Amantani is located about 4½ hours by boat from Puno , and a great way to visit it is to book the Amantani island homestay experience. This is when you , like an exchange student are spending a couple of days living with the local family .
Somehow , this turned out to be one of the best experiences I’ve ever had anywhere on Earth .
Were there many sights or monuments : hardly any
Unesco recognized attractions : none
Unique accommodations : a room in the local house without running water or electricity.
Food : an island staple, sopa de quinoa. Small white grains float in meaty broth alongside celery, carrots, peppercorns and poached egg.The one restaurant on the main square shuts down when the tourists depart .
The adventure that sends shivers down your back ? None . We were so worn out we couldn’t even make it to the short hike up the island .
So what was it that made this island homestay experience so memorable for me ?
The experience .
This is so far the only place I’ve been to where tourists are kept simple and exists in harmony with the natural way of life .
And I am not even talking about the staged to the perfection Uros Tour. But tourism in general . Where selling your ingenuity and traditions means sharing and not selling out . Where you let the foreigner admire and be a part of your culture for an hour or a day just letting them in , without being a clown who dresses up and gets back to western clothing and Walmart plastic furniture right after the tourist cameras are off .
The sense of community was extreme there . First of all , the entire model of “community” tourism , Amantani that borrowed from their neighbors Taquille and have gone through the battle with the outsiders eventually losing the monopoly to the mainland tour giants . The community “vibe” is very strong .
The girls walked in groups , when we were lost our host family came to find us with a group of neighbors as if the entire neighborhood felt responsible for us .The islanders take turns in hosting the tourists , with this rotation system , Fani and her parents – the family we were staying with are able to host foreigners once a few months or so .
$10 solar garden lights from Walmart …
You can book Amantani homestay experience anywhere in Cusco or Puno , we were planning on it ahead and Brough solar garden light ( $10 a piece in Walmart) from the US . Yes , the tour company recommends you to bring a present to your host family “show appreciation”. In reality , it is a survival item that the locals , being cut out of civilization can hardly put their hands on . There is communication between the island and the mainland but not everyone can afford to /want to go back and forth .
Batteries are on top of the list of necessities . So are the flashy lights . But batteries are probably valued more .
Our solar lights were the bomb . When we presented them to our host mother and tried explaining in to Fani (she was the only person in the family who spoke Spanish ) and she translated what these things actually were to her parents , the mother took the lights – one in each hand – and started dancing . She was dancing with he lights and nearly crying , so happy with her new possession . I think up until today , these two $10 solar garden lights from Walmart were my best purchase . I’ve never seen anyone so genuinely happy . Amantani island homestay would not be the same without these lights.
The most peaceful place on Earth
The only sounds were the occasional crowing rooster or the hollow clop-clop of loose stones in the trail. The highlight of our exploration walk was the donkey family and some exotic trees . Although the island has few trees, a surprising variety of subtly colored plants poke through the rocky soil .
The words would fail to explain that but there was the unmatched feeling of tranquility . The aura of the island was so calm and peaceful , you feel like you have forgotten all your worries and left behind the emails , affirmations , goals and conference calls , as if they never existed . And that is just by being there , not going through some meditation , or herbal drinks “to find yourself” .
They say to bring the lights to the island , as there is no electricity in any of the households or street lights . That is true . Partially .
Even though you hear the guide talk about the islanders being “cut from civilization” living “the real rustic life” etc , you can see the electric poles all over the island ..
Hmmm…. coming to Amantani straight from the staged photo-ready Uros where no-one actually even lives and the entire show is put on just for this one hour that the tour boat comes in , we wondered if this is the same story : they sold us the “no electricity” “real” tour , and here we were , on the island with electric power poles .
We wandered around and ended up in the one and the only island restaurant . They didn’t sell food but they sold beer . We had a great conversation with the friendliest owner (all of the islanders we have met were absolutely genuine , amazing and full of dignity) and didn’t notice how it got dark . So dark that when we came out of the restaurant we coolant saw a thing .
Lost in the dark
Meaning – I could not see my hand in front of me , it was pitch black .
“Where are the lights” – we asked the restaurant owner ?
“They come out for the holidays ” – he explained
It was clear . There was electricity , obviously . But it was not used unless for a very , very special occasion because of the cost of the generator to run it . And the electricity was only available on these special occasions in the main streets around the city , not in the local households .
So , we bought what we thought we bought – we were on an island with no electricity .
What do you normally do when you have to walk in the dark without any street lights ? You can still kind of make your way . The moon , the stars give some light , and then eventually you get used to the darkness and start being a little better .
This was not the case on an island in the middle of lake Titicaca . There was no getting used to it. We tried to find our way home using the little lights in our phones , the island seemed very compact and everything seemed to be in close proximity . But we got lost .
After half an hour of trying to find our way home , we heard the voices and saw a group of flash lights – it was Fani , her family and almost all the neighborhood that came to look for us . They brought us home asking to hurry up , as we were missing one big event , the event that turned out to be one of the best nights I’ve ever had .
The Big Event
The biggest event . The absolute highlight of my Amantani island homestay experience .
Our host mother came to our room , and put on the traditional outfit on me . It probably took around 10 minutes , it was so heavy and I got lost in a belt .
The mens’ outfit was much easier , a poncho and a hat . Us , Fani and some neighbors who were hosting the tourists as well headed out , all dressed up and with our flash lights on . Fani was leading the way , and what a way it was .
Imagine wearing a heavy long skirt and a shawl , walking uphills and downhill on the rocky path that her one minute and a minute later it was just the mud … with a flashlight . We were laughing and joking and somehow after this 15 minute journey in the dark we made it to the party . The party took place in a concrete “box” – the room , entirely made out of concrete . I did not expect any of this when I was booking my Amantani island homestay trip .
In the middle of the box there was a lamp ( by that time I knew that there needs to be a very special occasion for the electric light to be on ). In the far angle of this event there was a local band , no real music instruments , it was mostly banging some hand made drums – kind of like drumming on the kitchenware , and chanting some tribal type of rhythms .
In another corner a bar took place . A islander selling the total of maybe seven drinks – not the seven varieties of the drinks , seven bottles total .
The locals and the tourists looked alike , every host family dressed their foreigner in the national costume . You could only tell the tourists by jeans showing from under the ponchos (boys) and heavy black alpaca skirts ( girls ) , and of course tennis shoes .
So what was the party about ? It was so dark , even with the one precious lamp . We could barely see or take photos . But we were dancing , the locals were hosting : they were grabbing us and bringing to the dance floor , to get us to dance holding hands , foreigners and the locals together . It was the most fun I ever had on the dance floor .
Dancing with people breaks down barriers, I think all of the barriers were broken that night .
I hope my Amantani island homestay experience inspired you to traveling experience the authentic culture .