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This is our guide to visiting Lake Titicaca, including where to stay and how to have an authentic experience.
Go on, you know you want to giggle, it's a pretty unique name, right?
Putting aside our childish sense of humor, this gorgeous lake is in fact one of the top attractions of both Peru and Bolivia – straddling the border between the two countries. However, because of its popularity, it has received quite a bit of bad press for being overly touristic and inauthentic.
In this article, we aim to show that if you avoid the tourist traps, you will discover one of the most beautiful, serene, and tranquil places in Peru, particularly the more remote Amantaní island.
And for those of you wondering, “Titicaca” actually means The Mount of the Puma in Quechua (the local indigenous dialect). It emanates from two Quechua words – “titi”, which means ‘puma' and “caca” which means ‘mount'. Don't worry, there are no pumas here, the name simply honors the felines that used to roam these parts many centuries ago.
Advice for LGBTQ travelers to Lake Titicaca
Peru is one of the more socially conservative countries in South America with a strong influence by the Catholic Church. However, in large touristic areas like Lake Titicaca (also central Cusco or Miraflores in Lima), places are more accustomed to LGBTQ travelers. But that being said, be cautious with public displays of affection as society is still socially conservative.
Where is Lake Titicaca?
Lake Titicaca straddles the border of Peru and Bolivia at an altitude of 3,800 metres (12,500 feet). It is not only the world's highest lake, but also one of the oldest, thought to be over 1 million years old.
There are several indigenous communities living here, the most prominent are the Uros in the floating man-made islands, the Quechua speakers of Amantaní Island and the Taquile people of Taquile island.
Why is Lake Titicaca so touristy?
Since the 90s, the indigenous communities opened their doors to travelers to give them an opportunity to get a peek into their lives and cultures. It is the community tourism that makes Lake Titicaca so popular and attracts huge crowds of tourists on a daily basis.
Lake Titicaca is considered to be the origin of the Inca civilisation, where the creator god, Viracocha made the moon, sun and stars from the islands in the centre of this large lake. It is also believed to be the birthplace of the first Inca king, Manco Capac, the sun god's son.
The tourist traps of Lake Titicaca
Lake Titicaca gets a bad reputation mainly because of the Floating Islands of the Uros people. Most tour companies in Puno will sell you a day trip to the Uros Islands with promises of a unique and authentic indigenous experience. Regrettably, you won't get it here.
You can't help feel like it is completely staged and orchestrated for tourists. The experience involves a 30 minute well rehearsed talk about their way of life and how the islands are made. Then you're swiftly directed to their handicraft souvenirs and invited to take a $25 tour in their water taxis. Unfortunately, they are quite pushy with the way this is done, which makes you doubt the authenticity of it all.
It hasn't always been this way. For centuries the Uros people have lived undisturbed, as fishermen and hunters, in the middle of the lake. However in 1986, a severe storm devastated their man made homes, pushing them to rebuild closer to the security of Puno.
As a result, new opportunities arose from tourism, but with every touristic experience, if it is not regulated properly, it falls into the trap of turning into a Disney-fication of the culture. Sadly, this is what we found has happened to the Uros people.
How to find a more authentic experience?
If you spend some more time venturing beyond the islands near Puno, you will quickly discover a more authentic and far more rewarding experience. We recommend spending a few days in a homestay at one of the more remote islands, like Amantaní.
Amantaní is one of the larger islands, located 25 miles (40 km) from Puno. It has around 4,000 inhabitants with 10 communities, each with its own chief and outfit! It takes around 3 hours to reach it by boat. As such, very few tourists come here.
One of our favourite moments at Amantaní Island was watching the beautiful sunsets on our private terrace, listening to the sound of the waves and just soaking up the peace and serenity of the place.
We spent 2 days on Amantaní Island and what we loved the most was how welcoming the locals are. They are not only very friendly, but also curious and excited to show off their island.
The most touching moment was as we were leaving, one mother who was also on our boat taking her children to school in Puno said to us proudly in Spanish “thank you for visiting us on Amantaní”. There was no hidden agenda, she didn't work for anyone, she wasn't trying to sell us anything, she was simply excited and proud to see people taking an interest in her island.
Where to stay on Amantani Island?
Amantaní Island has a mix of traditional homestays to immerse yourself in the local life. It also has a new exclusive lodge available, offering a barefoot luxury experience whilst still allowing lots of interaction with locals. THIS is the stuff of dreams that we think you should totally include in your Peru bucket list!
In a nutshell
- All meals and transport included in the rate
- Stunning and luxurious lodge with amazing views
- Private chef serving an organic menu made with native ingredients
- Learn about local life in a responsible way
Amantica Lodge is an absolutely stunning four-star hotel on the shores of Amantica Island. Two exclusive suites offer incredible views over Lake Titicaca with private terraces, a fireplace and a Jacuzzi carved out of rock in the bathroom.
A private chef serves guests delicious gourmet food using local ingredients like alpaca, fish and quinoa.
What we especially love is that Amantica Lodge is super luxurious whilst still maintaining authenticity: the rooms are built using traditional materials like wood, mud, reed (the main material in the lake) and are decorated with straw roofs, which are typical on the island.
Owner Oswaldo and his family also ensure that their business is supporting the local communities of Amantani with a number of social responsibility initiatives in place. You can get to know these locals by taking part in fishing for dinner, learning to read coca leaves or going on a trek to the peak of Mount Pachatata in the center of the island – which has Inca and Tiwanaku ruins on top.
Or, just laze away your days sunning on the terrace while gazing at Lake Titicaca's ever-moving waters, relax in the Jacuzzi and drift off to sleep while lulled by the sound of the waves on the shore…
Prices at Amantica Lodge start from $670 per night:
Amantani Pachatata Lodge
In a nutshell
- Lovely homestay with the sweetest hosts
- Breakfast included in the rate
- Clean and cosy accommodation
- Great way to be immersed in local culture
This is a homestay offered by Vidal and his wife Sonia, who are native to the island. The rooms are rustic but cosy, very clean, with comfortable warm beds and balconies to enjoy sunset views over the garden to the lake.
Vidal goes above and beyond to ensure guests have a wonderful time, from meeting you at the pier when you arrive on Amantani to making sure guests with altitude sickness get some extra care.
The real highlight is the food. Every meal Sonia cooked up was unique and delicious, made from the freshest ingredients out of their own garden. It's also no issue if you are vegetarian as she will cater to that if needed. Breakfast is included in the rate but you can also enjoy lunch and dinner at a small extra cost.
Another thing we loved about staying with Vidal and Sonia is that they love sharing their culture with their guests, going so far as to give demonstrations of traditional crafts or take you on a walk of the area surrounding their home.
Staying with Vidal and Sonia is just about the homeliest homestay we've ever experienced, they really made us feel like we were part of the family.
Prices at Amantani Pachatata Lodge start from $32 per night:
Is Lake Titicaca worth the trip?
Definitely worth the trip if you stay on one of the remote islands of Lake Titicaca like Amantani. If you're tight with time and only have a few hours to spend, then skip it. At best you'll visit the floating islands of the Uros people near Puno and won't enjoy it.
But if you have 2-3 days, then we strongly advise investing your time heading to Amantaní. It truly is an experience everyone should add to their Peru itinerary.
Happy travels are safe travels
For more inspiration:
- Use our Peru gay friendly travel itinerary to plan your whole trip to Peru
- Check out these unique gay friendly hotels in Peru
- Read about our experience trekking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
- Learn more about this fascinating country with our interesting facts about Peru you probably didn't know
- Discover delicious Peruvian food and try our recipes for Peruvian ceviche and Pisco Sour