Travel Notes
A lake and some boats. A mountain in the background.

The two sides of Lake Titicaca – Puno vs Copacabana

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Located between Peru and Bolivia, Lake Titicaca is not only the largest lake in South America, but at  3,812 m above sea level it is also the highest navigable body of water in the world.

Although one of the most popular activities in this are is visiting the floating islands, we decided to skip this for different reasons, including advice from other backpackers that didn’t seem too excited about them, but also because apparently they are not natural islands, but man made. On the other hand, some other people we met after that, said that they really enjoyed them, so it’s really up to you based on your schedule and budget.

Another reason to skip these islands is that you might think you are supporting these communities, but you actually aren’t. Almost of the fees you pay to visit the floating islands stays with the companies you book the torus through and very little or nothing goes towards the community. In turn, once on the islands, local people will try very hard to sell you their handmade products and you will end up finding them very annoying. But one thing to keep in mind is that you being on the islands together with all the other tourists are causing the islands to slowly decay and this require a big amount in maintenance of these places they have been living for years and years.

Even if you decide not to visit these islands, Lake Titicaca is a must see place in South America.

One of the main questions people ask when they are planning to visit Lake Titicaca is if they should do so from Puno, in Peru, or from Copacabana in Bolivia, or both. I think the answer really depends on whether you are planning to visit the floating islands or not.

When to choose Puno

If visiting the floating islands and stay with local people is what you want to do, then Puno is the best option for you.

The Uros Island are closer to Puno and if you can, you should arrange a homestay with local people. There are still over 1,200 Uros people living here and you will be able to witness some incredible scenes from their everyday life, like scenes from the fishing community.

Daily life on the floating island

Image by Giuseppe Morlando on Flickr

Of course the downside of homestays and this kind of tours is that it’s extremely touristy, so you will actually share these tiny islands with lots of other tourists and backpackers and I have heard people describing it as a “human zoo”. Although it’s possible to visit these islands on your own, you won’t be saving, so you may as well go there with an organised tour.

Puno is also bigger than Copacabana, although less pretty, and there aren’t too many things to do here. We arrived late at night and we had a feeling like it wasn’t the safest place to be unfortunately. We spent the next day in the main square of the town, where there is a cathedral and then taking a walk along the lake and exploring some of the markets. It’s okay to spend one night there, particularly if you are crossing into Bolivia by bus, but I wouldn’t stay longer.

When to choose Copacabana

Copacabana is smaller than Puno, but I found it very pretty and I would have spent at least another night here, as there are definitely a few things you can do here. If you are interested in exploring a cute little town in Bolivia, then you should choose Copacabana over Puno.

As far as the lake is concerned, on the Bolivian side you will find the famous Isla del Sol. Some people who visited this island told us it’s like being on the island from the Mamma Mia movie and that they just loved it. At the same time, some other people told us it really way was too touristy and totally not worth it. It’s not possible to do a homestay experience on this island, but there are plenty of hostels you can spend the night in.

If you are planning to visit Copacabana, check out this post where I talk about the best things to do in this village.

Whether you choose to stay in Puno or Copacabana as a base to explore Lake Titicaca, keep in mind that temperatures really drop at night time, so bring some warm clothes with you.

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9 Replies to “The two sides of Lake Titicaca – Puno vs Copacabana”

  1. I completely agree with the advice not to visit the floating islands of Uros. They have become pure commercial enterprises where people no longer live, let alone fish. There are interesting places to visit around Puno, like the small town of Chucuito, not only for its fertility temple, or the site of Sillustani with its chullpas (tomb towers).

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