Titilaka was beautiful enough that I could spent our entire three nights there within the walls of the hotel, content never to leave its many stylish rooms. So you can imagine then, that the surroundings were pretty spectacular in order to drag me out of my relaxation coma in order to explore.
Titilaka has two levels of inclusiveness available to guests. The full-board program, which Zoe and I were on, involves all meals and 1/4th day tours — options include kayaking, walking, bicycling and rowing tours. The comprehensive package includes 1/2 day tours such as visits to the various islands of Lake Titicaca — tours that Zoe and I, and other guests on the full board program, were welcome to join at additional cost.
We did a mix of included and paid tours that gave us a fantastic introduction to this beautiful and fabled high altitude lake straddling the border between Peru and Bolivia.
Visit to the Authentic Taquille
Our first tour, and top of our priority list, was visiting Isla Taquille. This UNESCO-recognized island is one of the great treasures of Titicaca and has the crowds to prove it — its south shores are a popular stop on package tours of the lake. However, those tours follow a set schedule and first arrive in the afternoon, traveling from Puno and stopping at the Uros Islands en route. This gives Titilaka guests a locational advantage — only an hour away by boat, we arrived and departed again long before any other tourists would set foot on the island.
Meaning we had every ounce of authentic charm all to ourselves.
The men and woman of Taquille are renowned for being the most skilled weavers in all of Peru. We were warmly welcomed into the home of a local family who shook our hands and greeted us one by one — a rarity among this kind of tour. Rather than feeling like an intruder, I actually felt like a guest.
Our guide Julio translated and explained the simple and beautiful way of life on the island, and how it differed from his own experiences in the “big city” of Puno. I loved the service-centric priorities of the community, whose Quechua motto translates to today for you, tomorrow for me, a beautiful sentiment that means neighbors never stop helping one another.
After our visit with the family, we walked from the island’s North shore to the South, taking in a dizzying (seriously dizzying, did I mention the altitude?) array of stunning landscapes and tableau. Between the bright blue sky and the mirror-like reflection the lake gave off, I didn’t dare lift my sunglasses, and I struggled to meter my photos correctly in the harshest light we’d seen in Peru.
At one particularly scenic viewpoint our guide Julio offered to take our photo and ran around us, snapping a few. When I flipped through them a moment later I nearly died of laughter at the best unintentional photobomb of the century. And that’s why I love my super wide 15mm lens!
This was a fairly expensive tour for us, ringing in at $51US each. It’s more than we would have paid for a three-island tour out of a cheap travel agency in Puno, but it was undoubtedly worth every penny for the unique and individual experience we had. This island, and its special community of less than 2,000 residents, is not to be missed.
Hike to Titilaka Arch
The afternoon after our boat trip to Taquille we were itching to explore the shore and so we signed up for the short hike to the Titilaka Arch. We chatted to our guide Armando about life in such a remote village as we walked along the shoreline passing houses constructed of mud and angry donkey braying in the fields. The only other guest on the tour was a British woman whose husband had been forced to return to Lima that morning due to altitude sickness — the lake sits at 12,500 feet.
Which was the perfect scapegoat to excuse the fact that I was quite out of breathe for what should have been a fairly simple stroll.
When we reached our destination we were treated to a scene off the cover of a guidebook — a local woman and child in traditional dress, leading a baby lamb through the golden-light kissed arch. The concierge of the hotel couldn’t have ordered a more perfect tableau had he tried.
Biking The Shores of Lake Titicaca
The next day, we signed on for a biking trip that Titilaka happily customized for us to include a final destination of the weaving community at Copamaya. We set off down a dirt road and hugged the coastline as we worked our way through the rural Titicaca countryside.
I think of myself as a reasonably fit person but I really struggled with parts of this ride — again, something I’d love to blame on the altitude. I think my insecurity was heightened by the fact that our new guide kept zooming so far ahead of me — a fact I eventually attributed to his insecurity with English.
Yet this morning remains one of the most scenic and authentic I’ve had in Peru. On Taquille, our guide admitted that the locals mostly dress traditionally in order to maintain their UNESCO status. But here in the dusty forgotten corners of Lake Titicaca, there were no travelers to dress up for and no tour buses to sell to. This was life, unfiltered.
I struggled to share capture the experience as locals were vocally uncomfortable with having their photos taken, so though it pained me I kept a respectful distance.
When we arrived at the weaving “community,” we were surprised, along with our guide, to find only a shy teenage girl in the village. The rest, she explained, had been called to work in the fields. She overcame her clear discomfort at being the center of attention in order to show us how local roots, plants and berries were made into natural wool dies and how animal bones were used at knitting needles.
Regrettably I left souvenir-less, as I do believe that these weavers live up to their reputation. If only I had an apartment to fill with technicolor Titicaca weaving treasures!
Am I gushing? Heck yes. But Lake Titicaca amazed me with its beauty. I had low expectations after reading and hearing some mediocre reviews from fellow travelers of the “it’s just a lake” variety, but I couldn’t disagree more. And had I not already felt that way after these excursions, our adventures the next day would only cement it in my mind…
Which excursion would be top of your list?