Straddling Peru’s southern border with landlocked Bolivia are the deep, sapphire-blue waters of mystical Lake Titicaca, everyone’s favourite school geography statistic. This gigantic inland sea covers up to 8500 sq km and is the highest navigable lake in the world, at an average 3810 m above sea level. Its shores and islands are home to the Aymara, Quechua and Uros peoples. Here you can wander through old traditional villages where Spanish is a second language and where ancient myths and beliefs are still held.
On the northwest shore of Lake Titicaca, at 3855 m, Puno is a major folklore centre and a great place to buy handicrafts, particularly those amazingly tactile alpaca jumpers and hats. It also has a rich tradition of music and dance and is a good place to enjoy a number of Andean festivals, some wild, some solemn. The high- altitude town is the departure point for the islands of Taquile and Amantaní, as well as the floating reed islands of Los Uros.
The Uros’ islanders fish, hunt birds and live off the lake plants, most important of which are the totora reeds they use for their boats, houses and the very foundations of their islands. On the more far-flung islands, reached via narrow channels through the reed beds, the Uros do not like to be photographed and continue to lead relatively traditional lives outside the monetary economy.
A trip to the islands of Taquile and Amantaní provides a real insight into traditional Andean life, especially during one of the festivals. Apart from the obvious attraction of the lake’s islands, Puno is also well placed to visit the remarkable funeral towers of Sillustani. Even if you’re feeling a bit ruined-out by this stage in your Peruvian odyssey, Sillustani is well worth the effort.