Puno was a bust

Puno, Peru is situated on the shores of Lake Titicaca, which sits 3,811 m (12,500 ft) above sea level, making it the highest commercially navigable lake in the world. It also happens to be the largest lake by volume of water in South America. Lake Titicaca is most noted for its unique islands. Uros is comprised of a group of about 44 artificial islands made of floating reeds. Amantani and Taquile are a couple of other islands renowned for their culture and history.  There are several islands on the Bolivia side of Lake Titicaca, Isla del Sol and Isla de la Luna which are equally interesting.

We travelled to Puno on Monday with plans to visit one or more of these islands.  We had read warnings on line and in our travel book that these islands were becoming more and more touristy to the point that the culture and traditions of the indigenous populations were being eroded.  We usually avoid the tourist trap venues as much as possible, preferring to do things on our own and a little off the beaten track.  We made an exception here because it was practically on our way to Bolivia, and we still felt there was merit to visiting these islands.

Our first impression of Puno was that it was a small city like any other in Peru; nothing really distinguished it as special or different.  Our hostel provided basic, comfortable accommodations, but again, nothing out of the ordinary.  We did notice that there were many indigenous women dressed in their traditional costume – long, pleated skirts, shawls and a bowler hat perched on the top of their heads – I wondered how these stayed on, especially on a windy day!  All the indigenous women had long thick braids down their back, and many had lovely pom pom accessories attached to the bottom of their braids.

After hearing the experience of a couple of young lads at our hostel who just happened to be from Barrhaven in Ottawa (just a few kilometres away from our old house), we decided we would visit the island of Uros on our own and then decide after that what we wanted to do. Rather than take a packaged tour, we opted for the public ferry that took us to the islands for 15 soles each. We were the only foreigners on the boat – just the way we like it!

As we approached the islands, it looked like a scene from a theme park – so contrived, so fake, so touristy.  Once we landed on a very tiny island, we were forced to listen to a man tell us about the island and the families that supposedly lived on them (which they did at one time, but it didn’t look like anybody was living on the island we visited because the little huts were being used solely for the storage of the junk they were trying to pawn off on tourists).  While he was giving his spiel, a few women started to organize their craft tables so that when he was done, they were open for business.

Nobody in our group seemed too interested in the overpriced trinkets.  It was interesting to see how the islands were constructed and how it felt to walk on the reeds.  But it was such a tourist trap, we were completely turned off from the entire experience.   

We did pay an extra 5 soles to take a reed boat to another floating island which gave us a good chance to take some pictures.  And we had a delicious lunch on one of the islands – fried trout (from the lake) with rice and potatoes. Throughout the entire experience we felt as if we were being held hostage until we bought something.  It left a bad taste in our mouth.

Based on this experience, we decided we didn’t need to repeat it on any of the other islands.  And so it was an easy decision to leave Puno the next day.  We considered stopping for a couple of days in Copacabana which sits on Lake Titicaca in Bolivia, but after reading similar reports of it being a tourist trap, we opted to head straight for La Paz instead.

Category: Peru, South America
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