Why travelling Lake Titicaca is stunning but also a tourist trap

Published on: April 18, 2019

This will always go down in history for me as the place I ate a Guinea Pig. And wore a dress.

My arse was sore and my lower back needed replacing

After the pot holed ride here from Cusco. That aside the bus, as always in Peru, was pretty dam good with its reclining leather seats. Why travelling Lake Titicaca is stunning but also a tourist trap.

I arrived to Puno in our Gecko adventure group. I hate organised group tours and adventures. However, it was over Christmas, I had 8 months of solo travel ahead of me and it included all the admin for the Inca hike. Against my expectation it was truly awesome. This certainly was mostly down to having a wicked group. But to their dues Gecko adventures state they’ll try to pair you with like minded, similar people. So for this reason and the hell of a time I had I’d recommend them. Especially this two-week tour. Which involves a lot of admin if you do it on your own. We were staying at Tierra Viva Puno Plaza. I’m always about the food and the place put on a massive help-yourself spread at breakfast. Had solid beds and very clean bathrooms. Big ticks for a one-night stay.

I found Puno like most areas on Peruvian city outskirts. Simple but has all you need. Our guide said this was the best place to eat Guinea pig as it was cheaper than the bigger cities. He knew a family run place that cooked it to the T. I’ll hand it to him. He was right. That night we dined at Atajo and finished it off with a Karaoke kings of Leon sing song session at the karaoke bar on the main street near Mercado central. The locals, as expected, laughed and gave a “what a bunch of tossas” look. Hands down I’ll take a karaoke guinea pig eating session any day.

Why travelling Lake Titicaca is stunning but also a tourist trap. A person sits on the floating hay bails of Lake Titicaca
Feet up

The lake

The following morning, after the huge breakfast spread at Tierra Viva Puno Plaza. It was a short taxi to the peer. We bordered the boat and took off across the lake to a mini island. Which was in fact an island of floating hay bails. Isla Flotanes de los Uros, they called it. I have to admit, tourist setup or not. I found it impressive to stand on and witness these islands. How the hell they floated and stayed together was an engineering feat itself for me. We had the local history talk, dance and tack shop offerings. I smiled, thanked them and found a spot in the sun on a hay bail to people watch the locals. As the rest of the group took a boat ride around the small island.

I find Peruvians funny fellows. Like Lego people. Not meaning that in an insulting way. They probably think I look like a rodent. Their bright colours and stumpy selves give them a personality before they’ve even opened their gobs. I grabbed a cup of coca leaf tea and watched them fish through a hay hole (there’s a saying in that). I think I was there for around two hours before we headed off to another island. Where we would be staying with and amongst the locals.

Staying on an island with the locals for a night

From the hay bails we plodded on to a very small island named Taquile. We were greeted by out Peruvian families, split up and lead to our casas. The mama cooked some cracking meals for us. I couldn’t get enough of her dinner time stew and she was very generous with seconds. That being said though, myself and my fellow Ozzie roomie wrapped cotton balls for two hours as part of the ‘family experience.’ I mean fair play making us do YOUR work and fair play on the feed for pay. A little kid sat with us and ranted which passed the time with the mama of the house occasionally checking in on progress. And probably thinking suckers.

After the afternoon chore we wandered the island. I did find this fascinating to see. The fact people still living on these islands. And more so the community they’ve formed. Farmers, clothes makers and the local church all came together in the island square. It was it rich photography territory here in my opinion as it felt very real and rural. Plus there was an F-off huge bull that made a cracking portrait.

Back home down the hill and it was fancy dress time. I’ve donned many an attire for an Otley run at Uni (University of Leeds goers will feel me here). But this type of dressing-up gave my fellow friends back home a lot of ammo. We followed that up with a game of volleyball on the lake front against the mamas themselves. Not sure if that was a tradition but I was all out gunning for the win. Didn’t happen, they’re bloody good. Brekky was cracking the next day and we left back to port to continue the journey to La Paz.

The lake honestly

I appreciate they’re keeping the tradition alive and I appreciate it’s our right to pay to experience and learn about it. I’m all for money to the people and power. But, the whole Lake Titicaca felt setup to me. As in it felt a little like it was a museum with a theatrical add-on. I thought the lake itself was an amazing thing to see. A boat ride on the lake would have done it for me. But the added staying with a local and sitting on the hay bails felt too much of a tourist trap.

Why travelling Lake Titicaca is stunning but also a tourist trap

Dos

  • Stay at Tierra Viva Puno Plaza if you’re here for one night. It’s a great breakfast spread, clean and the rooms are large.
  • Save your guinea pig eating for this town as it’s much cheaper than the other more tourist spots.
  • The journey here is long no matter if you arrive from Peru or Bolivia so stock up on supplies
  • The journey here from Bolivia is longer as you have hours to wait at the border crossing. There are some great chicken rotisserie shacks here though so every cloud.
  • Check out the Karaoke Bar on the main street if you’re wanting a few drinks and a laugh.
  • Take a tour of the lake and stop on one of the island for a few hours to explore and people watch. There’s a sense of real rural Peru on them.

Don’ts

  • Stay here any longer than a day or two
  • Come here if you’re tight on time. In my opinion there’s better places to use your time
  • Do the island stay experience if you’re not a fan of forced group fun?
  • Expect to much to see or do in Puno itself, it’s mainly a stop for the lake.

If I was pressed for time travelling, I’d skip this lake. There’s more authentic places to experience. I am being picky here and I still feel very lucky to have experienced it but time and money are precious with a backpack on. That being said if you’re travelling via bus from Peru to Bolivia it’s a cracking nights’ rest and explore before continuing the journey.


Tips for healthy eats

  • Tierra Viva Puno Plazaputs on a cracking help yourself spread for breakfast. Full of fruits, grains and veg omelettes.
  • The central Mercado on the main street has fruits and veg for sale.
  • On the island stay they cook using very fresh vegetables and meat. The mamas know their stuff.
  • For the long bus journey either side I’d look for tins of tuna as protein hit snacks.

How to get meat for that protein hit

  • Grab yourself that Guinea pig for one, it’s probably around a 30 – 40g hit.
  • On the islands stay they’ll serve you eggs for breakfast and plentiful meat for lunch. I used my BCAA and Glutamine to stay on top in between.
  • There’s grilled chicken shacks at the border crossing between Peru and Bolivia with full and half on offer.

Where to exercise

Use your room to its full advantage for a morning or evening exercise session. I love a good room session; you can get creative with what’s around you. If you have a band and a bag you may find some of my workout videos here useful.

Staying on the island with the locals doesn’t really give you any opportunity to exercise so it’s a light morning stretch and rest day.


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