After spending a memorable night on Amantani Island with a local family, we caught a mid-morning ferry to nearby Taquile Island — home to some of the most famous handwoven textiles in the world.
It was a short, yet surprisingly rough crossing between islands, which had implications for us later in the day — you’d never know it on the island, since the weather was warm, sunny and all around ideal.
For more on our Peru and Ecuador backpacking adventure, start here.
Local literature for Taquile proclaims: “No perros, policias, coches” (No dogs, police or cars) — in that order — will be found on this island.
Taquile’s a bit more DIY than Amantani. The ferry tied up and we were let off, left to find the village and figure out accommodation on our own. Unlike Amantani, there’s no homestay matchmaker here.
Fortunately, we weren’t confronted with a lot of choices at the harbor — there’s one path, presumably leading towards the center of the village.
Despite Taquile’s population eclipsing Amantani’s (2,200 vs. 800), we still found it peaceful and bucolic.
Because we were coming from Amantani to the north, our ferry dropped us on the far north end of the elongated island, leaving us with a two mile (3.2 km) walk with our packs along a stone path. Overall, the island is about three miles long, but fortunately for us, the village is about halfway down.
On our way, we passed several signs of the resourcefulness and ingenuity of the island’s residents. One of our favorites was the many gates with old sandal bottoms as hinges.
Lambs casually graze near the paths across the island.
Earthen blocks and large stones hold zinc roof panels in place and seal leaks.
The stone paths provide ample opportunities to rest and take in lake views.
After walking from the harbor for a good long while, we finally reach the center of the village.
We’re hungry, and excited for something other than potatoes. Compared with its sister island, Taquile is quite a bit more developed in terms of restaurants, guesthouses and other visitor services, particularly around the main plaza. There are a couple of communal restaurants where residents share the work and the profits. San Santiago was recommended to us and we were not disappointed.
Every traditional meal in Peru seems to begin with the country’s national beverage: Inca Kola.
It’s as sweet as it is bright. Think radioactive yellow syrup.
The grilled tilapia and fries was AWESOME.
With happy bellies, we proceeded to the next task — finding a place to stay.
Taquile has a few higher-priced guesthouses, but is known for its more budget-friendly communal homestays. The homestays on this island seem to differ quite a bit from the island next door. Like Amantani, families take turns opening up their homes to visitors, but many of the family compounds (including ours) have multiple rooms and don’t necessarily provide food, given that it can easily be purchased by them or their neighbor’s at the plaza’s communal kitchens — which essentially makes a Taquile homestay virtually indistinguishable from a guesthouse stay, at least on the surface.
We stayed at the home of Ines and Tomas, along with their three children. However, our interaction with the family was much less than the previous night — this family was much more business savvy and ran their home accordingly.
Due to the rough lake conditions mentioned earlier, boat service from the island back to Puno was eventually suspended. We had planned to spend the night on Taquile, but many visitors had planned to leave that day, making finding accommodation a bit tricky. Once we were settled in our room, we discovered that we were going to have to share our room with another party who were stranded on the island. We were informed that all of the island’s rooms were going to have to double or triple up for the night. All part of the adventure, I guess…
Across the island, it was evident that a lot of training and investment has gone into developing the tourism sector. And at the heart of this development is the Community Artisan Center, a UNESCO-funded museum and cultural center showcasing Taquile’s world-famous textiles and the people who craft them. Oddly, I do not have a single photo of the world-famous textiles or the inside of the center. I was admittedly a bit handcrafted out by this point in our trip.
I can tell you though that the island’s handwoven textiles and clothing are regarded as the highest-quality in all of Peru. Interestingly, the knitting of the textiles is exclusively a male activity, starting at age eight. Women spin and dye the wool.
Taquile has a unique collectivist culture, and the communal restaurants, homestays and craft shops are a reflection of this. Residents run their society on the Inca moral code of “do not steal, do not lie, do not be lazy.”
The community’s collectivism has ancient roots, but has experienced a renaissance in recent years. Beginning the 1970s, tourism came to Taquile in earnest, and Taquileños slowly began losing control over the mass day-tourism operated by non-locals. In response to their island being over-run by outside interests, the residents banded together and created an innovative, community-controlled sustainable tourism model, which allowed the Taquileños to re-assert control over the island and their future. Today, Taquileños direct the tourism activities on the island and every community member directly benefits from the 40,000 tourists who visit Taquile each year.
“Vamos a bailar!” Let’s Dance!
Thankfully, most of those 40,000 visitors are day-trippers to the island, and a great majority stick close to the main plaza. Just beyond the village, we felt like we were the only foreigners on the island.
An inviting beach — if only it wasn’t the middle of winter!
Taquile also has its share of ruins and temples atop its highest points. The majority of residents are Catholic, though they’ve largely adapted the Christian faith to their own traditional beliefs, with Pachamama (Mother Earth) being at the center of harvesting and fertility.
Amantani Island, our previous night’s stop, viewed from Taquile’s highest point at a whopping 13,287 feet above sea level (but only a few hundred feet above lake level).
We explored the island, from top to bottom, which is no small feat, given the island’s terrain and size. In all, we covered about six miles, encountering beautiful isolated bays, idyllic farms and ancient ruins.
And once again, we were treated to another amazing Titicaca sunset — bathing the entire island in a rich golden hue.
Back at our homestay, we learned that boat service had resumed in our absence. The hoards of stranded visitors were able to leave the island, and we once again had a room to ourselves. The adventures of backpacking!
The quiet and solitude we felt after most of the other foreigners had left was lovely. We sat for a while in the main plaza watching the Taquileños go about their evening activities, strolling with their children and chatting with neighbors, without the distraction of tourists.
The next day, we took an early morning stroll around the central part of the island before collecting our packs and heading down to the boats.
We saw a lot of knitted finger puppets in Peru, but the handwoven ones from Taquile stood out among the rest. We don’t buy a lot of gifts while backpacking (we’re budget travelers and have to carry what we do get on our backs, after all), but Lori couldn’t resist purchasing several of these, for a number of reasons.
Fortunately, the ferries back to Puno were much closer to the village than when we arrived.
The ferry that was leaving first was in the middle of the cluster of boats, which meant that we had to climb, boat-to-boat with our packs to the departing ferry. Good times!
We were treated to smooth sailing on the long trip back to the mainland.
That night, in Puno, we took a walk down the main drag. Despite the bone chilling cold, the central plaza was bustling with activity.
A man was handing out flyers to passersby which we instinctively declined, until the Spanish bold print registered: “HAPPY HOUR: TWO FOR NONE.” Two drinks for none? None what? How does that work? We decided to check it out. Who wouldn’t? But what was the catch?
The bar looked legit, and was full of people. Ok, great. We asked the barman about the 2-for-none happy hour. How does that work exactly? He gave us a list and had us pick to drinks. Any two drinks. We ordered two Rum-n-Cokes. He served up two Rum-n-Cokes. I asked how much. The barman said “nada.” I thought, ok, so I tip him. He shook his head and declined my money. Lori and I looked at each other, told the man thanks and walked away. Me to Lori: “Do you get it?” Lori: “No, do you?” Me: “No, but free drinks…”
We finished our 2-for-none and headed down the street to find our restaurant.
After a long and very enjoyable few days on the islands of Titicaca, we treated ourselves to mainland fare — chicken, noodles and plantains. I’m way more excited than I let on…apparently I’m saving all my energy for battling the below-freezing temps at 12,000 feet, you know.