Visiting the Uros Islands is one of the craziest yet incredible experiences that you can have in Peru. These islands sit on Lake Titicaca, the highest lake in the world, and are entirely man-made with one ingredient: reeds. Luckily, the inhabitants of these islands welcome tourism, so you can go see this unique community for yourself.
About the Uros Islands
The Uru people are surprisingly self-sufficient, pulling reeds from the lake to maintain their islands and fishing for much of their food. For anything they can’t find in nature, they use their boats and tourism income to head back to shore and buy whatever they need in the neighboring city of Puno.
The islands themselves are surprisingly modern. Each island has a few huts that serve as living quarters, plus huts for a dining room and kitchen. The islands are even equipped with solar panels which allows them to turn on a few lights during night time. Also, most of the islands have a motor boat for easy transportation and to fish for the abundant trout population.
Maintaining the Uros Islands is very labor intensive. We learned from one of the natives that every 25 days, they have to restack new reeds on the top of the island. This isn’t an easy process, because they have to use cinder blocks to lift up all the structures (like huts) on the island to lay reeds everywhere. They do this because the reeds on the bottom start rotting, which requires a fresh layer of reeds to keep the islands afloat.
If you’re wondering how in the world these islands are sustainable, you’re not alone. When we first learned of these islands’ existence, we were nervous to even step foot on them. A foundation of reeds doesn’t exactly sound stable.
But learning about this unique culture was irresistible, and we wanted the full experience. So we found a host on Airbnb who actually lives on an Uros Island, and booked the night on his island. The resulting experience had its setbacks and challenges, but it’s an experience that we are so glad we have.
Our Experience: Spending the Night on the Uros Islands
The (Wrong) Boat Ride to the Islands
Nothing went as planned on our stay on the Uros floating islands, and it all started with the boat ride. We had arranged ahead of time to meet our Airbnb host at 3 PM at the dock in Puno. He had a boat, and was going to pick us up and take us back to his island where we would be staying the night.
We arrived at the dock at 3 on the dot and didn’t see our host. 3:15, still no host. 3:30, still nothing. Finally, some men at the docks took pity on us and offered us a ride out to the islands on their boat. After waiting for over 30 minutes and calling our host numerous times with no reply, we decided to take them up on their offer.
The second we got on their boat, we regretted accepting their offer. The boat was literally falling apart. Windows were cracked open, the floor boards were rotting. We were scared we wouldn’t even make it out to the islands.
Thankfully, we made it out to the islands without any Titanic reenactments. But that’s when we encountered our next issue.
Getting Lost on the Uros Islands
You might be wondering how it’s possible to get lost on a few tiny floating reed islands. I’ll tell you how. It turns out, there aren’t just a few floating reed islands as we had expected. There are actually 93 islands.
We noticed this as our boat was pulling up to the islands. Realizing how many islands there were, we had no idea how we were going to find the island we were supposed to spend the night on. And at this point, we were only about an hour away until sunset.
Our boat driver attempted to call our Airbnb host a few more times before abandoning us on one of the reed islands open to the public. We did the only thing we could think of: We started asking people if they knew our Airbnb host.
We got lucky. The first group of women we went up to ask said they knew our Airbnb host. One woman agreed to take us there on her boat for 15 soles. Done deal.
But our troubles weren’t quite over. When we arrived at our host’s island, nobody was there. The islands have a strict policy that they can’t drop visitors off on an island without the host there to receive the people. Again, we had no idea what to do.
Luckily, the woman who we paid to take us by boat to our host was extremely kind. She didn’t abandon us. She helped us find another island that accepts visitors overnight. Just as we were about to get off the boat to spend the night on a different island, a boat zoomed by.
“That’s your host!” the woman explained. It turns out, we had been waiting for him at the wrong dock. After screaming his name at the top of our lungs, we finally managed to get his attention. He stopped his boat, picked us up, and brought us back to his island. The right island.
Finally, we had made it to where we needed to go.
Accommodations on the Island
Going into this adventure, we had no idea what to expect once we arrived on the island. We didn’t know where we’d be sleeping, what type of food there would be, and most importantly, what the bathroom situation would be like.
After arriving on the island, we were pleasantly surprised by the accommodations. Our room was in a small but well built little hut with insulated walls. There was even a bathroom with a saw dust toilet. The bathroom also had a sink and shower, but there was no running water the entire time we were there.
In addition to having a nice, clean room to sleep in, we also had an incredible dinner. For an additional 15 soles, our host cooked us soup for an appetizer, and then chicken, rice and veggies for the main course. It was all delicious, and we ate in a hut with a dedicated dining area.
Our host even took us out on a boat ride on the boat that he had made out of reeds. He showed us the area of the lake with the reeds they use to make their islands, even demonstrating how they pull the reed out above the root to allow them to grow back.
Sleeping on the Island
After dinner, we bundled up and sat in the lawn chairs on the edge of the island. Since we were out in the middle of the lake and far away from any light, we could see the stars so well. We sat outside for about an hour just looking at the stars and enjoying the calm night.
Everything was quiet and peaceful…until 2 in the morning. The first clap of thunder didn’t scare me, I thought it was a boat rumbling into action. When I opened my eyes as saw lightning through the curtains on our window, I sat straight up in bed.
Being on a floating reed island during a thunderstorm isn’t exactly preferable. In fact, it’s pretty scary. You have minimal protection and you’re in the middle of a lake, so you feel pretty vulnerable.
Luckily, the storm passed by us so we didn’t even get any rain. It was still a pretty scary time, but hey, we survived!
Spending the night on the Uros Islands was a once in a lifetime opportunity and we are glad that we got to experience it, despite the struggle of arriving. We were so glad that our host was gracious and welcoming, and more than happy to share his culture with us.
If you are ever in Peru, this is one of the first things that we would recommend you do. Just make sure you arrive at the right dock 🙂
Would you spend the night on floating reed islands?