Off the Beaten Track: Lake Titicaca with Kids

Lake Titicaca is high, far, and well disconnected from any reality you or your children are accustomed to--unless you live in the heart of nature with deep connections to indigenous culture. (And if you do, why are you leaving?) Is traveling to Lake Titicaca with children worth the trouble and effort? Here’s what you need to know before heading out on those sacred Peruvian waters.



What you need to know

Lake Titicaca lies to the south of the Peruvian City of Puno. It’s expat friendly, with an active, visible indigenous community and surprisingly vibrant local culture. It’s got the fanciest little cake shops in buildings in serious need of renovation, and we hardly passed a street that wasn't hosting a wedding or other celebration that Saturday night. Puno has a particular charm. And, it is the gateway to the Peruvian side of the world’s highest navigable lake, Lake Titicaca. It sits at 3,800 meters above sea level, or 12,500 feet.

The lake is populated by an indigenous group called the Uros. They fall into three ethnic groups and two language groups, Quechua and Aymara. The are an autonomous group with their own government and governing powers that stretch across national borders, as Lake Titicaca is shared between Peru and Bolivia at the southernmost end.


How to Get There

To travel Peru, we chose Peru Hop, a tour bus service that took us from Lima to Cusco. It took about 10 days to make that trip, stopping in about 7 cities along the way. Puno is the penultimate stop on the tour.

You can fly in from Lima or Cusco to Juliaca, a nearby city that's home to Inca Manco Capac International Airport. Then take an hour’s ride in bus or taxi to Puno. Peru Rail also goes to Puno from Cusco. There are also cheap, public buses services between Puno and other major cities like Arequipa or Cusco, running regularly. While some say this is pricier than the bus or airplane, the rail services are clean and reliable, so it's definitely a viable option.


What Had Happened Was…

We arrived at the  northern mouth of the lake, to surprisingly little fanfare. No shop selling souvenirs, or colourful sign to congregate around for photos. There was one traditionally dressed woman selling snacks, and our host, Eddie, with his speedboat ready to take us to the Uros Floating Islands. There is a small fee for foreigners entering the lake, collected by a young man in a small manmade hut. As Uros is an autonomous region, all of the money collected goes straight to the community.

We’d spend the next 24 hours on a small island, home to just one family.

The Uros live primarily on manmade islands. Eddie and his father built the island with their own hands, a process that takes about 6 months, using Totora reeds, which are like hollow, flexible bamboo reeds.

Peru Hop offers tours at every stop, including Puno and Lake Titicaca. They sell very cheap homestays on the Uros Floating Islands. I’ve heard mixed reviews about them, so we booked our lodge through It’s owned by a family of four, and has stellar reviews. Everyone remarked on how at home they felt, and there was hot water. It was the perfect choice in the end.

The island we stayed on has about 3 sets of living quarters for the family, a kitchen, a dining room, a little shop where the mother and sister craft souvenirs, and the lodge, which consists of 2 houses.

The rooms have two full size beds, and are warm, spacious, and colorful. We loved them immediately. Our space had hot water for showers, and a toilet that didn’t flush, but required you to cover your solid waste in a sort of sand wood chip mix. To be honest, it’s more effective at masking unpleasant smells than any spray you can buy.


After a delicious, but very simple home cooked meal and some conversation, (Eddie speaks English, but we speak Spanish, so communication was easy). We exited the dining room into a dark super clear night. That high up, it felt like we could stretched our arms out and caress the stars. We missed the planetarium in Cusco in the weeks that followed, but on a subsequent trip to Montevideo, Uruguay, we finally visited one. The girls loved learning about the constellations in an interactive way—even if in Spanish! That night on the beach, they could recognise a handful of stars and I couldn’t help but recall how we’d struggled to identify more than a few, just weeks before in Lake Titicaca.

We woke to a bright, breezy lake and a big, fresh breakfast of fruit, bread, and eggs. We considered taking one of the tours offered in traditional Inca-style boats, to the bigger islands of Amantani or Taquile. We did miss the ancient Pacha Mama and Pacha Papa temples on Amantani, and perhaps I’d go back for those but in the end, we decided to forgo the tours, and just spend the day on our little island. As a traveling family with very small children, it’s not always possible to do everything. The long journey to Lake Titicaca was enough. The girls needed time to just BE. To PLAY. We gave it to them.


If we didn't go on a tour, what did we do all day?

The girls loved playing in the Tortora reeds. They are like a flexible bamboo, light but resilient enough to play jousting with, or poles to pretend to fish in the lake.

We found an errant volleyball, and played for hours, diving into the reeds.

I spent a lot of time in the little workshop with the teenage girl living on the property. We talked about the tapestries she spent the morning weaving with her mom. Those tapestries depict the history and values of the Uros people. While many people talked about being given short demonstrations followed by a hard sell on generic souvenirs, I just sat and talked all morning. I bought a tapestry to remind me of the stories I was told, not because I was pressured.

The girls learned how to play flutes and drums, and created a beautiful rendition of ‘The Path of the Condor’ with our host.

We played chess as a family with the Inca vs. Spain set.

We played dress up and learned some Quechua, the language of the Inca.

In other words, we didn’t do much other than EXIST with the Uros, and it was some of the deepest bonding and learning we’ve done thus far on an excursion.



A thousand times yes.


First, a visit to the indigenous peoples of Lake Titicaca before going to Macchu Picchu is beginning at the beginning. It’s said that the Inca, architects of Macchu Picchu, evolved from a tribe that originated in Lake Titicaca. When you start there, and end at those amazing ruins, you end up with a journey that tells a complete story.

Second, the landscape and way of life were so different from anything we experienced, every moment was like a novelty, and therefore very exciting for the children. Even looking at the Uros calendar, and using our imaginations to try to understand the symbols, provided fun and activity.

And third, it was unforgettable. Save the handwringing about whether or not your kids will remember being on Lake Titicaca: they will. Ours don’t remember everything, but our time there was so different, they can recall some of the smallest details. The stars in the sky at night, the hot water bottles we were given to sleep with, the sand in the toilet, the reeds, the flutes...



As mentioned, you can fly into Puno, cutting out the long drive through high winding mountains. Some say flying into high altitude lessens the effect of altitude sickness. We came to Lake Titicaca via a long bus trip south from Lima to Cusco. Even having been at least 1,000 meters higher on previous stops didn’t lessen our struggle to breathe in the middle of the night. And while the children adjusted after a day or two, we, the adults, struggled on and off the entire trip south. Coca tea didn’t help much. Lots of water and sleep, however, did help to keep altitude sickness bouts short.

But even with these struggles, which were really the only ones, the long distance and high altitude to reach Lake Titicaca were totally worth it.

Yes, even with kids!