Visiting Puno and Lake Titicaca is must-do if you are planning your trip to Peru. Puno lies along Lake Titicaca and it is very close to the border with Bolivia. It is a little colonial town with a rich history and interesting nature around. It is also one of the places, where you can take a tour of Lake Titicaca. That is still only one of the things to do in Puno. Lake Titicaca is the highest located lake with an altitude of 3800m. So make sure you are already acclimatized to these hights, otherwise, you might get sick. But for those who are ready, let’s begin.
Unique things to do in Puno
Puno is a small town close to the border with Bolivia. It is quite normal to take a day trip or two day trip from Puno to Copacabana on the Bolivian border. Be prepared for cold as this town has quite a high altitude, so it will get cold overnight. And from my experience, make sure that your hotel has a heater or at least some massive blanket.
Cathedral of Puno
Puno is a charming little town with a beautiful colonial square called Plaza de Armas – basically like every town in Peru. On that particular square, I found a great cathedral in a very colonial style. It is called Cathedral Basilica of St. Charles Borromeo. The cathedral has a typical baroque architecture and up till now, it serves to the catholic church. Considering was Peru colonized, the cathedral was founded relatively late, in 1757. The Cathedral is in UNESCO but not for the sake of being a special building – it is quite a regular church. It got on the UNESCO list because every February, the church here organizes one of the biggest festivals, during the carnival season. You can see here up to 20 thousand dancers.
It is allowed to go in some specific hours. When I was there, it was under reconstruction, so I didn’t even get in. Hopefully next time.
Hike to Condor hill
Condors have a big part in Peruvian culture. So no wonder that there is a Condor hill in Puno. The hike up there is relatively easy, most of the time you will be walking through the city anyway. On the peak is a reward of massive statue od Condor but at the same time, you will see one of the most beautiful views on Puno and Lake Titicaca.
I would recommend not to do this hike so shortly after you arrive. The thing is that Lake Titicaca is an altitude of 3800 m. The hike has an elevation of 600m from the city center, so you will feel the altitude of it. So just relax the first night that you are there and make sure you have enough strength to do this on the next day. You will feel much better that way.
Casa del Corregidor
One of the most important buildings in colonial Peru. Not necessary for its history, although it is important as well, also as one of the buildings that just stands out. In the street full of beige marble, you will finally see something that will strike you in the eye. Casa del Corregidor is a house of offices in the colony. The officer used to serve as a judge, tax collector and governor of the city. During the centuries the house was under the rule of either catholic church or governers and their heirs. But finally in 1976 Casa del Corregidor was sold to the municipality of Puno.
Currently, the house is transformed into a colonial-style restaurant, where you can eat brunch, lunch or dinner. There is always something happening. You can find there both local cuisine and international, so it is easy to choose. The prices are a little bit higher than in other restaurants around as this place is supposed to have very high quality and generally, it is more for luxurious travelers.
This is a little bit of a special place. Sillustani is a pre-Inca cemetery that lies right next to another lake called Umayo. All the tombs are looking a little bit like towers and they are called Chullpas. The interesting fact is the thing that these towers were built by Aymara people. This tribe was later conquered by Inkas in the 15th century. And from then, Inka added their part of architecture and habits into these towers. So if you visit it, you will see that there are towers, that are quite old and without special decoration, and those are original chullpas.
Even though a lot of Chullpas were destroyed by grave robbers, there is still a lot of remaining towers. Usually, in one tomb like this, you would find the whole family of Aymara people. The bodies were kind of accidentally mummified. Accidentally because the people didn’t have a technique to do it, but the environment around is so dry, that they got mummified anyway.
This place is not directly in Puno. It is about an hour from Puno and you will need a taxi to get there. A lot of people would ask for a tour, but it is not necessary. You can just ask a taxi and enjoy the place for your self. The taxi there cost about 100 soles both ways. If you come in the morning, you will have a decent chance to have this place just for your self. You will also need about an hour to go around the whole place. Generally, it is a nice trip and you should consider it if you are visiting Puno.
Visiting lake Titicaca
When I heard that Lake Titicaca is quite small compared to other lakes, I was very surprised by the size. It is still massive, so don’t expect to go around it in one day as I did. The special thing about this is, that people are living on the lake. These Quechua people are still building their reef islands and living on them. For visiting them, you can get a tour or it is completely normal to book Airbnb in the reef islands. Tours are usually just for a couple of hours, but living there can be a lot longer, just count that it will be cold during the night.
Visiting Lake Titicaca from Puno with a tour
The great thing about visiting Puno is how easy it is to get to Lake Titicaca. Every hotel will probably offer you several tours to the reef villages. For example, my hotel offered me two versions, one which was from the early morning, and I would get to visit two villages. And others that I took in the end because I needed to get some sleep.
Anyway, my tour started at 9, where we get a boat in docks in Puno and head to the village we were supposed to visit. The guide was great, he knew that I don’t speak Spanish at all and so he spoke both languages, just so all the tourists would understand. During that time, we even got enough time to take pictures from the upper floor of the boat.
The village visit itself was very touristic. And by that, I mean that we get all the information about how it is to build a reef island, and how people here are living in general. But after that came the commercial part, where our Quechua villagers tried to make us buy overpriced souvenirs from them. There are two reef islands that you can visit.
Uros is the main island where most of the tours go. It is only about half an hour from Puno harbor, so it is easy to get there. On Uros, you will be introduced to indigenous people, who are living on the islands and growing the islands as well. The whole introduction to the local culture takes about an hour and a half. You will be able to see their homes, buy things from them. You will also get to try the boat that they made by themselves. The boat will take you to the main hub of Uros. There will be a chance to get some drinks and snacks from a little local restaurant. It is a bit expensive, but it is also due to the import policy.
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While Uros is a hardcore reef island, Taquine is about something different. When you get here you will see that this island has a legitimate soil and it is not just something that people made by themselves. This island is also a little bit further from Puno. It will take a whole hour to get there on a boat.
You will also meet here a culture that is entirely different from the Uros one. While people on Uros are known for making reef islands, so-called Taquileños are known for their hand knitting techniques. The interesting thing about this is the fact, that it is mainly boys who are knitting, unlike in other cultures. So on this particular island, prepare your wallet, you might buy some high-class handicrafts.
How to order a tour to islands on Lake Titicaca?
Although there is a lot of companies who would offer you the tour ahead, it is not necessary to do anything like that. Most of the hotels have some sort of deals. Those tours are not sold out in advance, so you can plan it accordingly.
There are a couple of things you need to know about the tours though. First of all, they all happen early in the morning. So most of the time, you will get to get up. If you want to see both Uros and Taquine islands, prepare yourself for an early start. The tour is usually starting around 7 o’clock and you will get back at 12, maybe a little bit later. Some tours are even offering this as a whole day tour. So consider twice how much do you want to see. Full-day trips usually cost about 55 dollars, but half-day there is a little bit less expensive, count with maybe 30 dollars.
You will also need cash there. There are no ATMs on islands and locals take only cash. And in a lot of cases, you will need to bargain a lot.
How to get to Puno
You can get to Puno with a lot of bus companies. I got there with Cruz del Sur from Arequipa. If you thinking about the airplane, the closest airport in Juliaca and you will need a bus from there anyway. Puno is a regular stop on a lot of bus companies so whether you prefer Cruz del Sur or Peru Hop, it is very easy to get there. If you are coming from Arequipa, count at least 6 hours. You can also get to Puno from Colca canyon since the bus has to pass that valley anyway. So if you are planning a trek there, you might stay there for a night and go by bus directly from Chivay. You can also come from (or to Cuzco). That will take a minimum of 7 hours, but most of the bus companies do it in 8 hours.
Where to stay in Puno
Whether you are planning to spend just one night or a weekend in Puno, there are a couple of great options. Most of the hotels in Puno are in the middle of the city. And that is also something, that I would certainly recommend, you are a backpacker. It is just easier to get there and get back to a bus station or anywhere else. And there are a lot of options both for backpackers and for luxury travelers.
Another option would be to stay in Uros island. That is if you want to enjoy the indigenous culture and get the most from Lake Titicaca. There are a couple of AirBnB’s in Uros. It might be a little bit more expensive, but it is worth it.
There is one thing that you will need to be aware of when getting accommodation in Puno. The altitude is quite high and most of the tourists are coming for the main season in Peru. Which in this case is the time when it is winter in Peru. So make sure your accommodation has a heater or a lot of blankets. I was freezing during the night and I had two blankets and a sweater on me. It is going to be a little bit worse in Lake Titicaca since the water will make everything even colder.
Book your hotel well ahead as there are a lot of tourists coming to these places. Even if just for one night. And one day in Puno and Lake Titicaca is probably enough, after that, there are buses to Cuzco.
What to pack?
Take warm clothes. That applies to both Puno and Lake Titicaca. But especially Lake Titicaca is it is really cold during the night. So make sure to have a warm jacket with you and some warm pyjamas as well.
Sunglasses – Yey! Even though it is quite cold around the whole lake, if you come here in winter, it can be very sunny. So sunglasses will be your friend
Cash – Even though there are a couple of ATMs in Puno directly, make sure you have always cash with you. Especially on tours to the islands. If you want to buy some souvenirs, you will need to bargain and you will need cash for it.
Where to go next?
Cuzco – If you are planning to do all the necessary things in Puno, Cuzco should next on your list right after Puno. It takes about 7 hours to get there, but once you are there, you will get to see the capital city of Inka, interesting colonial churches and monasteries and some other historical sights.
Copacabana – Puno is right on the border with Bolivia and it doesn’t take too much to visit Bolivia. You can catch a bus and visit Copacabana in about one hour. From there, you can keep exploring this Peruvian neighbor.
Arequipa – If you are planning to go a little bit more towards the coast, Arequipa can be your next destination. It is one of the biggest cities in Peru with a lot of colonial sights and gorgeous architecture.
I would go for visiting Puno and Lake Titicaca again. I like that place. But there are a couple of things that I would do differently. First of all, you don’t need to buy souvenirs on Lake Titicaca, just buy them elsewhere, they will be a lot cheaper. And the second one, once they will bring you to the restaurant, don’t drink anything, just take something with you, it is a lot cheaper that way, besides the things that they have there are not that special so there is no need to pay a special price. But book the hotel with a view. The sunsets there were unforgettable.
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