traditions and customs of the place, as well as taking part in the routinary activities such as fishing, collecting totora reed and much more.
Also, on the tour, you can hike up to the Pachatata temple, and enjoy the great views.
Visiting this incredible and unique destination offers an unforgettable experience. Learn about how this impressive engineering is pulled off, and learn about the incredibly unique lifestyle and culture of the people who live there!
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