The best known of the Islands dotting Titicaca´s surface are the Uros, floating islands of reed named after the Indians who inhabited them. Legend has it the Uro Indians had black blood that helped them survive the frigid nights on the water and safeguarded them from drowing. The last full-blooded Uro was a woman who died in 1959. Other Uros had left the group of islands in earlier years - owing to a drought that worsened their poverty - and intermarried with Aymará and Quechua-speaking Indians. But the Indians who now inhabit this Island - a mix of Uro, Aymará and Inca descendants - follow the Uro ways.
The Uros´poverty has prompted more and more of them to move to Puno. That same poverty has caused those who remain to take a hard-sell approach to tourists and, besides pressing visitors to buy their handicrafts, they frequently demand "tips" for having their photos taken. Some tourists suggest that bartering with fresh fruit is better than money exchanges. However, there continues criticism that tourism has not onle opened the Uros Titicaca islands to the stares of insensitive tourists but has destroyed much of the culture as the Indians modified their handicrafts to appeal to outsiders or abandoned traditional practices to dedicate more time to the influx of outsiders.
The Uros Titicaca islanders fish, hunt birds and live off lake plants, with the most important element in their life being the lake reeds they use for their houses, boats and even as the base of their five islands - the largest of which are Toranipata, Huaca Huacani and Santa María. The bottoms of the reed islands decay in the water and are replaced from the top with new layers, making a spongy surface that is a bit difficult to walk on. Even the walls of the schools on the bigger islands are made of totora, The soft roots of the reed are eaten.
Uros Lake Titicaca, known as the Floating Islands, are man-made islands woven together with mud and tótora reeds that grow in the lake shallows. Replenished often with layers because the underbely reeds rot, these tiny islands resemble floating bails of hay. Walking on them feels like walking on a big waterlogged sponge, but they are sturdy.
Trips to the Uros Titicaca typically take three hours and can be arranged from the port in the Puno Bay or with a guide through one of the many agencies in town. While some travelers marvel at these 40-plusislands, some call them floating souveni stands. Yes, locals sell trinkets, but visiting the floating islands is a glimpse into one of the region´s oldest cultures, the Uros Lake Titicaca. Now mixed with Aymara culture it´s a form of human habitation that evolved over centuries. The closest group of "floating museums2 is 10 km (6mi) from Puno.
The islanders make their living by fishing, trapping birds, and selling visitors well-made miniature reed boats, weaving, and collages depicting island life. You can hire an islander to take you for a ride in a reed boat. Although there´s no running water, progress has come to some of the islands in the form of solar-powered energy and microwave telephone stations. Seventh Day Adventists converted the inhabitants of one island and built a church and school, the only structures not made of mud and reeds.