Puno - Lake Titicaca Travel

Sitting at an astounding 3,821 m above sea level, Lake Titicaca is the highest commer- cially navigable lake in the world. With a sur- face area of approximately 8,300 square km, it is also the largest freshwater lake in South America. About 25 rivers empty into the lake's ocean-like waters, which are dotted with 41 islands, both inhabited and uninhabited.

Forming a natural border between Bolivia and Peru, the lake can be characterized by the diversity of its cultural and natural attrac- tions. Even the briefest exploration around these emerald-blue waters yields memorable encounters with the local people and their way of life. That the Spaniards bequeathed this majestic lake and its people to a king, rather than a conquistador (as was the cus- tom), suggests the impression its grandiosity left on the explorers.

Before the Spaniards, the shores of Lake Titi- caca were a center of wealth and a focal point for ancient civilizations. So powerful was the image of her sun-baked shores and brilliant blue waters that the Incas formulated a creation myth centered on the lake. According to ancient Inca mythology, the sun sent his son, Manco Cápac, and the moon sent her daughter, Mama Ocllo, to surface from the lake and created the Inca Empire. The re- mains of the temples built in honor of this momentous event are located on the serene Isla del Sol and Isla de la Luna. Even after the Spanish arrival and the advent of Chris- tianity, Lake Titicaca remained a center of religious importance. Copacabana (p.334), the closest town to the Isla del Sol, is home to Bolivia's most paramount Catholic shrine. The lake is also home to a culturally di- verse mix of Quechua and Aymara-speaking people who have managed to maintain the 3,000-year-old traditions of their ancestors.

Anyone who descends upon these shores is sure to notice the lake's unique mixture of natural and cultural beauty. In particu- lar, the enchanting islands of Taquile and Amantaní, Anapia and Yuspique, and Suasi offer visitors a unique glimpse into the lake's shores and the people who inhabit them. The bizarre floating Islas Uros, composed of care- fully constructed reeds anchored to the shal- low lake bottom, are spectacular. For a truly enriching experience, book a homestay on any one of these islands. You may find your- self weaving blankets, farming potatoes or taking part in one of the many local festivals. For the adventurous-at-heart, try kayaking on the crystal clear waters, the perfect way to explore the lake and its numerous niches.

Snuggled against the lake's southern shores are the charming villages of Llachón, Chucu- ito and Juli, where you'll find ancient ruins and a number of Spanish-style churches. Near the southwestern corner of Lake Titica- ca is the sprawling city of Puno. As the only major city located on the shores of Titicaca, it is a central point of departure for other more interesting destinations, such as the cities of Lampa and Arequipa (p.171), or the ruins of Sillustani, Pucará and Raqchi. Nick- named the Folklore Capital of the World, Lake Titicaca has some of the richest and most vibrant folklore festivals in all of Peru. If you can, try to plan your visit around one of these religious festivals: it shouldn't be hard, there are 300 a year!

The Lake Titicaca region also has some of the best high-mountain trekking. Experi- enced climbers and trekkers should check out Bolivia's Cordillera Apolobamba. No worries for the inexperienced and less fit— there are a number of other accessible trek.

  • Take a ride on a steamship—Lake Titicaca has some old 19th century steamship relics that are still cruising around the lake.
  • Bus to surrounding villages—Ex- plore the network of buses that lead to the smaller outlying towns of the lake.
  • Isla Taquile—Spend a night on one of the "traditional" floating reed islands on Lake Titicaca.
  • Festivals—Check out some of the festivals in the Puno and Lake Titi- caca area, which are unlike anything else in Peru

king opportunities in the area. If you're keen for an adrenaline rush, try mountain biking the highway winding its way from La Paz to Coroico. Dubbed "the world's most danger- ous road" by the Inter-American Develop- ment Bank, this treacherous stretch of road is also one of the most beautiful highways in the world. Starting amid the ice-clad peaks of the Cordillera Real, the road plunges through thick cloud-enshrouded forest and into the rich valleys of the Yungas.

Whether you're a culture buff or adventure addict, the shores of Lake Titicaca are sure to entertain and astound. You can reach the lake via a 10-hour luxury train ride from Cus- co to Puno across the mountainous altiplano with unforgettable views of Andes scenery, including farms, waterfalls and patches of reddish-brown earth. Otherwise buses offer similar scenery and take 6-7 hours.

Lake Titicaca and Puno History

Puno and the Lake Titicaca region have a long (and violent) history. Beginning around 1000 BC, the Qaluyu culture was the primary group inhabiting in the area. They were dominant until around 200 AD and the Tiahuanaco culture gained promi- nence in the Puno area and the Qaluyu cul- ture subsequently declined.

The Inca civilization began to assert itself in the Puno region during the 15th century. Inca mythology asserts that Inca Manco Capac and his sister Mama Occla of peace and civilization. Puno and Lake Titicaca gained increased importance to the Incas because of the plethora of silver and gold in the area. Additionally, the Incas raised alpacas and llamas for wool and meat and cultivated high-altitude crops such as potatoes and coffee.

The Spanish arrived in Puno in 1534, led by Francisco Pizarro. Initially, colonization went relatively smoothly for the conquis- tadors. Within the century, the presence of precious metals caused an increase in fight- ing, especially over the silver and gold rich Laykakota Mines west of Puno. In the 1660s the fighting reached such a level that the Spanish viceroy at the time, Viceroy Conde de Lemos, arrived to quell the situation with drastic measures. He closed the mine, ex- ecuted the one of the owners (probably the richest man in Latin America at the time), burned down the town that had grown up around it and founded Puno eight kilome- ters down the road. The exact location of the mines still remains a mystery today.

Fighting again erupted in Puno in the 1780s when indigenous communities began fight- ing for independence. They continued until 1821 when Peru was granted independence.

At this point Bolivia filled the void left by the Spanish and Puno became one site of the territory war between Peru and Bolivia. The warring between the two countries contin- ued until 1847 when the countries agreed on boundaries and the fighting stopped.

Inca Mythology

The gods of the Inca were nothing if not a lively lot. Take, for example, the fertility goddess, Mama Coca, so named because the coca plant, according to Inca mythology, originated with a section of Mama Coca's body after it was divided by her many male lovers. Thereafter, Inca ritual and religion decreed that a male inhabitant of the Inca empire could enjoy the pleasures of the coca leaf only if he brought a woman to orgasm. Then there was Coniraya, the moon god, who disguised his sperm as fruit and when the virgin goddess Cavillace consumed it, she became pregnant with his son, which so shamed her that she fled to Peru's coast where she and her son became rocks.

The accent on sex was, of course, indicative of an agrarian society in which the sex lives of the gods were metaphors for the Inca preoccupation with self-preservation through abundant and healthy crops. Goddesses in Inca mythology generally embody benevolent and life-giving qualities: examples include Mama Zara, a grain goddess, and Mama Allpa, a multi-breasted fertility goddess. There was also a nautical deity, Mama Cocha, who sheltered mariners and fishermen.

As with all myths, the legends surrounding such figures are not consistent, since the Inca religion evolved in accordance with the political and geographical needs of the empire, the largest and most powerful of a succession of competitive kingdoms that had developed during South America's social evolution from its initial settlement, some archeologists propose, by Asian nomads around 6500 BC.

When the Inca empire came to being in the 13th century, and ultimately conquered its rivals by the 15th (most notably the Chimú), their leaders and priests promoted a supernatural history that transcended its actual history. Hence, for the Inca people, civilization began with the "grandfather" deity Viracocha, and the progenitor of a suc- cession of gods, most notably Inti, a Sun God, who destroyed an earlier civilization with a flood arising from Lake Titicaca, save for the siblings Manco Cápac (who was also an actual historical ruler) and Mamá Occlo.

One interesting variation of the Viracocha legend attributes to him Christ-like quali- ties: he willingly surrenders his supernatural privileges in order to experience the suf- ferings of his subjects and thus understand compassion. In this incarnation, Viracocha is represented wearing rags and large tear drops on his face. However, this aspect of Viracocha was not exploited by the genocidal Catholic conquerors that arrived in the 15th century, in their campaign of forced conversion. By contrast, the Spanish were able to appropriate the Incan Earth Mother, Pacha Mamá, in their promotion of the new maternal deity, the Holy Virgin.

Nonetheless, the veneration of Inca deities also involved actions that by today's stan- dards would draw condemnation, especially the selective sacrifice of children and vir- gins during crop failures, or the death of an emperor. In the former case, specially chosen children were sacrificed to placate the dreaded underworld god, Supay. Never- theless, most deities were believed to reside in the sky and ceremonies often took place on the highest peaks reachable in the Andes; rulers were buried on mountaintops for their proximity to the divine. The high altitude setting of Machu Picchu is an index of its use for religious services.

Much of what was known about Inca mythology was destroyed by the Spanish, but the former reverence accorded to it survives in some folk festivals that combine Catholi- cism with pre-Columbian traditions.

Puno and Lake Titicaca Today

While Puno has a rich and interesting histo- ry, the city today is a relatively non-descript municipality of approximately 90,000 peo- ple. The city's major drawing card is its prox- imity to the shores of Lake Titicaca. Puno's tourism industry is well-developed and can accommodate the needs of all types of travel- ers. The problem is, that aside from the lake, the city has little to offer.

At 3,800 meters, Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable body of water in the world and is home to the famous Uros Floating Islands. Indian communities sometimes as small as just a couple of dozen people building float- ing islands out of totora reeds.

Contemporary Puno and Lake Titicaca have maintained their significance to Peru's in- digenous populations. Those living around the Lake are mainly of Aymara descent and for many, Spanish is their second language. Many Peruvians think Lake Titicaca is the magical place birthplace of their people. According to Inca mythology the first Inca chief, Manco Cápac, rose out of Lake Titi- caca. Hence, Puno's festivals and celebra- tions are among the most vibrant in Peru. A chance to see the dances, listen to the music or attend the fiestas of Puno's indigenous population should not be missed.

One interesting Lake Titicaca tidbit is that according to legend, when the Spanish in- vaded Peru, the Incas took Inca Huascar's massive gold chain that weighed 2200 kilos and dumped in into Lake Titicaca. The leg- end was taken seriously enough that legend- ary underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau mounted an expedition searching for it. Un- fortunately, however, he found nothing more than a 60 cm, tri-colored frog that never sur- faces. Not 2200 kilos of gold, but not far off.

When To Go

Given its elevation (3,860 m) and inland location far away from the Peruvian coast, Puno has dry, cool weather for most of the year. The average temperature throughout the year is about 8ºC, but the daily lows in July and August make this a less ideal time to visit (unless you brought some warm clothes). The best time to visit is between November and February when the weather is warmest, although it may be wet. Puno also hosts the Virgen de la Candelaria fiesta in February which brings the city to its full celebratory capacity.

Things To See and Do in Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world. With this status comes plenty of activities that can't be experienced anywhere else. Visit the remaining funerary towers of the ancient Colla people who once dominat- ed Lake Titicaca. The towers once contained the remains of tribal families and their be- longings. Island hop from floating island to floating island on a reed boat. Spend the night with local families who are warm and will welcome you to experience their tradi- tions. Buy unique handicrafts, clothes and jewelry from markets throughout the lake. Photograph the deep hues of the lake against the bright white snowcapped peaks. Visit old churches and even older ruins scattered around the islands and shores of Lake Titicaca. Taste local foods or learn native dances. This is just the beginning of what the shores and depths of Lake Titicaca have to offer!


(Entrance: $3) Perched on a peninsular bluff overlooking Laguna Umayu, a salt lake situ- ated in the midst of the altiplano, Sillustani harbors some of the most intriguing and best preserved ruins on the Peruvian end of Lake Titicaca. The gravity-defying towers, which have an uncanny resemblance to upturned inkwells, showcase the Colla's masterful stonemasonry skills. These stone tombs, or chullpas, served as the final resting places for entire families and their riches. Whether the Collas developed this unique architec- ture to show off their engineering prowess or to prevent looting is not clear.

Today, this ancient burial site is still used by Sillustani's chamani, or spiritual guide, who performs an annual agricultural fertil- ity ceremony in the temple adjacent to the tombs. Not for the faint of heart, the cer- emony includes the sacrifice of a pregnant llama. The fetus is extracted and presented as a symbol of future agricultural prosperi- ty. Be sure to check out the ingeniously con- structed waru waru, an agricultural device developed during the Tiwanaku Empire to protect crops from frosts.

One of the best ways to see Sillustani is through a Puno tour agency, which will pick you up at your hotel and provide a guided tour of the ruins (in English and Spanish). Most trips also included a brief stop at a local family's house. Sillustani is open 6 a.m. - dark.

Lake Titicaca Homestay Experience

My first stop after arriving in Puno for the trip to Lake Titicaca was the Uros Float- ing Reed Islands. The area consists of 45 artificial Totora Reed islands anchored by poles in the ground, although only a few are accessible to tourists. On the island, I was treated to a tour and introduction to the Uros who still live a traditional lifestyle of hunting and raising cattle, although signs of the 21st century are evident in solar power panels and TV.

While on the island I was offered the chance to ride in one of the traditional reed boats, something that is not only relaxing, but also a good insight into how the Uros travel.

After an hour, I boarded the boat again and headed a few hours across Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world at 3,800 m (12,467 ft), to Amantaní Island. Here, we disembarked and the guide assigned us our families, trying to closely match them to our preferences. I was assigned, with two others, to a family with four chil- dren. The lady of the house met us at the pier. The host families live in simple houses and the accommodation offered is basic. My family had no electricity and only an out- side toilet with a single room for guests. Conversation can be difficult, as Quechua is the primary language, despite the basic phrase sheet our guide gave us prior to our arrival. Luckily the children spoke Spanish, so with the help of phrase books and sign language, we managed some basic conversation.

After a quick settling-in period, we were offered a lunch of potato soup, followed by potatoes and boiled eggs. Afterwards the locals and boat passengers enjoyed a game of football before a tour around the island, with our guide explaining the history of the island and islanders. The island itself is barren but beautiful, with a handful of villages and ruins situated between the two peaks of the island, Pachatata (Father Earth) and Pachamama (Mother Earth). A walk three times around the ruined temple at the top of the island is said to grant wishes.

After watching the sunset, we headed back to our respective families for dinner and the evening's entertainment. We were dressed in traditional clothing. Men wore pon- chos and hats; the women wore petticoats, bulky skirts, white embroidered blouses and black embroidered scarves. A dance was put on in the local school to the music of local bands. The dancing was traditional, but easy to follow. The cold beer and the resplendent night sky rounded out a fun night.

The following day, after a coffee and pancake breakfast, we were taken down to the pier, where we said goodbye to our host families and sailed the short distance to neigh- boring Taquile Island, where roles are reversed and the men are renowned for their knitting. Yet protective of its local customs, the islanders have adapted to tourists and supply several small restaurants and a co-operative store.

The island itself is rugged with many Inca and pre-Inca ruins dotting the terraced hill- side and paths shared by an assortment of cows, sheep and locals. Traditional dress is also worn on Taquile Island, and the men wear embroidered, woven red waistbands (fajas) and embroidered wool stocking caps that indicate marital status: red for mar- ried men, and red and white for those who are single. After a time exploring the island we headed back to the boat and I relaxed on the deck as we sailed back to Puno, arriv- ing late afternoon.

Lake Titicaca Tours

A variety of single and multiple-day tours of the world's highest navigable lake are of- fered, ranging from a few hours of island ex- ploration to days of getting to know lakeside villages. Most travel agencies in Puno handle the conventional tours of Lake Titicaca and Sillustani, along with a handful of other ru- ins programs and homestays that can extend trips by a few days.

Lake Titicaca Hotels

Lake Titicaca is a beautiful area with lodg- ing options as varied as the views. Begin- ning in Juliaca, which is not a destination as much as a stopping point for travelers wanting to set up visits to surrounding

villages, there are cheap hostels and even cheaper guesthouses. There are also some decent, mid-range hotels. The area around Juliaca includes the charming town of Lampa with its cheap, friendly hospedajes or the sleepy village of Pucara with very small, basic places to stay. The market towns of Ayaviri and Abra la Raya offer little in the way of accommodation.

The small port town of Puno is an excel- lent jumping-off point to visit Lake Titi- caca's various islands. Accommodations here range from the most basic of hostels with icy cold showers to mid-range hostels and inns offering a little more luxury for a higher price. The high-end options in Puno include gorgeous views and the best com- forts available to fight the sometimes chilly conditions. Choose to camp where allowed, or stay in a more comfortable hostel in the towns of Juli and Pomata.

The many islands each offer very simple ac- commodations and some islands offer fairly expensive hotels. Chose familial guesthouses that sleep up to ten people or lake-side hotels with stunning alpine views.

Choose a homestay that will allow you to truly experience Lake Titicaca and the generations of people who have lived there. You will be greeted by a family member who will welcome you into your new home. Meals are included and the homestays often include various fam- ily activities around the island. Homestays are unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities!

Lake Titicaca Homestays

The best way to experience Lake Titicaca and its rich culture is to organize a homestay with a local family. As homestays are fast becom- ing a signature part of the lake experience, this is not hard to do. Most Puno tour com- panies can organize a family homestay for you, along with transportation to the island. You can also catch a boat from the Puno public peer and attempt to arrange your own homestay once you arrive on the island. (Of course, being able to speak Spanish or Quechua would be pretty helpful). Usually, a member of your family will greet you, and guide you to your new island home. Home- stays can vary greatly, but often include afternoon hikes with your family, football matches in the village square, and neigh- borhood fiestas. Meals are included in the cost, and also vary. The socially conscious company All Ways Travel also runs a homestay program on Islas Anapia and Yuspique. Homestays through this company are highly recommended for their quality and because proceeds help support sustainable tourism and community development. Regardless of how you arrange your homestay, it is an en- riching experience and an opportunity that shouldn't be passed up.


Lacking the glorious lake views and cultural fanfare of Puno, Juliaca has assumed the role of a commercial travel conduit. What it lacks in cultural attractions, however, it makes up for in convenience. Despite its unattractive appearance, Juliaca has the closest airport to Lake Titicaca, and rail and highway connections to Puno, Arequipa and Cusco. The roads originating from Juliaca are also conducive to making the trek to Bo- livia along the serpentine backroads wind- ing their way along the northern shores of Lake Titicaca. If you decide to spend the night here, the best hotels and services are located near Plaza Bolognesi, where you can also find the city's train station.

Things to See and Do in Juliaca

Culture buffs, have no fear: the town does offer a few attractions that will tide you over until you can reach your next destina- tion. In the Plaza Bolognesi you will find the Iglesia La Merced, and a few blocks northwest is another colonial church, the Iglesia Santa Catalina. If you happen to be in town on a Sunday, make your way to Pla- za Melgar, which has a huge market where you can browse and buy cheap alpaca wool sweaters. A more touristy market is held daily in the plaza outside the railway sta- tion, but keep an eye on your valuables as pickpockets regularly frequent this area.

Getting To and Away from Juliaca

The airport in Juliaca, known as the Inca Manco Cápac International Airport, is a short distance from the city itself, northwest of it by more than 5 kilometers (or 3 miles). It is managed by a government agency and features the longest runway in all of Latin America. It is a domestic, rather than in- ternational airport, and is used only by the three Peruvian airlines – Wayra, StarPeru and Aero Condor – as well as the Chilean airline, LAN. There approximately 28 do- mestic flights that leave Juliaca airport ev- ery week. If you are in a hurry and are will- ing to spend extra, you can fly directly from Juliaca airport to Puno and Lake Titicaca, rather than take a bus. There are buses and taxis that will take you directly from this airport to the village of Llachón.

If you prefer to take a bus, there is a service from Cusco to Juliaca and Puno. The bus from Cusco to Juliaca can take anything from five to six hours and the road is relatively new and de- cent. The cost is around $10. Buses run onward to Puno, approximately another 45 km away. There is also a train service that runs from Cusco through Juliaca and Puno on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. The train makes a scenic stop at La Raya, the highest point of the journey (literally). Tickets cost $130 first class and $19 "backpacker class". If you buy the cheap tickets you can't pre-reserve seats. The train leaves Cusco at 8 a.m. and arrives in Juliaca at 4.30 p.m. and Puno at 5.30 p.m. The return journey leaves Puno at 8 a.m. and Ju- liaca at 9.15 am, arriving in Cusco at 5.30 p.m. Tel: 51-5-132-1391.


Due to its remote location beyond the shores of Lake Titicaca and busy streets of Puno, Lampa has managed to maintain a quiet grace and colonial charm. Characterized by clean, open streets and 17th century casonas tinted ochre, maroon, and salmon (hence its nickname La Ciudad Rosada), Lampa is conducive to quiet mornings and languid af- ternoon strolls. Indeed, time seems to have bypassed this quaint colonial town, prefer- ring instead to inhabit the rushing tourist- trodden cities of Puno and Juliaca.

Don't let Lampa's tranquil atmosphere fool you, however, as it has plenty to offer travel- ers in search of things to see and do. You can, for example, make your way to Iglesia Santia- go Apóstol, the massive colonial church grac- ing Lampa's main square. Construction on the Latin-cross shaped church began in 1675 using a combination of lime mortar with river stones. In the 1950s Enrigue Torres Belón, a mining engineer, began restoration of the church. Belón even made the trip to the Vati- can to obtain a rare copy of Michelangelo's Pietá. The interior of the church is adorned with huge colonial paintings and an exquisite pulpit whose awe-inspiring grace echoes the one in San Blás in Cusco.

In another section of the church is the Tor- res Belón mausoleum, in which the remains of Torres Belón and his wife are located. This eerie crypt is decorated with the bones of hundreds of priests, hacienda owners, and Spanish miners, which were removed from their original resting place beneath the church when Belón ordered the church's catacombs to be cemented shut. A number of ancient Inca tunnels left over from an earlier temple wind their way beneath the church.

A number of colonial homes in town are worth the visit, if you're keen to stretch your legs. During the independence wars, Simón Bolívar addressed the town from the beautiful Casona Chukiwanka located in Plaza Guru. Some of the houses even have old colonial games, in the form of white and black stones laid out in court- yards to form huge game boards.

The dirt roads stretching beyond Lampa towards Cusco make for an excellent bike ride or drive. On the way you can stop at the forest of queña, the Colla chullpas, well preserved remains of two colonial mines, a forest of puya raimondi, or the intriguing geological formations at Tinajani Canyon. If you take the other road leading west- ward from Lampa you'll come across a cave dawning animal carvings and burial towers similar to those at Sillustani.

If you can, plan to visit between July 29-31 when the town comes alive with colonial- style bullfights and traditional dances for the Fiesta de Santiago Apóstol. Another good time to visit is from December 6-8 when you can watch the religious processions of La Virgin de la Immaculada.


This inviting little village located between Puno and Juliaca promises a less touristy ex- perience than the nearby Isla Taquile. While it does not harbor the same rustic restaurants as the more popular tourist spots, it does have Valentín Quispe, the gregarious local who runs a bucolic lodge on the outskirts of town. The lodge consists of small, whitewashed cab- ins with thatched roofs on a hillside promis- ing spectacular views of Lago Titicaca. The lodge also serves as the departure point for kayaking around the lake. Always ready to help, Valentín can also arrange homestays with other families on Llachón. Or you can rough it for the night and enjoy the spectacu- lar star-studded sky from the convenience of your own tent. There is a nice beach with a free campsite on one end, and on the opposite end a French-owned campground that rents tents and provides meals. For a change of scenery, find one of the local fishermen, who will gladly take you (of course there's fee!) to nearby Isla Taquile or Isla Amantaní. A sail- boat usually costs around six dollars and a private motor boat $36.


Characterized by sprawling, traffic-infested streets lined with barking men and women selling their brightly-colored crafts, the city of Puno lacks the grace and charm of its vastly more attractive neighbor, Lake Titicaca. Were it not for the dozens of tour agencies lining Puno's dusty streets, the placid shores of this natural gem may be all but swallowed up by the sites and sounds of a bustling city. Indeed, it's slightly ironic that the Quechua named for this hectic city translates to "place of rest."

Honking buses and pedestrian-packed streets aside, Puno has a number of redeeming qualities, which make it a great place to start any trip to Lake Titicaca and the surrounding area. As the central hub for lake excursions and trips to more attractive destinations, Puno has a number of hotels, restaurants and tour agencies to accommodate almost any traveler's tastes and needs. A recently built bus station now serves as a connection point for all major bus companies and is conve- niently located within walking distance of the port, from where you can catch a boat to Isla Amantaní and Isla Taquile.

Dominated by the Aymara to the south and Quechua to the north, Puno was shaped by the confluence of two notably different cultur- al currents. Referred to by some as the folk- lore capital of the world, Puno boasts some of the most fascinating and vibrant folklore festivals. Three major festivals are unique to the city: Fiesta de la Virgen de la Candelaria, Puno Week and Adoración del Sol. Perhaps the most interesting attraction in Puno lies just outside the city limits. The Yavari is one of the world's great antique ships, and the story of how it came to rest in Puno is almost as interesting as the ship itself.

Within the city there are a number of inter- esting attractions, all within walking distance of one another. If you're feeling particularly energetic, spend the day exploring the city on foot. Gracing the Plaza de Armas is the city's
17th century cathedral, whose elaborately- carved façade gives way to a rather spartan interior accented by a brilliant silver-plated altar. Next to the cathedral is another 17th century relic, the Casa del Corregidor. There is an inviting courtyard on the grounds, where javaholics can savor a coffee from one of Puno's most delightful cafés.

From the Plaza de Armas you can head to- wards Parque Huajsapata where you'll find a massive mirador with a huge sculpture of Manco Cápac, the first Inca. Be aware, how- ever, that a number of robbery assaults on single tourists have been reported here. Up the street from the plaza, on the corner of Conde de Lemos and Deústua, is the Balcony of the Conde de Lemos, former residence of Peru's viceroy and the current home of the Cultural Institute of Peru. Across the street you'll find the Museo Dreyer Municipal, which has a collection of pre-Inca and Inca artifacts and documents citing the history of the Spanish foundation of Peru.

From the museum, head downhill two blocks to Puno's pedestrian street, Lima, which connects the Plaza de Armas to Parque Pino. Here you can refuel at some of the city's best restaurants and cafés. Parque Pino boasts an 18th century church dedicated to San Juan Bautista, and home of the Virgen de Candelaria, Puno's most important patron saint. From the park, you can head towards the Arco Deústua, a huge stone arch built in honor of those killed in battles for indepen- dence in Junín and Ayacucho.

If city-sightseeing isn't your cup of tea, you can always meander through Puno's huge central market, or catch a boat to one of Lake Titicaca's islands. Active travelers may want to inquire about kayaking on Lake Titicaca, or horseback riding in the valley just north of Puno. A number of companies in Puno offer island tours to Isla Uros, Islas Taquile and Amantaní, Islas Anapia and Yuspique, and Isla Suasi. You can also arrange a visit to nearby attractions like Sillustani and Chucuito. For free tourist information and maps head to i Peru (Deústua with Lima, Tel :51-365-088, 8:30 a.m. - 7:30 p.m. daily). Or, for more detailed information pay a visit to the Regional Tourism Office (Ayacucho 682, Tel: 51-364-976, Monday - Friday, 7:30 a.m. - 5:15 p.m.

Getting To and Away from Puno

The most scenic option for getting to Puno is from Cusco by rail service. If pressed for time, you can also fly to the airport in Juliaca (p.316), which is 45 minutes from Puno. Buses will get you there in less time and for cheaper, but of course will not be as plush, although Ormeño offers a first class bus service for $17, departing daily at 9 a.m. from the terminal terrestre. Imexso and Civa run buses for around $5-6 at 7:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. from the same station. Cruz del Sur also has a 1 p.m. bus. Another option is the Inka Express bus which stops along the way. The Puno bus station is lo- cated southeast of the centre, so you'll have to take a taxi into town. For those heading into Bolivia, there are regular direct buses for Copacabana and La Paz leaving from the main terminal. Alternatively, you can take a combi to Yunguyo (for Copacabana) for about $1, for the hour and a half ride, leaving from the corner of Av. El Puerto and Av. El Sol. Buses and combis only leave up to around 3 pm daily, so that they get to the immigration offices of Peru and Bolivia be- fore they close for the day

The Train from Cusco to Puno

($16 - 143) The train ride from Cusco to Puno is one of the highest in the world,
3,500m (11,500 ft), and one of the most picturesque, apart from the train ride to Machu Picchu. The first half of this ten- hour journey provides some breathtaking views of Peru's Andean mountains that loom over deep valleys and the Huatanay River. The second half offers pleasant views of the Andean plains. The first-class coaches are oxygenated to mitigate the possibility of altitude sickness.

Travel options vary from first to econo- my class. First class includes an open-air observation deck. As in all your travels through Latin America, a certain degree of common-sense caution is advised in safe- guarding your valuables.

The train for Puno departs from Estación Huanchaq (tel. 51-8-423-8722) at the end of Avenida Sol, leaving every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday at 8:00 am. The trip from Cusco from Puno has the same schedule, with the Puno train station at Avenida La Torre 224 (tel. 51-5-135-1041). Reservations for the latter must be made at least one day in advance. For more infor- mation, go to www.perurail.com.

Inka Express
If you don't want to spend the $143 to take the first-class train to Puno, but don't want to settle for a regular bus, Inka Express is a good option. Leaving from Cusco at 8 a.m. daily, they offer a "day-trip" with a difference: you will visit the site of Raqchi and the pictur- esque village of Andahuaylillas, home to the "Sistine Chapel of the Americas," enjoy lunch in a country restaurant, and end your day ar- riving in Puno at around 6 p.m. Urb. El Ovalo Pachatutec C-32, Cusco, Tel: 51-8-424-7887, and Jr. Tacna 346, Puno, Tel: 51-5-136-5654, URL: www.inkaexpress.com.

Puno Services

For free tourist information and maps head to i Peru (daily, 8:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Deús- tua with Lima, Tel :51-51-365-088). Or, for more detailed information, pay a visit to the Regional Tourism Office (Monday- Friday, 7:30 a.m.-5:15 p.m. Ayacucho 682, Tel: 51-5-136-4976).

There are three main banks close to the main square in Puno, including the Canadian Sco- tiabank, all of which have functioning ATMs that allow you to withdraw solés at any hour. Some common sense is advised, however, and you should be cautious about withdraw- ing cash after dark, particularly when there are no police or guards in the vicinity. ScotiaBank, on Deústua and Jiron Lima, is right across the street from Puno's official tourist information office. Just a short walk away , on Jiron Lima and Grau, you will find the Banco Credito de Peru (BCP), as well as InterBank.


Vendors on the Puno Docks

One advantage of walking as you head east towards Lake Titicaca and the main port of departure in Puno, Puerta Lacustre, is that you can to check out the scores of local ven- dors selling folk art, hand-made clothing, food, and many other items. Combined with the view of Lake Titicaca looming to the east, hanging out on the docks provides a pleasant immersion into local culture and geography.

Central Market

At Puno's Mercado Central, shoppers can enthusiastically dig among colorful alpaca sweaters, small stone carvings, hand-craft- ed jewelry, hats and artwork to find the ide- al souvenir to take home. Street vendors sell local foods and tasty treats (not always the easiest on a foreigner's tummy, so be wary) and little children play at your feet while you shop. As in all markets, stay aware of your belongings and keep your valuables tucked deep in your bag. 8 a.m.-6 p.m., approximately. Near the train station, two blocks east of Parque Pino.

Things To See and Do in Puno

Though Puno is generally used as a starting off point to visit the surrounding islands, there are still a few activities to enjoy here. Visit Puno's baroque cathedral built in 1757, and afterwards, explore the oldest house in the area (now a cultural center). There are a handful of museums in the area showcasing the lake's history and ancient archaeological artifacts. There is a charming little park, old ruins and of course, many activities that can be organized outside of Puno.

Puno Cathedral

(ENTRY: FREE) The Puno Cathedral was built in 1757, and as such has a distinctly baroque design. However, its religious art expresses both European and indigenous in- fluences. The native panti plants that grow in the front were originally smuggled into town as contraband, and are reportedly capable of relieving physical pain. A skirmish between factions of miners in the 18th century result- ed in a bullet being lodged in one of the paint- ings, which was thereafter referred to as the Lord of the Bullet, and petitions are made to this work by local farmers when they need rain. A fire in 1930, alas, destroyed much of the historical artwork in the cathedral. Bring a camera. Jiron Ayacucho and Jiron Puno. It is right in front of Plaza de Armas.

Parque Pino

Parque Pino (Pino Park) is connected to the the larger Plaza de Armas of Puno by a walk- way. It was built in 1901 seven years after Peru's decisive victory over Chile in honor of the local "puneño," Dr. Manuel Pino, who emerged as the hero of the war. A statue of the doctor stands atop a column in the center of the park, and busts of other notable Puno "puneños" who partook in this campaign can be found below. One side of the park is taken up by the "Glorious National College of San Carlos," founded by the "liberator" of South America, Simón Bolívar. Walk four blocks north on Jiron de Independencia from the Plaza de Arma. Jiron de Independencia y Jiron Alfonso Ugarte.

Jirón Lima

The pedestrian walkway Jirón Lima begins at the Plaza de Armas and continues until the Arco Deústua. This is the heart of town, where you will find most of the hostels, hotels, tav- erns, tour operators, street vendors and res- taurants. It is not much in and of itself, but it does provide you an opportunity for a pleasant night out and a chance to meet other travelers.

Casa del Corregidor

This exquisite little structure near the heart of Puno is worth a visit both for itself as one of the few architectural and historical places of interest in Puno, and for the pro- ductive use of its space. Casa del Corregi- dor's history dates to the 17th century. The name corregidor refers to a "corrector," a title traditionally associated to a sovereign who served as magistrate, governor and tax-collector. The Casa was later appropri- ated by the Catholic Church, and then by a private family, who eventually sold it to the city who declared it a historical landmark.

Casa del Corregidor is now home to a hand- ful of progressive enterprises: the Café Cecovasa, the Fair Trade Folk Art shop, and the All Ways Travel Agency, which sponsors cultural tourism and works with NGOs to bring in much-needed volunteers to help poor children in the area. The Casa also sponsors a number of culturally edi- fying experiences, such as art expositions, talks, workshops and shows. Open 8 a.m-11 p.m. Jr. Deústua 576, Tel: 51-5-136-5603, URL: www.casadelcorregidor.ciap.org.

San Juan Bautista Church

San Juan Bautista Church is the focus of the main festival in Puno, in honor of the Virgin of Candlemas, which takes place in the first week of February. The Virgin was adopted as the city's spiritual guardian following the victory of Spanish troops over local tribes in the 16th century, though some others claim it due was to the Mother of God's appearance to some miners during the 19th century. The church itself has a history going back 200 years, when it began as a chapel. In 1876 it was rebuilt as a formal church, with a distinctly French-style façade on the outside and three gothic-styled altars on the inside. Jr. Lima and Parque Pino.

Arco Deústua Memorial

Head north on Calle Lima from the main Plaza and you will arrive at the Arco Deústua Memorial, built in 1847 to commemorate Pe- ru's fallen soldiers in the battles of Junin and Ayacucho during the Independence War with Spain. Just a few blocks uphill, in the Parque San Juan, the arch serves as a good lookout point over Puno.

The Yavarí

The Yavari is a medium-sized, iron-hulled ship, one of the first two commissioned by the Peruvian government in 1861. They were forged in England and then shipped to Peru. What happened next was a fascinating chap- ter in Peruvian history: the two ships had to be packaged in small enough bundles that they could be carried by mules over stretches of Peru's barren highlands. Parts were lost, the government ran out of money, and a series of calamities threatened to derail the project, but in the end the ships were built and the Yavari was christened in 1870, be- ginning more than a century of service. In the early years, fuel was so scarce that the ship was modified so that it could run on dried llama dung! There has been a recent effort to preserve the Yavari, which has met with some success. Today, it is a tourist site and restaurant/café popular with visitors. Don't miss it on your trip to Puno. Located on a pier near Puno. Tel: 51-5-136-9329.

Mirador de Kuntur Wasi

With its metal wingspan 11 meters (36 feet) long, and perched on a hill 3,990 meters (13, 091 feet) high overlooking Puno, the Kuntur Wasi condor is the most dramatic expres- sion of this community's pride in its Andean heritage. The lookout provides a breathtak- ing view of the city and Lake Titicaca. You can access it via cab for approximately $2, or you can walk east from the Plaza de Armas towards the base of the monument and begin a careful ascent of the 620 steps, which rise from sea level to the condor's talons.

Cerrito de Huajsapata

This imperial tribute to the founder, Manco Capac, of the Incan Empire is 45-meters (148 feet) high and can be found west of the city. As with the Kuntur Wasi lookout, the Cerrito of Huajsapata provides a spec- tacular view of the city and Lake Titicaca. Manco Capac stands before a wide concrete lot, popular with young amateur football players. There are rumors that inside the monument are subterranean portals that connect Puno to the Qoricancha Temple in Cusco. Of course, if there really were such a thing, local Peruvians would long since have capitalized it for maximum profit.


Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Raqchi ruins is the line of nearly 200 round stone houses that parallels the gigantic adobe Inca wall. At one time each one of the houses was filled to the brim with quinoa, freeze-dried potatoes and corn. The wall, nearly 15 meters high and 90 meters long, was part of a ceremonial center built by Inca Pachacútec. The now-crumbling walls once supported a huge hall with a roof—an- other testament to the Inca's architectural ambition and engineering skills. One of the supporting columns has been restored, and on one side of the wall there are six stone buildings, which probably once served as soldiers' barracks. Though the great hall of Raqchi has long since succumbed to time and the elements, the remaining five-story high wall is one of the best pre- served examples of Inca adobe architecture, and definitely a site worth checking out.