Bullied by the Collas, then the Incas and later the Spanish, the Uros people did the unthinkable in the name of cultural preservation: They isolated themselves by constructing floating islands out of the totora reeds that grow abundantly around the lake. Today over 30 islands bob on the water's surface just offshore from Puno. Larger islands support 10 families, and the largest has a clinic, school and evangelical church. Only three families inhabit the smaller islas flotantes
The construction of floating islands is not unique to the Uros. A similar technology was used by the peoples of Colombiaâ€™s SinĂş River delta and Mexicoâ€™s Lago Texcoco. To keep their islands afloat, the Uros must frequently rebuild the top layers, as the bottom layers rot. The islandsâ€™ pungent odor stems from the reedsâ€™ decomposition.
The Uros intermarried with mainlanders and adopted the Aymara language, extinguishing their native tongue. The Uros continue some traditions: The family is headed by the grandfather, and marriages often prearranged from birth. Islanders still use totora rafts, some with bows shaped puma or other animal head. Hunting and fishing are important activities.
In the late 1960s, tourism arrived to the Islas Uros. Twenty of the islands have deals with agencies in Puno. Now the islanders garner much of their daily income from trafficking tourists, thus pulling them out of poverty. The cultural impact, though, has been great. Children beg from the thousands of tourists who arrive each year, and their parents push souvenirs. The local artisan cooperative is no longer part of the national CIAP fair trade association, as Uros crafts are no longer traditional; they aim for the commercial market.
The islands lie four kilometers (2.5 mi) from Punoâ€™s port. Tours to Islas Uros can be arranged through most Puno tour agencies. It is easy, however, to visit the islands independently; see Getting to and away from Puno for more information.
Lodging with meals is available, and price per person depends on the island: Isla Santa Catalina ($19); Isla Qaupacha, Quechua or TupulĂ ($6-12). A few Puno agencies also have hotels on the Islas Uros, charging $15-17 for full board: Kamisaraki Inn Lodge (Isla Tupirmarka. Cel: 951-664-510 / 951-695-410, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, URL: https://sites.google.com/site/uroskamisaraki) and Titikaka Lodge (reservations: Jr Lima 208, of 08, Puno. Cel: 951-402-502, E-mail: email@example.com, URL: www.titikakalodge.com).
An entry fee is charged for the Islas Uros: foreigners $2, nationals $1, children under 13 years old free.