Lake Titicaca: Should You Visit the Peruvian or Bolivian side?

Lake Titicaca sits at 3810 metres above sea level, making it the highest navigable lake in the world. With a surface area of 3200 square miles, it’s also the largest freshwater lake in South America.

Over the years, Lake Titicaca has become a very popular destination for visitors to the continent and has arguably become somewhat “over touristy”. However, it’s still worth seeing and there are still enjoyable ways to experience it.

Because Lake Titicaca straddles the border between two countries, Peru to the west and Bolivia to the east, you can visit the lake from both of them. Ideally, you’ll have enough time on your holiday to do just that. Both sides are different and both are worth seeing. But if you’re short on time and can only visit one, which side should you choose?

We’ve visited both and have a favourite. So, we’ve put together some information to help you decide which side to see. Read on to learn which we preferred and why.

The famous Uros Island, Peru side

The most popular side of Lake Titicaca: Peru 

The majority of people visit Lake Titicaca from the Peruvian side. In general, Peru is a lot more touristy than Bolivia, thanks to the World Heritage Site of Machu Picchu, which attracts millions of visitors each year. Cusco (the gateway to Machu Picchu) is only an overnight bus ride away from to Puno, so it’s easy enough to combine the two.

Puno the getaway to Lake Titicaca – Peru side 

The city of Puno is located right on the shores of the lake. It’s the main gateway to Lake Titicaca on the Peruvian side. You might think this would make it an exciting city to visit but we found Puno to be less than inspiring. Other than the lake itself, there is very little else to do there.

How to explore Lake Titicaca from Puno?

There are three different ways to explore Lake Titicaca from Puno. 

Views on our way to explore the lake

A two-hour boat tour 

If you’re very short on time, you can simply hop on board a two-hour boat tour to the Uros floating islands. This will, however, be rather rushed; and you’ll miss out on the highlights of the Peruvian side. 

A one day boat tour 

If you can spare a whole day, take a tour that includes the Uros Island and the much quieter and more authentic island of Taquile.

A two-day boat tour 

If time is no issue, book the overnight tour which first takes you to the Uros islands, then lets you stay overnight with a local family on the island of Amantani; and finally takes you to Taquile island on the way back to Puno. 

We choose the third option and, if you have time, it’s the best one to take on the Peruvian side. That’s because you’ll visit some of the less touristy parts of the lake.

The Uros Islands

The Uros Islands 

We were rather disappointed with the Uros floating islands. Although they’re the islands you see in all the photos of the lake, they are not at all what we expected.

I liked the sound of it all, the Uros indigenous people living on artificial islands that they built themselves with Totora reed plants.

The demonstration on Uros islands

But I’m sad to say that it has turned into a complete tourist trap. Our time on the islands consisted of a quick demonstration (5 minutes max) on how they build the islands. Next, we were ushered into a “local” house, where they gave us a spiel about how they need money to buy solar panels, before taking us straight over to browse their “homemade” souvenirs. Of course, they sold the same souvenirs you’d find anywhere else in Peru, at twice the price.

The reed boat

Twenty minutes later we hopped on a reed boat for a ten-minute ride to another floating island where there were, you guessed it, more souvenirs!

A welcome from the locals of Uros islands

Amantani Island 

Our time on Amantani was different. This natural island is inhabited by the indigenous Aymara people. The Aymaras are separate from the Uros and have their own customs and traditions. Amantani Island also offers some amazing views from the top of its two ancient sites, Pacha Mama and Pacha Papa.

A visit to Amantani is part of a two-day tour of the lake. This is where you stay overnight with a local host family. You arrive on the island just in time for lunch, provided by your host. Lunch consisted of soup and different types of potatoes with grilled cheese. Nothing fancy but definitely traditional.

The house of our host family on Amantani

After lunch, we hiked to the temples up on the hill. Reaching them can be tough because you’re at high altitude. We made it up there just before sunset, in time to enjoy the spectacular views over the lake as the sun was setting. It was incredible, even more so because of the dramatic storm clouds rolling in toward the island.

lake titicaca
The views from Pachamama
A local farmer on Amantani

After another traditional dinner with our host family, we were taken to the local disco hall. There we dressed up in traditional costumes and danced with our hosts to traditional music. Although it was made just for the tourists, it was still good fun.

lake titicaca
The clouds rolling in
lake titicaca

Bear in mind that the local families have a different lifestyle to us. There is absolutely nothing luxurious about a stay on Amantani. The room we slept in was very basic, electricity was scarce and the toilet had to be flushed with the help of a bucket. There was no heating and it was really cold at night. However, there were enough Llama wool blankets to keep us warm!

Dressed up just like the locals!

Taquile Island 

Taquile Island is another natural island that you can visit on the lake. The locals of Taquile live similarly to those on Amantani but have different traditional outfits. Their traditional outfits’ are colour-coded and change according to their marital status.

Beautiful Taquile and Lake Titicaca
Beautiful Taquile
lake titicaca
Taquile island

Taquile Island was the most beautiful island we visited on the Peruvian side of the lake. The views over the deep blue lake reminded us so much of our time in Greece.

Taquile - Lake Titicaca
Typical houses on Taquile

Copacabana the getaway to Lake Titicaca – Bolivian side 

Copacabana is a four hours bus ride from La Paz or three hours from Puno including time at the border crossing. In comparison to Puno, which wasn’t exciting, Copacabana was just the opposite. We loved our time in Copacabana! Although it’s a lot smaller than Puno, there was much more to do and it was way prettier.

Copacabana

Copacabana has a small fishing village vibe to it and even though it has become more touristy in the last few years, it still felt rather quiet. It also offers some incredible sunsets over the lake, which you can enjoy with a cocktail in hand from one of the waterfront bars. 

Beautiful sunset on the shore of Lake Titicaca

We only stayed overnight in Copacabana and, unlike Puno, we wished that we’d stayed there for at least one more night. 

Relaxing in Copacabana!

Read more about Copacabana here

Isla del Sol 

From Copacabana, you can hop on a boat to Isla del Sol (the Island of the Sun). It’s just over an hour’s boat ride from Copacabana and supposedly was the birthplace of the sun and home to the first Incas.

Once on the island, take some time to explore the ruins of the Temple of the Sun and to enjoy the stunning views of Lake Titicaca and the Andes mountains, far in the distance. The views from the top of the island alone are worth the price of the trip.

You can also stay overnight with a local family on Isla del Sol.

Islan del sol - Lake Titicaca
The view of the lake from Isla del Sol

So which side of Lake Titicaca is best? 

We preferred the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca for two reasons. 

  1. The Bolivian side is so much less touristy and it feels more authentic. Yes, there were souvenir shops but no-one made you feel like you had to buy from them. They just left you alone to browse in peace.
  2. Copacabana is so much nicer than Puno. Plus, you can very cheaply stay in a hostal right on the foreshore, with incredible views of the lake. The town has a much nicer feel to it and you could easily spend a few days just relaxing and enjoying the views of the lake.

However, if you are visiting both Peru and Bolivia on your trip, seeing both Puno and Copacabana is still the best thing to do. Both sides have their highlights and after all, everyone is different; you may prefer the Peruvian side!

Lake Titicaca
Our local host in Amantani

Where to stay in Puno? 

Our pick: Suite Independencia Puno

Best reviewed: Uros Caminos del Titicaca Peru or Amalia Titicaca Lodge

Good Value: Tierra Viva Puno Plaza or Hotel Hacienda Puno

If none of those take your fancy, you can use HotelsCombined to search across all of the major accommodation websites.


Where to stay in Copacabana? 

Our pick: Hotel Lago Azul

Best reviewed: Ecolodge Las Olas or Hotel La Cupula 

Good value:  Hotel Utama 

If none of those take your fancy, you can use HotelsCombined to search across all of the major accommodation websites.


Read More

Crossing the Border from Peru to Bolivia

A Quick Guide to La Paz Bolivia

3 Weeks In Peru – The Perfect Itinerary

Lake Titicaca: Should You Visit the Peruvian or Bolivian side? Lake Titicaca: Should You Visit the Peruvian or Bolivian side?

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.