Puno

Puno is a port city at an altitude of over 3,800 msnm, on the shores of Lake Titicaca on the Altiplano of Peru. Despite its picturesque hillside setting, the city itself is a ramshackle collection of mostly unfinished modern buildings – its biggest attraction is as a departure point for the famous floating islands on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca. This, and its proximity to the Bolivian border, means that it’s a regular stop on the South American tourist trail.

Understand

Puno is also the name of the region.

The city of Puno is a melting pot of the Aymara and Quechua cultures. Most of its inhabitants are of Andean origin and it has a unique mixture of modernity and Andean traditions. Women in traditional clothing live and work next to their modern versions.

Puno is not exactly the jewel of Peru, but it has its charms. The central square is reasonably pleasant. Calle Lima is a pedestrian walking street with most of the restaurants, bars and clubs. The main reason to visit Puno is to get out onto Lake Titicaca. Almost every hotel will offer some kind of packaged boating deal for the lake, and most of them are good. There is a lot of competition (and good business deals) between the hotels and the tour boats, so most of the prices stay fairly even. If you feel your hotel is making a reasonable offer, take it – a van will be able to pick you up right at the hotel door.

Climate

Puno’s elevation is about 3,822m (12,565 feet), which means it is fairly cold, especially at night, and it is very high, so there is significant risk of altitude sickness (80% if go directly from sea level). If you arrive from a lower elevation, it is safer to spend a few days acclimatizing at a lower altitude before Puno, and then a day or two taking it easy in order to acclimatize. A gradual ascent might start in the Sacred Valley, then Cusco, then Puno.

The sun is blistering hot during the day and there is less atmosphere to protect you at this altitude; you should wear a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen. During high season (July, August) almost every day one tourist is hospitalized with sunburn, especially after falling asleep on top of one of the sometimes agonizingly slow boats to the islands of Taquile or Amantani. See also Sunburn and sun protection.

Get in

By train

Trains to and from Cusco travel three times per week, Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, and if there are enough passengers, on Thursday as well. The train to Arequipa is only used for goods and no longer for passengers. The rail trip from Puno to Cusco – the “Andean Explorer” – which is run jointly by Peru Rail and Orient Express is spectacular, one of the world’s great train journeys. It is not cheap – ~US$280 as of 2015 (one way). The other way (from Puno to Cusco) is significantly cheaper, “only” ~US$165 (2015). Don’t look for the backpacker class for less money, it is not running anymore.

The trip takes in Andean mountains and valleys of the Huatanay River, before reaching the Andean Plains, La Raya (the highest point of the route) and finally Cusco. The train stops at La Raya for about 10 mins to allow passengers to get off. There are stalls selling local handicrafts e.g. alpaca sweaters, rugs, chess sets. Ensure that you bargain hard. Without a doubt, the best way of travelling to or from Cusco and Macchu Picchu.

By bus

Other companies often stop on the way, picking up passengers and salesmen, which delay the trip and often turn the bus into a driving, smelly restaurant.

There are 3 companies leaving at 10PM and arriving around 6AM in Puno; by no means take San Luis which have very bad buses!

Inka express / Turismo Mer has a special tourist bus starts at 7:30AM in Puno with several stops to take photos on the interesting points. It takes 8 hours to Cusco.

  1. Direct route via Desaguadero (the fastest route, about 5 hours taking shared taxis).

To do this, take a bus from the terminal or a shared taxi to Desaguadero (2-3 hours, most buses leave before 10AM) and after getting your passport stamped on both sides of the bridge, you can take a bus/minivan/shared taxi to La Paz (10/15/25 Bolivianos, 2-3 hours, much faster and more comfortable by shared taxi). If you want more space in the back you can pay for an extra seat. Border formalities are quite quick, but you might want to take a bicycle taxi to avoid walking a long way from the bridge to the transport on either side. You can change money here at one of the stalls outside Peruvian immigration - it's best if you know the exchange rate in advance.

  1. Via ferry boat across Lake Titicaca and Copacabana.
You should change some money at the border in order to be able to pay the ferry in Bolivianos. Be prepared to change buses in Copacabana. This will mean you will lose your good seats.

When the overnight bus to Cusco stops at the state line for the police to inspect cargo underneath the bus, get out and watch your luggage to avoid theft.

Ormeños has buses leaving Puno between 8AM and 9AM every day. The departure time depends on how long the bus takes to arrive from Lima, so it is necessary to call Ormeños in Puno or Arequipa at about 7AM to find out what time the bus will be passing through. The price is 100 Soles per person and the journey should take about 6 hours.

By car

From Arequipa, Colca Canyon, Cusco or Bolivia.

By plane

From Juliaca Airport, 45 minutes north of Puno by road

Get around

Many of the hostels are set on a hill above the Plaza del Armas which feels even steeper because of the altitude.

See

Dawn over Lake Titicaca at Puno

Most Puno sights are actually not in the city itself. Check the “Go next”-section below.

In the city itself you can visit the panoramic viewpoints of the Puma and the Condor statues, but especially the last one has had security issues the last few years. Visit in group or accompanied by locals. Especially the Condor has a great view on the bay. Take a taxi (8 soles) to the top and go down the hundred plus stairs, in 10 min you are on the main square.

Also worth visiting: the Dreyer Museum close to the main square, and the Yavari boat museum. 7 soles by taxi (Hotel Posada del Inca).

In the last few years a few smaller museums have opened, like the Galindo Gallery with paintings in the Cusco School style, the Paleontological Museum, the Totora Museum, and the Museo de la Coca y Costumbres / Coca and Costumes Museum, devoted to the coca leaf.

Do

There are several llama farms in Puno available for tourists to go to. You can learn about the history and agricultural llama use. Fun Fun! check all the places in

Buy

You can buy souvenirs here for less than in Cusco or Lima. There is a fairly large market down by the water.

Eat

Budget

Mid-range

Most tourist spots are in and around Calle Lima, with main courses around 20 Soles. A little bit of bargaining will get you a discount, but don’t push it too far if you want your food prepared without any bodily fluids.

Splurge

Drink

Sleep

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Stay safe

The area is secure but it is advisable to hire the transfer from Juliaca to Puno through a tour operator of reputation.

Walking up in the hills gives nice views over the city and the lakes, but it is dangerous! Tourists are often the victims of armed robberies in the hills.

Go next

There are loads of agencies offering trips from here, and most hotels and inns will be more than happy to reserve for you. Note that the latter often charge an extra 5 S/. for this service.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Sunday, January 17, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.