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Isla Amantani, Peru

Upon a floating island

As I sit by the fire, surrounded by ten guinea pigs squeaking and scampering, I wonder if I will be eating one later, cooked upon my plate. I cringe as I see Stepanie reach with her bare, thickened hands into the pot of boiling water, stirring the potatoes with her fingers. Twelve thousand five hundred feet above sea-level, in a mud and straw Peruvian kitchen, I am forced to rub my eyes from the stinging smoke that saturates the air. Occasionally, I see a pair of little black eyes peering around my feet, glinting from the flickering glow of the fire. As we approach the second hour of cooking, she indicates that the cuys won’t be cooked tonight – only for special occasions. With no ability to communicate in Quechua, we sit quietly, soaking up the crackling silence and the radiant warmth.

Stephanie cooking in the clay kitchen

Only two hours earlier, I had arrived on Isla Amantani, a tiny island located hours by boat within Lake Titicaca, Peru. The island is free from electricity, running water, and many of the typical comforts of city life. But life on the island, albeit simple, is a drastic change in pace for the average tourist seeking a homestay experience. The highest navigable lake in the world, Lake Titicaca is home to the floating islands of the Uros people, a small native colony who built their homesteads on nothing more than layers upon layers of reeds.

As I disembarked our boat and waited at the dock, a young woman dressed in brightly-coloured garments hobbled down the steep path towards us. Armed with the little Spanish that I had practiced over the last month, I greeted her and asked her a few simple questions. Her quiet smile and nod foretold a couple days of hand-signals and gestures. No Spanish here!

Then we began our hike up along the dirt path, leading through numerous gardens and small homes. The hike was more strenuous than we had anticipated, mostly due to the thin air at this altitude. We climbed over a stone wall and entered an empty yard with a quaint little house at one end. Stephanie showed us to our room, one that required us to stoop down to make it through the doorway.

Stephanie's family
outside the house

As we are showed to our room, we glanced around the green-walled room and found two small beds made of reeds, a tiny table with a candle and dozens of layers of thick bedding – apparently the nights are very cold here.

After sitting in the smoky kitchen for an hour, we climbed back up to our room and quickly sprawled ourselves across the crunchy beds. A knock at the door and Stephanie entered with three large bowls of soup. By this time in our trip, we had been getting pretty sick of the same bland soup we had had every day so far in Peru. Minutes later, she again returned, this time with peppermint tea and plates heaping with a colourful mush. After some careful examination, we figured that it must consist of fried eggs, rice and potatoes, all disguised under some yellow goop. This was the last straw for my brother and girlfriend, and they all insisted that they were no longer hungry.

We could hear and see Stephanie feeding her son below, visible through the cracks in the irregular wooden floorboards. She was a caring individual, and regularly welcomed visitors into her tiny home. Her spare room for visitors was far nicer than her own, indicative of her generous nature.

After dinner, she returned with armloads of heavy clothing: striped ponchos, wraps and toques. She then spent twenty minutes trying to dress each of us up. We thought that we looked quite outlandish, but her reassuring nods implied that we would blend in with the local crowd.

Leaving under nightfall, we walked quietly under the sea of stars towards the main hall. As we neared the hall, the distinctive sound of panpipes and stomping feed echoed across the field. We stood sheepishly along the walls of the hall while we watched the crowd dance in a back and forth rotating mass.

Dancing in the hall

My intentions of hiding from the action failed miserably and I saw Stephanie skip over to me, hands outstretched, smiling broadly. Whatever happened to our dance lessons? Following her lead, I swing back and forth in this repetitive dance, trying to keep in time to the music.

Just when it sounded like the torture was drawing to an end, the small band restarted the tune and played it quicker and more fiercely than the last time. There was no escape. Flying arms, ponchos, stomping heels… the wild scene was overwhelming. Finally taking a step outside the hall to get some crisp fresh air, I watch the silhouettes of dancing tunics through the smoky window. Listening to the mesmerizing panpipe songs, I return into the sweaty hall in time to join one last dance.

Into the hall from the outside


Reader's Comments:

Please leave your comments or suggestions below!
 Just returned from Uros floating island. I regret not buying more hanging reed mobiles for family members. Where can I purchase more online?
 Is it possible to get vegan food during the homestay? I would love to experience the island culture, but unsure how I would handle food.
 You're probably going to be fine. If you were concerned, you could try asking the families at the dock when you meet them.
 Hi - I'll be staying on Amantani in July, as the second week in a group trip. Is it possible to use a wheeled suitcase? Does anybody help out with luggage?
 A wheeled suitcase might not be suitable for the island as from what I recall it was primarily stone paths. However, it seems likely that someone could probably help carry your bag to your homestay. Have a fantastic trip!
 I stayed in Amantani and I got to interact with the community a lot. They need help, but they also need to preserve their unique culture. If you take the time to look around the island you will notice that there are more wealthy houses in the areas where the boats arrive... well take the time to meet and maybe stay with the other communities that are left behind too. They all live from tourism, land and animals, so plan to buy presents and handmade goods from them. that helps them a lot.but if you want to visit amantani pay direct to the families becouse the travel agencies just pay 10 soles 3 meals and the acomodation in the families sometimes the companies no pay.
 Great suggestion, karl!
 I will be visiting Amantani next month and would like to bring some kind of gift for them, what would you suggest?
 What is the best gift to bring for hostest for over night stay?
 Is there anybody who knows JUNA MAMANI CARI living on Amantani? I stayed in his house and noticed that he takes care of the orphans of the island. So I sent him money. I would like to know, how they are this year after the big rain.
Please contact me.
 i stayed on Amantani and I met a man, his name ist Juan mamani cari, he takes care of the orphans. So I sent him money.
I would like to know, if somebody met him or was guest in his house.
I would like to help them.
I got a letter from him, where he write me, that this year they have so much rain, that the houses are demolished.
Please write me, if you know something about him and the situation.
 We stayed on Anmatani in June. Huq Sumaq Wasi (one beautiful house in Quechua) This is an experience of a lifetime. you will love it.
 My son is on a Youth International trip right now, and Amantini is one of their destinations. See the youth int'l website to find out about a number of homestays and fabulous opportunities to live the culture of S America. You need to be between 18 and 25 years old.
2009-09-18lynette roberts
 i would like to do a homestay at lake titicaca but i am a vegan - do all the islands at lake titcaca lack water and electricity much less bathrooms? any suggestions about which island to stay on? do some islands have better facilties than others? i am going in about feb of 2010
and would rather not take a tour as they go places that i am not interested in seeing. do you previous peruvian travelors have suggestions on off the beatten track places to visit - i prefer small villages and am very interested in the backstrap weaving techniques as i studied back strap weaving in guatemala and would like to compare. any other info about pervian areas of interest besides machu picchu and cusco would be very much appreciated - ty
 Hey guys,
I stayed in Amantani for a while and I got to interact with the community a lot. They need help, but they also need to preserve their unique culture. If you take the time to look around the island you will notice that there are more wealthy houses in the areas where the boats arrive... well take the time to meet and maybe stay with the other communities that are left behind too. They all live from turism, land and animals, so plan to buy presents and handmade goods from them. that helps them a lot. And they also lack of fruit and fresh veggies. Try to help them with their crops too. They will appreciate it and you will too, it hard work but it'll make you appreciate their lives.
 Thanks for your account of your homestay. It isn't easy to find info on these places online. I was wondering if you knew anything about the vaccinations required to visit these islands, specifically malaria and yellow fever. I've already gotten the basics, tetanus, typhoid, polio, etc. Any info would be helpful. Thanks!
 Hi Katie -- Prior to my trip to these regions, I was advised to get the Yellow Fever vaccination and take antimalarials (such as Malarone) throughout the course of my stay. Here's one site that lists out suggested vaccinations for Peru ( ). Have a great trip!
 Thanks for all the useful info and tips guys

Am really looking forward to heading there soon ;)
 Have a great trip if you do go!
 I went to both T and A in the fall of 06... people in Amantani are more friendly, this is where I stayed... i visted Taquile too but my local guide was not very encouraging of me (young petite female) to spend the night in there alone.. dont know what the deal was, i just followed his advice. you should visit them though - very interesting culture.
 Would you recommend Amantani over Tequile? If so, why?
 I didn't travel to Taquile so I can't make a suggestion... hopefully someone else might be able to offer their view.
 I am interested in doing a homestay on Amantani next fall. What kind of gifts (other than sending photos to my host) can I bring? I've heard that rice, sugar, or fruit are good choices. Is this true?

Thank you,
 I am sure food would be appreciated, but I would talk to the boatmen who take you over there to get an idea of what may be appropriate. Have a great time!
 Check out GAP (Great Adventure People). This island is part of their Highlights of Peru trip. We were there in March 07 and home stay was a highlight. Our host was "Olga" and her family. Wonderful hosts. We are sending our photos to them for Christmas. Too hard to send other goods, but they are obviously happy with what they have.
 We've recently returned from our Amantani homestay with Inocencia....and it was wonderful.

We would love to send a thank you gift/care package to our hostess....what kinds of items might you recommend...both practical and other?
 Good question -- For our host, she was delighted to accept photos of her and her beautiful house (she didn't have any). Sending other items would be very nice but could be difficult.
2007-09-18senora lenora
 never so high in my life as in host family, the Segundos, were wonderful, their little compound an amazing example of the industry of these hardworking people...weaving, cooking, living without any of the necessities of modern living. mr segundo dressed my in a fabulous costume for the nightly fiesta, which was unforgetable.
 I am very interested in arranging a home stay in lake titicaca but I don't know how to go about doing it. I have read many accounts on people that have done homestays there but not on how to start looking. any advice would be greatly appreciated!

thank you
 It is probably easiest to arrange one once you arrive in the bus terminal in Puno. It took us less than 5 minutes to find someone who said that they'd arrange a homestay for us. Very likely, someone will approach you and ask if you're interested! Have a great time!
 Hi, your trip sounds wonderful! I will be travelling to Puno this October and I would love to stay with do I get in touch with her?
I am interested in staying on Taquile as well as Amantani, did you stay there too? If so, can you tell me more on Taquile.

 To be honest, I can't guarantee that you'd still be able to find Stephanie or pre-arrange it from the mainland. However, I know that others who have stayed on the island have also had an incredible time, and similar opportunities to experience the local culture. We didn't spend long on Taquile so I can't offer much in the way of suggestions. Have a great time!
 And how would I find this lovely person? I will be going to Peru next June and Lake Titicaca is on my agenda. Do you recommend Amantani versus Taquile ?
I am writing to you from work, but I would appreciate an answer at the above address if you have time.

Thank you.

 Email sent!
 I'll be traveling to Peru with my 16 year old daughter in July. Lake Titicaca is on our itinerary. Did you also visit the Islas Flotantes, Isla Taquile, Sillustani, etc? Is 3 days in that area about right?
 On the way to Isla Amantani, we stopped on one of the Uros (floating islands of reeds), and Isla Taquile, but the main destination in our case was Amantani. 3 days should be fine for such a trip, although it does take several hours by boat to get to the islands from Puno.... especially if you get stuck in the weeds for hours like us :)
2006-05-29Claudia Cooper
 I had the joy of staying on this island last fall Reading your story and looking at the pictures brought back vivid memories of this incredible experience!
 That's great to hear! Thanks!
 this is a very nice place

I also visited this island and thought the people, their customs,and the scenery was absolutely beautiful!


muy bueno hermoso

 Muchas gracias!


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