Imagine living on a raft in the middle of a lake. It’s a big raft, large enough to hold a few small houses.
The floor of the raft is made of thatched reeds, and is about ten feet thick. Because the water erodes the reeds, you have to keep adding new layers to the top of the raft to keep it afloat.
It sounds like an unstable, or at least challenging, existence, but it’s exactly what the Uros people have been doing for centuries. Today approximately 3,000 Uros people live on about 100 of these man-made islands (they don’t call them “rafts”) on Lake Titicaca, located on the southern border of Peru.
The Uros islands range in size from about 100 feet wide, to larger ones that can accommodate up to ten families. They are made from dried totora reeds, and are anchored to the bottom of the lake with ropes and sticks to keep them from drifting.
It is believed the Uros originally started building and inhabiting their islands as a means of self-defense, allowing them to move about Lake Titicaca in order to avoid hostile invaders.
At 12,000 feet, Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world. The Uros used to position their islands about ten miles offshore, but after a devastating storm in 1986, many Uros built new islands closer to shore, near the city of Puno.
In addition to constructing their islands, the Uros also use totora reeds for building boats (balsas), and medicinal purposes.
You can visit the Uros islands on Lake Titicaca, and get a first-hand feeling of their traditional way of life (which embraces the modern world via solar panels that provide electricity). There are many outfitters in Puno who can arrange for your visit, or check out some of the trips listed below.
Seeing the Uros lifestyle on Lake Titicaca is a colorful and fascinating glimpse into a unique Andean culture, and one you will never forget.