Lost in translation on Lake Titicaca

Amantani Island, Lake Titicaca, Peru
Written by Eugénie Kerkhof

How I wish I could speak a little Spanish right now. Here I am, sitting on a ramshackle wooden bench in a small, dark kitchen sharing lunch with our hostess Christina and I desperately want to ask her all kinds of questions about her life on Isla Amantani. But we’re unable to communicate – lost in translation on Lake Titicaca. Christina only speaks Spanish and Quechua, the local language, I only speak Dutch, English and sign language.

The small, remote island of Amantani is our second stop on a two day Lake Titicaca tour from Puno. Lake Titicaca, situated on the border of Peru and Bolivia, is the biggest lake in South America and at 3.800 meters the highest navigable lake in the world. We’re going to spend the night at Christina’s little home on the island.

Amantani homestay

She’s one of the participants of a homestay program affording visitors the possibility to experience local life on the island. And this would be so much easier if I could speak Spanish. Roel knows some basic words and finds out that she’s a widow and that her two sons work or study in Puno, but I’d like to know more. Most of the time communication is by using our hands or facial expressions or just goofing around. Fellow traveler Joey from Australia is quite adept at connecting with Christina that way.

Her features show her age, but from beneath her traditional dark blue skirt protrude two lean, powerful legs, the result of walking the steep Amantani hills for many years. It’s hard to keep up with her when she signals us to follow her to her place when we arrive on the islands, and when she guides us to the village square later in the afternoon where the stiff hike up Pachamama (Mother Earth), one of the highest hills on the island, for a vast sunset view.

Uros reed islands, are they for real?

Uros reed islands, Lake Titicaca, Peru

We started the trip earlier that day with a visit to the Uros islands, the floating reed islands that for most visitors embody the image they have of Lake Titicaca. It’s weird to walk around on the spongy underground and it is interesting to learn about life on the islands, but we get the feeling that everything is staged and that we are visiting a living history museum.

Despite communication problems and a bad night’s sleep (although our lodgings are better than expected, the bed is quite uncomfortable and it gets really cold at night), the visit to Amantani is so much more authentic and rewarding.

Having a surprisingly nice vegetarian lunch, dinner and breakfast (you have to like quinoa….) with Christina and joining in some furious evening dancing (exhausting at this altitude) organized at the main assembly hall for the foreign guests, make the trip.

Isla Taquila as an afterthought

Old Taquile island man, Lake Titicaca, Peru

Old Taquile man showing his knitting skills

Even more so because the visit the next day to neighboring Isla Taquile is a bit of a disappointment. Taquile is famous for its knitting men, but after the short but steep hike to the main village there’s hardly any time for aimless wandering and exploring. It seems the stop here has been added as an afterthought.

The time spent on the island is mainly reserved for a very early and long lunch break after some explanation about the male knitting tradition, but without seeing the real deal. We skip lunch, but don’t know where to go. As we’re far away from the village and time is too short we saunter towards the dock where we’re supposed assemble for the 2,5 hour boat ride back to Puno. It feels like time wasted.

It’s not a good way to say goodbye to Peru after eighteen wonderful days in the country. It’s all part of travel – it can’t always be great or even awesome. But this last day will certainly not reflect on the good times we had in Peru.

Amantani Island, Lake Titicaca, Peru

Caballero on Amantani Island

Travel tips Puno

Sleep – Before and after visiting Lake Titicaca we stayed at the Quechuas Inka Palace, without a doubt the hostel with the weirdest architecture in town. We stayed in two different en suite rooms, one of them having grand views of the lake and Puno. It’s about a 10 minute walk from the city center. Beds are OK, showers piping hot and a good breakfast buffet is included. Wifi was weak in the room (third floor), OK near the lobby

Transport – There are tourist buses from Cusco to Puno that stop at sights along the way, but since we’d already seen so much Inca sites we opted for the upmarket bus service of Cruz del Sur, a direct service which was very comfortable and saved us 3-4 hours of travel time (about 6 hours now), while tickets were about 60 percent cheaper than the tourist buses.

Uros floating reed island, Lake Titicaca, Peru

The Uros floating reed islands are the main draw for many tourists visiting Lake Titicaca

Tour – Half, one and two day tours on Lake Titicaca are readily available in Puno. The cheapest two day tour like we did cost around 80 soles (21 euros). If you have time consider arranging your own tour of Uros, Amantani and Taquile – there are ferries between the islands – and stay a little longer on the latter two. That way you’ll get more out of the experience and your host family will probably earn more.

We were a little disgruntled with the second day of the organized tour we took (which seemed exemplary for the tours offered by the way). When staying on Amantani don’t expect wifi, tv or modern bathrooms (think outside wash basin with cold water and brick outhouse with adobe toilet and a bucket for flushing). It’s all very basic, but worth it. Good overnight stays are also possible on Isla del Sol on the Bolivian side of the lake.

More about Peru:

10 things to do in Cusco

eating cuy, al culinary adventure

hidden gems in the Sacred Valley


About the author

Eugénie Kerkhof

Curious about other cultures, loves Christmas, Indian food, Tibetan monasteries and reading Dwarsliggers. Enjoys connecting with deaf people all around the world.

Leave a Comment