People Still Live On The Incredible Floating Islands Of Lake Titicaca

Titicaca Island Uros People

Photo: Bruce Tuten Savannah / Flickr

It’s a living situation unlike any other.The Uros, a pre-Incan people in Peru, reside on artificial islands built out of totora reeds in Lake Titicaca. The manmade islands have been a major tourist attraction ever since photographs of the Uros were first published in National Geographic in the 1940s

Though it doesn’t seem like it at first glance, life on the islands has changed drastically since tourism came to Lake Titicaca. Not only have the Uros lost their original language, they now earn most of their income through tourism and even use solar electricity to sustain TVs, radios, and lights in their homes.

This juxtaposition of the old and new is part of the reason tourists flock to the floating islands — or “Islas Flotantes” — in the first place. 

Flickr user Bruce Tuten was fortunate enough to visit the Uros in 2011 and shared his photographs of the unforgettable day trip with us.

There are 42 manmade islands floating in Lake Titicaca near the city of Puno, Peru. They are populated by the Uros, an indigenous group.

The islands are made of dried bundles of totora reeds that are common in the shallows of the lake. The larger islands house about 10 families, and the smaller ones house only two or three.

Source: Inca Tourism

The islands float because of the gasses produced by decomposing reeds. Since the reeds at the bottom rot fairly quickly, new reeds must be added every three months. The islands typically last about 30 years.

Originally, the islands were used as a defensive measure. They were anchored in place with ropes attached to wooden poles secured at the bottom of the lake so they could be moved if threatened. Watchtowers made of reeds were also constructed on the islands.

The homes of the Uros are also made of reeds. The roofs are waterproof, and the Uru cook with fires built on a layer of stones to protect the reeds.

The boats the Uros make are also constructed from the reeds.

Some of the boats are decorated to look like animal heads, like these two here.

A few hundred of the pre-Incan people still live on and maintain the islands, but most have moved to the mainland. Though there is a school on the main island, most children are educated or attend university on the mainland.

The islands sit at 12,500 feet above sea level, so it can get very cold. Most of the residents wear woolen clothing and hats to protect themselves from the sun.

Source: Inca Tourism

To keep rats off the islands, the Uros keep domestic cats. Other common animals are cormorants (a type of bird kept for their fish catching abilities), rabbits, guinea pigs, ducks, and trout.

The Uros also have modern technology on the island. Tuten saw this TV/Radio/CD player in one home, and the main island even has an Uros-run radio station that plays music for several hours a day.

Some houses have solar panels to run appliances, and each home Tuten saw on his trip had one solar powered light inside.

The more the reeds are walked on, the more moisture gets in and the more they rot. Even though tourism provides financial opportunities, it also makes it harder to maintain the islands.

Uros women and children in traditional woolen garb pose for a photo.

Tourists learn how the Islas Flotantes are made and about the Uru culture when they visit. You can even stay overnight on the islands, but most take a day trip.

The tourists can also purchase handicrafts made and sold by the Uros residents. Apparently, the Uru can drive a pretty hard bargain.

Now see what life is like in another part of the world.

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