Ticking Off the Bucket List

Live like the locals on Lake Titicaca

By on January 27, 2013

Puno was our base for exploring Lake Titicaca, the largest lake in South America and the highest navigable lake in the world at 3,812 metres.  Puno is also known as the folklore capital of Peru from its wealth of art and culture, particularly dance.

Folk dancing, Puno

But for me, Puno will always be known as the place I ate guinea pig.

It was a really hard decision.  As a child I had guinea pigs as pets.  Bubble and Squeak, Vegemite, Peanut Butter, Sugar, Salt and Pepper.  Okay, yes they were named after items you eat but in our household guinea pigs were adored and played with not bred for consumption.

But I was in Peru to experience their culture and Peruvians eat guinea pigs so after much internal debate and putting it off for weeks I bit the bullet and the poor little guinea pig.

It was delivered whole, deep fried and splayed on the plate.  Teeth and claws still attached and visible.  One bite was all I needed to tick it off my list.  It had a slight fishy taste but only because I think the oil it had been fried in was used to cook seafood.  Other people have told me it tastes a little like pork.

Tasting guinea pig, Puno

About a half an hour boat ride from Puno on Lake Titicaca are the famous floating islands.  Man-made and remade over time by the Uros tribe from Totora reeds which are found in abundance in the lake.  Majority of the people no longer live on the islands, instead preferring the mainland so it felt like the floating islands were more like floating tourist markets.  Although very commercialised it was interesting to hear how the people used to live.

Lake Titicaca’s floating islands

We then had to endure a two hour boat ride to Tequile Island for lunch.  I say endure as it was the slowest boat with a very old engine so it couldn’t risk going anymore than a snails pace.  It may have taken just half an hour with a new engine.  The only interesting fact about Tequile Island is the men are the knitters unlike most other parts of Peru and the views of the lake from the main square are worth the trek up the hill to the town.  I wouldn’t go out of your way to visit here though unless it is already part of your itinerary.

View of Lake Titicaca from Tequile Island’s main square

A further painful boat ride from Tequile Island, we arrived at Armantani Island and our homestay for the night.  We weren’t really sure what to expect but a group of the local community welcomed us with open arms at the dock where we were introduced to our host ‘Mamas’.  They then opened their homes and lives to us, complete strangers.  Given that their native language is Quechua, they spoke little Spanish and we spoke even less so communicating was really hard and made our time there quite awkward.

The community filled our time with a couple of games of ‘football’ on a new field, most likely the benefits of their tourism industry, pulling weeds from potato patches and playing dress-ups in traditional costume and singing and dancing with a local band.

Football match on Armantani Island, Lake Titicaca
Traditional dress on Armantani Island, Lake Titicaca

We were most concerned about eating the local food on the island as we had heard stories of tourists getting sick.  ‘Mama’ Ana preparing the food on the floor of our host kitchen didn’t do anything to allay our concerns.  Although the conditions were pretty unhygienic we had no issues and were served a feast of ‘truche’ or fresh trout, corn and potato by our hosts.

Armantani Island, Lake Titicaca

It was always going to be hard to beat an experience like trekking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu so it was just unfortunate we visited Lake Titicaca while our recent high was on the wane and we were sore, tired and sleep deprived.

It wasn’t one of the highlights of my overall trip or of Peru, however don’t discount it if you love immersing yourself in the culture of other countries.  For me it felt just a little too pre-packaged for the tourist trade and lacked that authenticity which would have made it a little more memorable.

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