Adventure on Lake Titicaca
All countries have the potential for adventurous travel. However, some countries are adventurous in their very essence. To their very core. All who visit are destined for thrilling experiences and moments of pure discovery and joy.
Peru isn’t just one of these countries, it is the country. Time and time again it delivers exhilaration and wonder. Around every corner can be a jaw dropping mountain range to trek, a clear river to kayak or an ancient ruin to explore. Completing the package, it doesn’t hurt that it also has some truly remarkable hotels and restaurants to reflect and recuperate in after your days of adventure!
Obviously, the level of adventure is up to the traveller. You could head to the remote and inaccessible north and strike out through the winding roads and mountain passes for Kuelap, the lesser-known Machu Picchu of the north. Or, like most travellers who have time constraints, you could stick to the south but just break from the conventional thinking. This was my plan the last time I found myself in this magical country and it led to one of the greatest days of my life.
I wanted to explore one of my favourite regions, Lake Titicaca and its islands, but on another level. Things had changed a little since my last visit. The opening of a new luxury hotel just outside of the city, and a new promising restaurant in the heart of the town. Having been to both the Bolivian and Peruvian sides of the Lake before I was determined to find something new and different, not just experience a luxury hotel and stuff my face.
The conventional wisdom has always been to spend two nights in the little grubby town of Puno. Nestled on the western shore of Lake Titicaca. You arrive late afternoon, sleep, then have your day on the Lake and head on off again the next day.
Understandable as on the surface Puno is a city where only the main square has any of the colonial charm on show throughout the rest of the country. A city where even the “posh” hotels felt like a 1970’s airport lounge.
Now the city is dirty and frenetic and loud, but somehow I always found it sort of charming. An example of how people can not only live in inhospitable places but thrive. At 3800m even going for a walk can take it out of you if you’re not acclimatised. And while the simple fishing and agrarian life on the Lake might appeal on one level. Living in a densely populated city at around 4000m does not. Yet somehow the inhabitants of this town maintain energy and friendliness as the city grows and grows.
Arriving in Puno on the luxurious Titicaca Train I was picked up at the station and whisked out to Titilaka Lodge.The train had the kind of style and elegance you only read about. Harkening back to the romanticism of train travel in years gone by. The views were unparalleled, and the food and drink really blew my mind. Sitting in comfort, chugging through villages while sipping a perfect G&T was special.
Arriving at the lodge was no less remarkable, the views all around being truly extraordinary. Titlaka is a remarkable hotel, with the design and style of a Soho House property, the service and food of a Michelin starred brassiere and the remote location of a Tibetan monastery.
But while most of the guests were having dinner and a few fine glasses of wine. Talking enthusiastically about their plans for tomorrow – going out on exciting canoe trips or a day exploring the main island of Taquile. I had other ideas. I went to bed early with a view to being well-rested for my early start.
I awoke at 6 am and pulled on my clothes. I had heard from a friend that the island of Amantani was both beautiful and unspoiled. So this was my aim for the day. Arriving at the main dock in Puno for around 7.30am I approached the many Captains standing around and asked them in my pigeon Spanish how I could get to Amantani? After a little confusion and one misstep, I found my boat, negotiated a return journey, paid my fare and grabbed a good seat to enjoy the trip. The reason Amantani is so unspoiled was that it takes 3 and a half hours by ferry and is therefore not normally suitable for a day trip.
Now some may find “journeys” a time-consuming drain, but in truth, this is a trip where the journey is very much part of the pleasure. As we glided out of the bay and worked through the reeds you suddenly start to appreciate the size and scale of all that surrounds you. The Lake seems to go on forever. Stretching out like a small ocean. In the backdrop, you can just make out mountains and glaciers on the Bolivian side. As you leave Puno well and truly behind you the natural beauty hits you full in the face. Heading out on to the deck one must just sit and take it in. A huge, endless blue sky. Such a variety of striking blues and greens all around. I have little photographic talent, but it was like shooting fish in a barrel.
The time passed far more quickly than I could possibly have imagined. Relaxed music on the iPod, head swivelling from side to side, camera snapping away as – despite my best intentions – I was overwhelmed with the urge to record and document this almost unbelievable beauty.
Most tourists disembark at one of the earlier stops, so by the time I reached Amantani, there were but a few of us. As our feet hit solid ground again the villagers approached. All speak Quechua, the language of the Incas, and very little Spanish is spoken. I managed to explain my plan, to hike the island and with a friendly smile we were pointed in the right way out of the village.
The walk was not steep but quite tough, as the altitude makes any hill seem like a mountain. The island is crisscrossed by beautiful and ancient stone paths. So it is hard to get lost. I saw almost no one. Just the one local walking a donkey, and lady working the fields. It really feels like time travel.
After about 2 hours of steady walking, I ended up at what is known as Pachamama – one of the peaks on the island. A small selection of ruins were certainly interesting and added a certain “Indiana Jones” quality to the scene, but the 360 panoramic view was quite indescribable. In all directions, unencumbered by obstacle, the clear blue sky and powerful mid-afternoon sun illuminated all. The sky even reflecting off the Lake’s surface to give the impression it was eternal.
Being able to see over the mountains and beyond into Bolivia was magical, while the sheer vastness of the Lake became totally clear. The icing on the cake was the fields of wheat that shimmered in the sunlight. It was moving in the truest sense of the word. I took a few pictures, to record that perfect moment, and then sat. Quite in awe of nature. Overcome by a sense of appreciation and gratefulness that I was here. That I got to see this. In person.
All too soon it was time to go. I had an hour before my ferry would depart. Having especially paid for this service (mostly the return trip departs at 8am, meaning a night on the island is necessary.) I could not miss it. So with a heavy heart and a promise to myself that I would return again, I dragged myself off the peak and began down the gentle sloped little paths. I retraced my steps and found myself re-entering the village just in time.
The Captain starting the boat and yelling at for me to hurry. As I clambered onto the boat we moved out and away from this idyllic little island. I looked back longingly, but then moved to the front of the boat and just sat. A stupid grin on my face, as I reflected on one of those experiences that explain why I have put travelling above all else. It wasn’t massively adventurous, but by stepping off the normal routing just a bit, I had found the kind of experiences that were once so available wherever, but now with the advent of mass tourism and travel have become so hard to find. My little slice of paradise. I will always remember it and always be grateful I got to go. I highly recommend you do too.