The city of Puno is located in the southeast corner of Peru, on the shores of the magnificent Lake Titicaca and only 126km from the Bolivian border. The city was founded in 1668 following the discovery of nearby silver mines. Prior to this, Puno had been a small stopping off place between the much larger silver mines at Potosi in Bolivia and Lima. At 3,827m in altitude, Puno is a rather cold town surrounded by the desolate altiplano (or high plateau). It is not so much a destination in itself but a necessary stop on the way to visit the islands on Lake Titicaca, or when crossing the border to Bolivia. Nowadays, there are excellent hotels and restaurants in Puno, and it is also a good place to buy handicrafts, especially alpaca clothing.
Puno is a predominately agricultural region. Its main economic activities are cultivating potatoes, barley and quinoa, as well as raising cattle, sheep, llamas and alpaca.
Puno is also a melting pot of Indian cultures including the Aymara from the south and the Quechua from the north. This has earned Puno the title of ‘Folkloric Capital of Peru’ which it lives up to well with its huge number and variety of traditional fiestas, dances and music. Most popular is the Virgen de la Candelaria celebration in February, about two weeks of uninterrupted colorful costumes, street music and dancing.
At 32 kms drive from Puno are the Chullpas of Sillustani (pre-Columbian funeral towers), beautifully set on a peninsula facing Lake Umayo, which has a magic looking island in the middle.
Lake Titicaca is by far the main attraction in Puno that draws people to this part of Peru. This amazing deep blue lake, 195 km in length with an average width of 50 km, is the largest lake in South America and the largest in the world above 2,000m.
There are several islands that can be accessed from Puno and make an interesting visit. The most popular of these are the floating islands of Uros, Taquile, Amantani and Suasi islands, which can be easily visited by taking an organized tour from the Puno Pier.
Island tours from Puno
For centuries the Uros people have built their homes and made their boats from the abundant source of reeds that grow in the shallows of Lake Titicaca. The islands are made from many springy layers of reeds that are continually added to replace the rotting layers below and it is not uncommon for the islands to drift after heavy rains. Fisherman can be seen navigating the water channels in beautifully crafted, sturdy ‘canoes’, some with reed figureheads forming a creative extension of the prow. Most tours of the Uros Islands depart at 09.30 and include transport from your hotel to the port, return transport by motor boat, English speaking guide, entrance fee and transfer from the port back to your hotel.
Unless time is limited, it is better value a tour visiting the natural islands of Amantani or Taquile There are neither hotels in Taquile nor in Amantani but on arrival the group is split into smaller groups for overnight stays with local families. Most tours of the Uros, Taquile & Amantani Islands depart at 8.30am and include transport from your hotel to the port, transport by motor boat stopping at the Uros Islands for 30 minutes before departing to the island The two islands of Taquile and Amantani have a genuine traditional lifestyle without electricity or solid infrastructure that gives visitors a glimpse of pre-colonial Andean Peru. The inhabitants of the attractive island of Taquile still use age-old weaving techniques and wear colourful traditional clothes, and the steep-sided fertile shores are covered in pre-Inca agricultural terraces that are the basis for the island’s self-sufficient economy.
The larger island of Amantani is a basket-weavers island and traditional crafts like stone masonry, and Inca structures of agriculture and trade are still practiced.
If you don’t want to give up comfort, Suasi island is private owned and offers a very cozy, peaceful first class lodging package option in the excellent Casa Andina Private Collection hotel there, with spectacular lake views and own vicuña and alpaca herds. Minimum is a 2 days/ 1 night package, but we recommend a 3 days/ 2 nights stay to really enjoy it. Package includes a visit to the Uros and to Taquile on the way to the island.
Off the beaten path, Anapia Island vivencial experience
Anapia is an island in the small part of Lake Titicaca, close to the border with Bolivia. The island is remote and traditional, with affairs run by the community itself – including community-based tourism, and the possibility to take part in the daily activities of the community. The way from Puno to Anapia island takes first 2 hours by car and then by sailing boat 2 more hours.
Off the beaten path Llachon community vivencial experience
This is an excellent opportunity to spend two or more days with the little visited Quechua community of Llachon, set on the Capachica peninsula on Lake Titicaca. The community is located in a very scenic part of the Lake. During your stay, you will learn much about the local culture, their agricultural skills, fishing techniques and production of their intricate textiles. There are also numerous pre-Inca ruins in the area. Spend the night here in a local house offering their simple typical home-cooked meals.
Access to Llachon is by boat or by land from Puno, taking about two hours to reach it.