Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake on earth and a popular tourist destination in Peru. Like hiking Colca Canyon, visiting Lake Titicaca is an essential stop while vacationing in Arequipa.
So, exactly how high is it and why is it so special?
Lake Titicaca sits at a staggering12,500 ft. While there are plenty of lakes that are higher, tourists visit Lake Titicaca because it’s the highest one people live on and can be navigated by boats. It’s also interesting because the lake straddles the border between Peru and Bolivia. Because of that, it’s important to have your passport on hand when you visit, or make sure you know which islands are in which country.
Because Bolivia requires a $140 visa entrance fee for Americans, unfortunately this time around Daniel and I only chose to see the Peruvian islands in Lake Titicaca. We only had a weekend, and there was plenty to do just on the Peru side to fill that time.
If you’re planning to visit Lake Titicaca and see the islands on the Peruvian side, here’s everything you need to know!
How To Visit Lake Titicaca
To visit Lake Titicaca, you will need to start off in Puno. It’s a small city on the edge of the lake and the jumping off point for most of the tours to the islands.
The best time to visit Puno is when traveling between Arequipa and Cusco because the city sits almost exactly in the middle and is six hours from each one. So, when planning your trip to Peru, make sure you add a stop in Puno between the two destinations to avoid unnecessary backtracking.
Puno doesn’t have much to see, so it’s best to arrive at night and start your tours of the lake the next day. You can buy your bus tickets and tour directly from an agency in Cusco or Arequipa before you leave to simplify the process.
Lake Titicaca is huge and covers over 3,000 square miles with a max depth of almost 9,000 feet! There are plenty of islands on the lake to explore and a lot to see and do in the area.
So, what should you see when you visit Lake Titicaca?
The Top 3 Peruvian Islands to Visit in Lake Titicaca
If, like us, you decide to stay on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca, these are the best islands to visit. All of them can be seen on a two-day / one-night tour from Puno, and then you can grab an evening bus to your next destination.
Distance from Puno: 3 hours by boat
Size: 3.5 square miles
Population: 800 families in 10 small communities
Why you should visit Amantani Island: The unique thing about Amantani island, and my favorite part of the visit, was the homestay we we stayed in. We ate lunch, dinner, and breakfast with a local family and were invited into their houses to sleep.
Flora, our “mother”, was extremely kind and her house was very comfortable. It even included a large balcony with a stunning view of the lake.
That night, we were all invited to a local fiesta where we were given traditional outfits to wear. Musicians from across the island came to play and they taught us the traditional dances of the community. I was a bit skeptical at first, but it ended up being a really fun experience.
What to do on Amantanii Island: While on Amantani, don’t miss the climb up to the highest point on the island. There are two small mountains that each have a temple on top of them, and you can visit either the temple of the moon and the temple of the sun.
We climbed to the Pachatata temple. It was fairly easy on a paved path, and although it did go uphill for 45 minutes it wasn’t very steep. There are also vendors selling souvenirs, snacks, and even cold beers along the climb if you need a break.
Once you get to the top of the mountain, the 360 degree view is beautiful. You can see the sparkling blue water, surrounding islands, and even into Bolivia. While up there, just make sure you walk around the temple three times – once for health, once for money, and once for love – and then place a rock at the gate for good luck.
My tip: climb up in the afternoon to enjoy the sunset over the water!
Distance: 3 hours by boat from Puno, ad 1 hour by boat from Amantani Island
Size: about 7 square miles
Population: about 1600 people
Why you should visit Taquile Island: The most unique thing about Taquile island is the community of knitting men. These men do exactly what it sounds like… they knit. Their products are beautiful, thick, and high quality, and they are all made by hand.
There is a large market in the central Plaza de Armas where you can buy scarves, headbands, gloves, and traditional belts and hats from them. They’re expensive (some of the hats take up to two months to knit!) but unique and make great souvenirs and gifts.
What to do on Taquile Island: We docked on one side of the island and walked an hour to the main square. The walk was high up along the coast line and had amazing views the whole way.
In the square, we visited the marketplace and afterward we enjoyed a lunch of baked fish and potatoes with a view of the farmland and blue sparking water. Finally, we walked back down to the other side of the island to a second port to meet our boat again.
If you visit Taquile, make sure you walk across the entire island to enjoy the many different beautiful views of the lake!
The Uros Floating Islands
Distance from Puno: 20 minutes by boat
Size: 85 inhabited islands
Population: about 2500 people
The Uros floating islands are the easiest to visit from Puno because they are only a 20 minute boat ride away. They’re interesting because they were manmade by the Uros community that lives on them. Mud, roots, and reed plants make up the base of the islands, which float precariously on top of Lake Titicaca’s calm waters.
Why you should visit the Uros Floating Islands: The islands are incredibly unique because they’re just that: man-made, floating islands. When you visit them you’ll meet community members who will show you how they build the islands and anchor them down. The islands, their homes, and all the crafts they sell are all made out of the reeds that grow in Lake Titicaca. They’re edible too, so you can even try a bite!
What to do on the Uros Floating Islands: While on the islands, you can take a $3 ride in their traditional boats that they used to live on before they began building more permanent islands. Check out their unique hanging mobiles and handicrafts, and visit the Uros Capital Island, which has hostels, restaurants, markets, and even a hospital and school built on it.
If you visit Lake Titicaca, you should try to get out of Puno and take a trip to a few of the best islands on the Peruvian side of the lake. Amantani Island, Taquile Island, and the Uros Floating Islands are my top three recommendations, and you can purchase a $30 overnight tour in Cusco, Arequipa, or Puno to check them out.
If you do decide to do the tour, check out our video below of the two-day experience with an overnight in a homestay on Taquile Island.
Make a quick stop while traveling between Cusco and Arequipa, visit Lake Titicaca, and explore the highest navigable lake in the world with this guide!
PS looking for more to do after you visit Lake Titicaca? Check out the Peru Guide for hiking, restaurants, recommendations, and more in Arequipa, Cusco, Huaraz and Lima!