Puno & Lake Titicaca
Introduction to Puno & Lake Titicaca
Known as the Folklore Capital of Peru and resting on the shores of the breathtaking Lake Titicaca, Puno is set in the middle of the spectacular wilderness that is the flat altiplano. Legend has it that the children of the sun god, Manco Capac and his sister Mama Ocllo, rose from the depths of Lake Titicaca to build the Inca Empire. The Incas invaded Puno but the local population was never fully dominated. This ancestral past is reflected in today’s mix of Quechua (descendants of the Incas) and Aymara cultures that coexist in the region. The Aymaras are a much feistier lot and hold onto their traditions fiercely.
Whilst modern day Puno is a sprawling mismatch of colonial architecture adorned with neon store signs and dangling cables, the hustle and bustle of this very commercial town and the colorful traditional clothing still worn by many make it an interesting place to sit back and observe.
Of course no visit would be complete without a trip on the rolling and tranquil waters of the world’s highest navigable lake, taking in the spectacularly beautiful scenery of its islands and learning from its many traditions. The bright blue sky and closeness of the clouds make you feel you are on top of the world which at over 12,467 ft. (3,800m) above sea level, you almost are! Joking aside, beware of this high altitude, as it can cause soroche (altitude sickness)…take it easy until you acclimatize!
What not to miss in Puno & Lake Titicaca
Lake Titicaca, at 12,467 ft. (3,800m) above sea level, is the highest navigable lake in the world, and over 30 islands can be found in its waters. The lake is the most sacred body of water in Inca folklore and with a surface area of 3,100 sq.miles (8,028 sq.km), also serves as the natural boundary between Peru and Bolivia.
Homestay on an Island
We highly recommend spending a night on one of Lake Titicaca’s islands with a local family. You’ll have the chance to eat traditional dishes and have a unique, behind-the-scenes experience with the indigenous population as they go about their daily life and traditions.
Kayak on Lake Titicaca
Enjoy a special kayaking experience on Lake Titicaca. Paddle your way across the legendary waters of Lake Titicaca while soaking up unobstructed and magnificent views of the the surrounding landscapes and its unique floating islands as well as, observing interesting endemic species of birds.
Uros Floating Islands
The best-known of the islands dotting Lake Titicaca are the Uros. These floating islands number around 20 and about three to ten families live on each one. The Uros call themselves Kotsuña, “the lake people”, and their origins go back to pre-Inca times.
Inca laws and social systems are still practiced today on the car-free island of Taquile. Hike along pre-Inca trails and learn about Taquile’s unique history and culture. You can also visit local families and weavers to see how the island’s colorful textiles are made and their different social and cultural meanings.
Llachon is a small village located on the Capachica Peninsula. Far away from the flow of tourists, from Llachon you’ll be able to enjoy beautiful views of the lake, short hikes and authentic encounters in the Santa Maria Community where you can experience the preparation of Pachamanca, a traditional way of cooking meat.
Sillustani Burial Monument
Sillustani is a pre-Inca burial ground located north of the city of Puno. This site is home to the chullpas, a unique type of funeral tower up to 39ft. (12m) tall, which were built by the Aymara-speaking Collas. Each tower contains the remains of one of Colla’s noble families and their riches.
The quaint village of Chucuito just outside of Puno is a joy to explore. Some of the village’s highlights include a fertility temple, an ancient sundial and, great views of Lake Titicaca.
What you need to know
When to go
Due to its high altitude, Puno is generally sunny in the day and very cold at night, with intermittent rain during rainy season. The rainy season lasts from November to March and although it’s wet, the temperatures are slightly milder. June and July are the coldest months. The locals even have a festival on 24th June where they light fires and don’t sleep as it is supposedly the coldest night!
How to get there
The city of Puno is serviced by Manco Capac Airport, located 27 miles (44 km) to the north in the city of Juliaca. This airport offers services from the Peruvian cities of Lima, Cusco and Arequipa, in addition to several Latin American countries. The airlines of LATAM, Star Peru and Aero Condor offer daily flights from several of these destinations.
Trains are available from the city of Cusco but the trip is long.
Bus travel is available from all of Peru’s major cities and from La Paz, Bolivia.
Also boat transportation across Lake Titicaca is available from the Bolivian side.
Where to stay
Several deluxe hotels can be found in the area around Lake Titicaca as well as more economical choices available in the city. The selection of basis B&Bs and hostels is more limited and careful planning should accompany any choice due to possible lack of availability.
The city of Puno has adequate restaurant facilities with a large variety of local and international dishes at prices to suit all budgets. Travelers should bear in mind though that due to the city’s high altitude it is advisable to eat lightly as food takes longer to digest than at sea level.
For public transportation in Puno the local collection of buses and minibuses provide satisfactory service for getting around the city.
Taxi services are also readily available but individual fare meters are not used. It is recommended that a definitive price be settled upon for the destination before boarding the vehicle.
To reach the floating islands of Lake Titicaca there are motorized boats available and hovercraft service can also be found in Puno’s port area. For security reasons it is recommended that travelers only use organized tours offered by registered travel agencies.