Los Uros – A Lost Culture On Floating Islands

Imagine being dependent on reeds only to build your house at the middle of the highest navigable lake in the world and build up a whole community this way.

This is exactly what the Uros did when they fled the mainland out on the Lake Titicaca near Puno in today’s Peru.

Initially living at boats made of totora reeds found in and around the lake, soon another way to live at the lake needed to be developed, as the boats slowly started to rot away because of the rotting effect the water had on the reeds. And so the Uros started to construct little islands of reeds.

Together these so-called floating islands formed the Isla de los Uros, nowadays a regular stop for tourists visiting Lake Titicaca in the southern part of Peru.

Every island is almost entirely composed of reeds and it will depend on the size of the island how many families live on it. Because of the rotting process the average island will approximately last thirty years, putting an enormous burden on the Uros to maintain the islands and to build new ones for the families living on them. A process that is accelerated by the many tourists visiting the island, as every step made at a reed island affects its base.

Whereas on the one hand tourism is certainly beneficial for the Uros given the income it creates, on the other hand it causes them to work even harder to maintain the islands, while already living a tough life caused by the harsh climate at the middle of a high altitude lake. This was a detail that personally gave me some mixed feelings about our visit to these islands.

‘Modern technology’ – made affordable because of the tourism revenues – has, however, made the life of the Uros a bit more comfortable. Nowadays electricity is available at some islands through the use of solar panels and besides the unmotorized reed boats there are now numerous motor boats around, making a trip to the mainland easier and faster.

What this all will mean for the future conservation of the islands, is something to be seen.


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