Welcome to Lake Titicaca!
Welcome to the famous floating islands of Lake Titicaca! Set in south-eastern Peru, the lake is actually on the border of Peru and Bolivia ~ so technically it sits right in between both countries! At 12,507 feet, it’s the highest navigable lake in the world ~ which means that the sun is incredibly strong! Sunscreen and a hat are absolute musts at this altitude, and if you try to hike at this elevation (which you’ll likely be doing if you’re visiting the islands on Lake Titicaca), you may be sucking some serious wind: the altitude here is no joke.
Lake Titicaca Info
- Where: Lake Titicaca, Southern Peru/border of Bolivia
- Altitude: 12,500 feet
- Cost: $45-150+ (varies by tour company & transport used)
- When I Visited: January 2016
- Indigenous Culture: Uros
- Languages Spoken: Peruvian & Quechua (some English)
- Nearest City: Puno, Peru
- Frequent Tours: From Cusco & Arequipa, Peru
- Best Way to Get There: By bus ~ 8 hours from Cusco, 6 hours from Arequipa
- Fun Fact: Highest navigable lake in the world!
- #1 Tip = Wear Sunscreen & a Hat!!! High Elevation = Crazy sunburn!
How to Get to Lake Titicaca
It’s easiest to visit Lake Titicaca by bus from either Arequipa, Peru or Cusco, Peru. Your destination will be Puno, Peru ~ which is the city closest to Lake Titicaca. I would not suggest flying into Puno or taking a train, as there are very few options for either; taking a bus is your best bet. You have a wide range of options when it comes to buses: from high-end tourist buses to cheaper, more local options. I took a more high-end, tourist bus to Puno, and a cheaper, more local-friendly bus on the return trip to Cusco. Both were similar as far as comfort goes with comfortable, reclining seats & big picture windows. The main difference is time: the tourist bus was direct (took 8 hours), while the cheaper option made several stops, putting the journey around 10 hours.
Bus Options to Puno, Peru (aka Lake Titicaca) ~ If you want to purchase your bus tickets online, here are some options: Inka Express Bus, Cruz del Sur (I took this bus), Turismo Mer, and Wonder Peru Tourist Bus. If you want a cheaper, more local bus option ~ I’d suggest buying directly at the bus station. Cusco to Puno & Arequipa to Puno are quite popular routes, and you should have plenty of options.
GWTW Tip: Do NOT take a bus straight from Lima, Peru to Puno, Peru (Lake Titicaca)! It will take a minimum of 19 hours, & is not a good start to your Peru trip. Head to Nasca, Machu Picchu (via Cusco), or Arequipa first ~ & then make your way to Lake Titicaca from there.
Bus Route from Cusco to Puno
I took an overnight bus from Cusco to Puno, Peru, which lasted about 8 hours. It left at 10PM and arrived just after 6AM, at the Puno Bus Station. You store large pieces of luggage in the undercarriage of the bus, & keep your backpacks & purses (or any valuables) with you in the bus. The journey felt pretty routine and safe ~ I did this trip solo, and there were several other tourists on board. The seats recline & I was able to sleep for part of the journey, as did most other passengers. It was a quiet and uneventful journey. You can buy bus tickets on your own ($15-30+), or as part of a package deal, which includes accommodation & meals on the floating islands. A package deal on the floating islands will cost you approximately $150 for a 3-day package (the nicer the bus ~ the more expensive).
Bus Route from Arequipa to Puno
Where to Buy Lake Titicaca Tours
I purchased my tour from a tour operator in Cusco’s main square ~ the Plaza de Armas. Several tour companies are situated right around the square, near restaurants like Mama Africa & Papacho’s. Most of the tour companies are selling similar packages at similar prices ~ so I don’t think it really matters which one you choose. They will provide you bus tickets & will arrange for someone to pick you up at the Puno Bus Station.
You also have the option to book your tour online. Companies such as Titicaca Tour, All Ways Travel, and Titicaca For You. You have a plethora of options when it comes to visiting Lake Titicaca. The main thing you’ll need to decide is whether you’d like to do a short tour (half-day), or whether you’d like to actually spend the night (or nights) on one of the floating islands, typically Taquile or Amantani.
GWTW Tip: If you have the time and the money, I’d highly recommend that you spend the night on one of the islands, with an indigenous family. You will be staying in their home, typically in your own room, and eating meals with them. The bathrooms and homes will not be what you’re used to ~ but the experience & the people you meet are one-of-a-kind. There is nowhere in the world quite like this place.
What To Bring?
Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen!!! I cannot emphasize this enough. Without it, you will get absolutely scorched at this altitude. Coming off an impromptu horseback ride in Cusco the day before my Titicaca trip, my face and shoulders were already badly sunburned. So I purchased a big, floppy hat at the docks of Lake Titicaca & slathered on copious amounts of sunscreen (the sun reflects off the lake water, increasing your chances of burning). In doing this, I managed to mitigate some of the potential damage!
One more thing you will need: CASH. If you wish to purchase beautiful, hand-crafted items from the Uros peoples of the islands, you’ll need to bring some cash ~ there are no credit card machines on floating islands! Most host families sell small goods & warm items such as mittens & knit hats for the cool nights. Though the days are warm, I’d bring a nice warm sweatshirt or jacket for the cooler nights. Peruvians are known for their beautiful & colorful (often wool) knits, which will keep you warm at elevation ~ so leave some room in your bag in case you buy some!
Have you been to Lake Titicaca? How did you get to the floating islands, and did you stay overnight with one of the families on Amantani or Taquile? If you haven’t been, take a look at the video below to see what the floating islands are all about!
Enjoy Lake Titicaca!