Peru: Lake Titicaca

We were done travelling around Bolivia and couldn’t wait to cross the border into Peru. The only problem was that we were stuck in Bolivia at Lake Titicaca. The situation was that Peruvian miners were on strike (again!) and the border crossing was closed (again!). The miners created a blockade with boulders on the road to prevent vehicles from passing.

With our bus tickets in hand we were forced to spend another day in Bolivia, along with everyone else trying to leave. Typical of South America, it was impossible to find out exactly what was going on. There were a lot of stressed out backpackers but since we had time on our side, we pretty much just rolled with it.

Luckily we only had to wait one additional day. When we finally boarded the bus we all crossed our fingers and hoped that we would actually make it through the crossing. The big rocks and boulders lining the sides of the road near immigration were blatant visual reminders of the contention at the border the day before.

When we finally got our passports stamped into Peru, we both let out a deep sigh of relief and I did a happy dance. Bolivia was interesting and definitely exceeded our expectations, but the country was also hard and edgy and we were ready to move on. Hola, Peru!



Four hours later our bus pulled into Puno, the gateway city to Lake Titicaca. We checked into our hotel and booked a boat tour for the next day to explore the Uros Floating Islands in the lake.

When I was in 4th or 5th grade I loved reading “National Geographic for Kids” each month (thanks, Grandma Connolly!). I remember seeing photos of Peruvian kids and their families living on floating islands and at the time it blew my ten year-old mind. I’ve carried this memory with me for a long time and couldn’t wait to visit the islands in person. Despite its reputation for being very touristy, it felt important for us to experience this unusual and historical location.

Uros Floating Islands

Morning came way too soon. Wearing all of our warm clothes layered over tee shirts we hopped into our tour van at 5:00 AM. We drove down to the docks and boarded our boat as the sun rose over the lake. The cluster of islands looked very tranquil off in the distance.


The Uros are a Pre-Incan people living on a cluster of floating Islands in Lake Titicaca located only 5K from Puno. Originally created as a safe heaven to escape the brutal Incas, today the community of islands are maintained to educate the world about their unusual and highly resourceful habitat.

Made from reeds growing in the lake, the islands are continually decomposing. Every three months or so the rotting reeds need to be reinforced or replaced. It’s a constant effort to maintain the structure of the islands. The base of the islands are comprised of dense layers of mud and organic material, which are then anchored to the bottom of the lake. Fascinating! Walking on the islands felt like walking on a giant waterbed.


The reeds are also used as tea, medicine and toothpaste. We all chomped on reeds for breakfast.


It was more than a little disheartening to see the little kids “working” the tourists. This four-year old girl was trying to get Harry to buy a piece of candy that another visitor had just given her.


Yes, visiting the Uros Islands was a very touristy thing to do. But we chose to look at the experience as a lesson in perseverance, survival and creative thinking. ‘Living Museums’ are definitely a colorful way to learn about an important slice of history.

Taquile Island

After the Uros Islands we took a boat ride for a few hours on beautiful Lake Titicaca to another island called Taquile. We hiked in the high altitude from one end to the other with our guide who taught us about the island’s unique way of life. We ate an authentic lunch of rice and trout at 13,000 feet.

Taquile is a “real” working island with 2,000 inhabitants. The land is parceled out to maximize usable space and crops are rotated annually. The island has been practicing sustainable agriculture long before it was ever a buzz phrase. We were impressed with how the community seemingly worked together to maximize the efficiency of the land. Survival fosters creativity and resourcefulness, indeed.


Onward to Cusco

Our first few days in Peru were fantastic! I noticed right away that the locals seemed happy and I loved hearing laughter on the streets. Lake Titicaca was incredible and we were happy to have experienced its magic on both the Bolivian and Peruvian sides. Next up: Cusco and the Sacred Valley.

Bolivia: La Paz + Lake Titicaca

While we enjoyed our relaxing 10 days in Sucre, we were eager to get out of town because the city’s water had been shut off for over two days. Seriously! We were lucky because our hostel had an underground tank of water, so we were able to flush the toilet and wash our hands. Unfortunately for much of the city, including our Spanish school, there wasn’t any water. Residents and tourists alike could be seen purchasing bottles of water at a rapid pace, wondering when the water would flow again. All I could think of was “major public health crisis”!

Deciding how to get to La Paz was a no-brainer: we could either take a 12-hour night bus on unpaved, bumpy gravel roads or pay $40 for a 50-minute flight. We were more than willing to give the Bolivian airlines our money. Our Polish friend Aga was on our flight which made the trip more fun for all of us.


La Paz “The City That Touches the Clouds”

We only spent two nights in La Paz, and that was enough for us. Built into the mountains at almost 12,000 feet, the landscape was massive and the air thin. Edgy and gritty, we found the city to be a bit overwhelming. The crowded sidewalks and obnoxious, exhaust-spewing buses made walking around an unpleasant chore. It was impressive to see the local men and women haul their wares on their backs up to the market stalls everyday.

One afternoon we took a cable car with some friends up and over the city to a huge market and were blown away by the number of buildings occupying every inch of possible space. The view was phenomenal. Later that night we went to see Cholita’s (indigenous women) wrestling ala WWF-style. Apparently the Cholitas are empowered by their participation in this relatively new entertainment industry. The community center was full of both locals and tourists laughing, cheering and heckling the wrestlers. Talk about a crazy experience!


Big City to Quiet Lake

We left La Paz on an old bus and set off for a bumpy four-hour ride to Copacabana, gateway to Lake Titicaca. Once we finally got out of the dirty, dusty outskirts of La Paz and El Alto (the fast-growing city that sits above La Paz) the scenery became spectacular. The snow capped Cordillera Real mountains were stunning and provided an impressive distraction from the uncomfortable bus ride.


We were excited to finally arrive at the lake and more than a little surprised to see our bus loaded onto a floating platform and motored across the Tiquina Straight. We rode on the passenger boat with everyone else.


Lake Titicaca

Located high in the Andes, Lake Titicaca sits on the border between Bolivia and Peru. Said to be the highest navigable lake in the world at 12,500 feet, Lake Titicaca is a special place in the history of the Incas.


Las Olas Eco Lodge

We treated ourselves to a few nights at the Las Olas Eco Lodge where we stayed in a yurt-like independent structure built into the hillside with amazing views of the lake. There were hammocks inside our unit, pet llamas roaming on the property and a huge window to soak it all in. Perfect! But not quite. There was one problem… it was freezing cold. Remember, it was winter in Bolivia and we were high up in the mountains. Although the sun shone brightly during the day our room literally never warmed up, and it got ridiculously cold at night. We ended up spending very little time inside our cute abode because were warmer walking around outside.


 Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun)

The Incas believed that Isla de Sol was the birthplace of the sun. We took a relaxing three hour boat ride out to the island and hired a local guide to walk from the north end to the south end with us. While we certainly could have made the trek on our own, we enjoyed spending four hours with Juan and considered it our Spanish lesson for the day. We visited Inca ruins, huffed and puffed up the steep, rocky trail and marveled at the impressive span of blue water surrounding us on all sides.


Up Next: Lake Titicaca, Peru

When we first made plans to visit South America, Bolivia wasn’t really on our radar. After doing research and talking with other travelers we knew we had to go. The stunning landscapes and friends we made along the way made our three weeks memorable. Peru, on the other hand, had been on our minds for a long time and we couldn’t wait to cross the border!


Bolivia: Sucre

After our epic 4-day primitive extravaganza in southwestern Bolivia, we headed a few hours north to Sucre with a plan to stay for 10 days. We were ready to settle down in one place for a few days to relax, regroup and study Spanish, and Sucre was calling our names.

Sucre is located in the mountains at 9,214 feet above sea level. After being really cold in southern Bolivia I was hoping for warmer weather, but that didn’t exactly happen. The days were sunny and in the 60’s, but once the sun went down the temps dropped into the 30’s. Needless to say I slept in my jacket every night since we didn’t have heat in our room. Well, to be fair, there wasn’t heat anywhere we went – not at school, in restaurants, stores, etc. At least our hostel had hot showers and a comfortable bed.


Sucre is a beautiful city with Spanish colonial architecture, impressive churches, lots of parks and a main square that buzzed with constant activity. There are several universities in town and the abundance of students created a youthful vibe. There were also an overwhelming number of backpackers hanging around sporting dreadlocks and flipflops.

One weekend there was an exciting car race in the city. Literally in the city! Roads around the main square and throughout town were closed so loud, muffler-less cars could FLY down the streets and around corners. We couldn’t believe how close people stood to watch. The cars made a circuit through town, into the mountains, and back again. It was fun to experience this annual race with all the locals. It was family friendly event with street food, balloon animals and a lot of cheering.


Sucre Spanish School

One of the reasons we stayed in Sucre for so long was to take a week of Spanish classes. The price was right in that we each only paid $6.50 an hour for a private lesson. We were in class three hours a day for five days and we both really liked our teachers. My first class flew by and I was amazed when I realized that we hadn’t spoken any English at all in three hours.

One day our teachers planned a field trip for us and we took a bus to a huge market across town. We didn’t see any other tourists there which speaks to the authenticity of the market. My teacher and her mom shop there twice a week, so she knew how to navigate through the massive maze of shops and vendors. Yes, that’s a dead pig laying on the table (see picture below).


Many of you have asked how our Spanish is coming along, and it’s tricky to reply because we haven’t been learning in a conventional, systematic way… but we’ve been learning. Yes, we can both have basic conversations in Spanish, however we still understand more than we can speak. Our classes in Sucre made us realize that we’ve been living in a Spanish Bubble for a few months. We’re quite versed at “hospitality speak”, meaning we’re fairly proficient at communicating with hostel staff, bus and taxi drivers, restaurant staff and barbers, etc. I think we’ve come a long way since January, but of course there’s so much more to learn. Harry has a bigger vocabulary than I do, but thoughts roll off my tongue more freely. We still make a good team.

Hat Factory

Our Polish friend Aga joined us one afternoon to visit the Sucre Hat Factory. From the moment we stepped inside it was like going back in time. The felted wool hats were made with old fashioned elbow grease and machines that rattled and hummed.


Next Up: La Paz, the highest Capital City in the World

We’ve heard people say that when it comes to La Paz, you’ll either love it or hate it. We boarded a plane in Sucre and headed for the big city with a bag of coca leaves (to be explained later) and an open mind.