Two people exploring the world, seeking adventure & unique experiences.
Arequipa’s Guinness book of records attempt (August 24, 2014)
Our final morning in Arequipa included a rather interesting and colourful attempt on a record for the Guinness book of records. The concept was to have around 2,000 dancers around the Plaza de Armas dancing at the same time. According to an online news article, they officially had 1,247 pairs dancing to the beat of Carnaval de Arequipa. This happened in traditional clothing and with a local dance. We only stayed for around 10 minutes to watch what was happening, take a few photos and video and get on our way to Puno.
Arequipa to Puno
We got lucky and walked straight onto a departing bus for 20 soles ($7.15) each. The ride would take nearly 6 hours as it has to go via the larger town of Juliaca to the North where a majority of our passengers would exit.
This is the major transport hub on the shores of Lake Titicaca, the World’s highest commercially navigable lake at 3,821m above sea level. Puno itself is a typical Peru city of around 100,000 people. We got in as it was getting dark but knew that we wanted to be on an island tour early the next morning so we went walking in search of a nearby hostel. The area around the bus terminal is neither beautiful nor appealing but it offers extremely cheap accommodation (30 soles / $10.70 private double) and the cheapest food we’d found in all of Peru (3 soles / $1.10 for a set menu).
Go on a lake tour or go independently?
For the first time in a long time we were on a set time frame, we wanted to be in La Paz, Bolivia for Toby’s birthday in a couple of days to go biking on “Death Road”. This meant a 2 day island tour would tick all the boxes and avoid the sometimes infrequent and problematic boat connections between destinations.
We booked directly through our hostel for 100 soles ($35.70) each which included all transport by boat to the floating Uros islands, Isla Amantani with traditional homestay including lunch/dinner/breakfast and Isla Taquile. This also included all entrance fees (each location has a fee) and amazingly an English speaking guide. There was very little profit on this tour as we couldn’t have done it cheaper by ourselves.
The only downside is these groups can be up to 24 in size; ours was 17 people. It’s not too much of an issue though as there are only 4 people per homestay, so more than half the time the group isn’t actually together.
The floating Uros Islands
These are about a 20 minute boat ride from the port of Puno. These islands are made of tortora rushes (tall reeds) that grow wild in the lake. They use them to build the island and also their houses and traditional boats. You can even eat the bottom white part of the reed, which we did and tastes mostly like Lettuce. There are around 100 separate islands in what is actually a rather large area.
The tour boats will pick 1 island to visit and you spend around an hour getting a demonstration of how the island is built and maintained (a new layer of reeds every 10 days) along with what local life is like on the island. All the islands seem to offer the same “rubber stamped” experience with seating areas, a sample of Pan de Quinoa, a visit to their house and an offer to buy their local artwork. The experience ends with the offer to ride in the traditional boat across the lake (10 soles / $3.60).
We decided to stay on the island and not do the additional boat tour which about half the group participated in. This allowed us some time to play with the many young and playful children. Thankfully and maybe it’s because they were too young, but they hadn’t caught the habit of asking for sweets/candy/cookies (which we saw later from some children on Taquile). We even had one who played a game of peek-a-boo with us.
We then went to a floating restaurant, store and hospedaje island where we met the other boat tour. This was the time to buy snacks and drinks for the 3 hour boat ride to our next island of Amantani. We chose to get a full sized Pan de Quinoa each (1 sole / $0.36). This time we had an option of putting some icing sugar and sugar on top for some extra sweetness. It was quite tasty and reminded us of Canada’s deep fried dough equivalent, the Beavertail.
We arrived to the island at around 1pm and would be split into groups of 4 and allocated a homestay. We would stay with Mary, Brian and their 5 year old son Robert. Mary met us at the boat dock and it was only a 5 minute walk to her house. We were shown immediately to our rooms that were simple but clean and colourful. Our rooms were in a separate building to the family home. We didn’t ask, but maybe this would be the future family home as the building only had the 2 guestrooms completed but the structure for several other rooms.
It wasn’t long until we were called for lunch. The kitchen had its own separate room and was quite small, with the entry door being even smaller.
Our meal would start with a traditional Quinoa and vegetable soup followed by an unusual plate with an Omelet, slice of tomato and various finger sized potatoes. We haven’t spoken much about Peru and its vast quantity and variety of Potatoes. This meal speaks to this underlying tradition more than we could ever explain.
The afternoon activity was a hike up to the top of Pachamama (Mother Nature/Earth) to watch the sun set. This is the highest point of the island, apparently 15 metres taller than the neighbouring Pachatata (Mother of the lake). This would give us some great views of this island and the surrounding areas.
The most interesting photo was when the sun had almost fully gone below the horizon. The lake looks like clouds or snow and that we’re sitting on some tall peak with some hidden valley below.
We would return to our host house for dinner and then prepare for the evening activity of a traditional fiesta. We would dress up in traditional clothes and go to the local dance hall where we would learn some traditional dances and drink some beer with a local band making the music.
The next morning we would have a tasty pancake breakfast before saying our goodbyes and boarding the boat at 8am on our way to the neighbouring island of Taquile.
Our tour of this island would be simple enough and combine almost a full circumnavigation walking the island. There were many beautiful gates/arches as we followed the only walking path up from the dock.
We would also enjoy great views of the landscape and vast terracing used by farmers for crops.
Rodora stopped for a few minutes to chat with a very friendly local 3 year old girl on her way home.
It would take an hour of slow stop and start walking to arrive at the town square where it was clear all the other tourists had centralised themselves.
After some time to buy a snack or some more local artwork we were on the move to a restaurant for lunch. We’d actually opted out of this because it was 15 soles ($5.30) booked with agency or 20 soles ($7.15) at the restaurant for a meal. We’d brought our own bread and tuna for a picnic lunch instead, 3 soles instead of 30 soles for both of us. Our view for lunch was far more spectacular and tranquil than the 20 or so people at the restaurant.
We met with the group again at the boat dock and the 2 hour 30 minute ride back to Puno.
At no point did we feel rushed on the tour and we feel like we got to see as much as the 3 locations could show us. Day trips exist for the combination of Uros (floating) islands and Taquile. Personally, a day trip would be too rushed and spent mostly on a boat. The overnight stay really gives you more time to explore at a relaxed pace.
Plenty more to explore. Keep following the blog and our Flickr account for updates. http://www.flickr.com/photos/toraadventure/