One of Titicaca’s non-floating islands, TAQUILE is a peaceful place that sees fewer tourists than the Uros. Located 25–30km across the water from Puno it lies just beyond the outer edge of the Gulf of Chucuito. Taquile is arguably the most attractive of the islands hereabouts, measuring about 1km by 7km, and looking from some angles like a huge ribbed whale, large and bulbous to the east, tapering to its western tail end. The horizontal striations are produced by significant amounts of ancient terracing along the steep-sided shores. Such terraces are at an even greater premium here in the middle of the lake where soil erosion would otherwise slowly kill the island’s largely self-sufficient agricultural economy, of which potatoes, corn, broad beans and hardy quinoa are the main crops. Without good soil Taquile could become like the main floating islands, depending almost exclusively on tourism for its income. Today, the island is still very traditional. There is no grid-connected electricity on the island, though there is a solar-powered community loudspeaker and a growing number of individual houses with solar lighting; it’s therefore a good idea to take a torch, matches and candles.
The island has two main ports: Puerto Chilcano Doc (on the west or Puno side of the island) and El Otro Puerto (on the north side, used mostly by tour boats of tour agents because it has an easier and equally panoramic access climb). Arriving via Puerto Chilcano Doc, the main heart of the island is reached via 525 gruelling steps up a steep hill from the small stone harbour; this can easily take an hour of slow walking. When you’ve recovered your breath, you will eventually appreciate the spectacular view of the southeast of the island where you can see the hilltop ruins of Uray K’ari, built of stone in the Tiahuanaco era around 800 AD; looking to the west you may glimpse the larger, slightly higher ruins of Hanan K’ari. On arrival, before climbing the stairs, you’ll be met by a committee of locals who delegate various native families to look after particular travellers – be aware that your family may live in basic conditions and speak no Spanish, let alone English (Quechua being the first language).
The island has been inhabited for over ten thousand years, with agriculture being introduced around 4000 BC. Some three thousand years ago it was inhabited by the Pukara culture and the first stone terraces were built here. It was dominated by the Aymara-speaking Tiahuanaco culture until the thirteenth century, when the Incas conquered it and introduced the Quechua language. In 1580, the island was bought by Pedro Gonzalez de Taquile and so came under Spanish influence.
During the 1930s the island was used as a safe place of exile/prison for troublesome characters like former president Sánchez Cerro, and it wasn’t until 1937 that the residents – the local descendants of the original tribe – regained legal ownership by buying it back.
Weaving and knitting on Taquile
Weaving and knitting on Taquile
Although they grow abundant maize, potatoes, wheat and barley, most of Taquile’s population of 1200 people are also weavers and knitters of fine alpaca wool, renowned for their excellent cloth. You can still watch the locals drop-spin, a common form of hand-spinning that produces incredibly fine thread for their special cloth. The men sport black woollen trousers fastened with elaborate waistbands woven in pinks, reds and greens, while the women wear beautiful black headscarves, sweaters, dark shawls and up to eight skirts at the same time, trimmed usually with shocking-pink or bright-red tassels and fringes. You can tell if a man is married or single by the colour of his woollen hat, or chullo, the former’s being all red and the latter’s also having white; single men usually weave their own chullos. The community authorities or officials wear black sombreros on top off their red chullos and carry a staff of office.