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.
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.
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.
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.
- Daily buses depart to and from Cusco and Arequipa. The ride from Cusco to Puno takes between 6 and 8 hours, depending on the bus company. Remember to ask for direct buses. Almost all companies leaves at 8AM and 10p.m. There are several bus companies that cost around S/.35–70, it depends how comfortable their seating are, for example Cruz del Sur has VIP and regular seating. Remember that the first level shakes less than the second level.
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.
- Buses depart to Copacabana twice daily. There are 4 buses that depart at 7:30AM (15 soles) but only Titicaca has an afternoon service that leaves at 2PM (20 soles).
- 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.
- 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.
From Juliaca Airport, 45 minutes north of Puno by road
Many of the hostels are set on a hill above the Plaza del Armas which feels even steeper because of the altitude.
- Taxis or motor-rickshaws will not charge you more than 3 S/. (Taxi) or 2 S/. (Moto) for a ride within the city.
- Urban colectivos charge 0,50 S/.
Most Puno sights are actually not in the city itself. Check the “Go next”-section below.
- Floating Islands (described in detail in “Go next” section. Tour boats leave every 40 mins from the dock (5 Soles by taxi). These cost 10 Soles for the return boat trip plus a 10 Soles entry fee to the islands. The last boat leaves around 4:30PM. The boat takes you to a couple of different islands (there are more than 50) where the island’s “president” explains how the islands are built. Everything is made of reeds, including the islands themselves, the people's houses and their boats.
- The Islands of Taquile and Amantani where you can sleep over with a local family.
- The peninsulas of Chucuito and Capachica that form the right and left arm of the Puno Bay. In Chucuito you can stay in Luquina Chico or Karina, in Capachica the community of Llachón is becoming famous, but you can also stay on the other side of the peninsula in Ccotos or the small island of Tikonata.
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.
You can buy souvenirs here for less than in Cusco or Lima. There is a fairly large market down by the water.
- In and around the mercado central are several budget places to lunch for less than 3 Soles.
- Down Jr Tacna from the mercado many restaurants have dinner menus for 3 Soles or so.
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.
- Cafe restaurant Monterrey, Pasaje Grau 158, has reasonably cheap and good breakfasts.
- Restaurant pizzeria Ollantay, Pasaje Grau 160, has pizzas, trout and alpaca. Ask for el menú.
- Restaurant Colors, Calle Lima, has creative nouveau andean and international dishes and free wifi. Really good food and the desserts are fab!
- Cafe restaurant Sal y Azucar, Pasaje Grau, relatively cheap but delicious desserts and some savory meals.
- Restaurant Vida Natural, Jr. Lambayeque 141. Perfect if you like natural, fresh and tasty vegetarian food. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. Cheap complete menus. Custom dishes on request. Friendly owners. (Closed on Saturdays)
- Restaurant Don Giorgio, Calle Lima, serves Italian food at very high prices, an offers WiFi.
- Fruit juices at one of the many juguerias on the second floor of the market.
- Many gringo spots at or near the pedestrian mall.
- Pacha cafe-bar, calle independencia (main pedestrian blvd). Bar on main street offers average coffee and cocktails. Any food ordered is brought in from outside, so best not to eat there. Staff have a game to see how much they can short-change gringos. Free wifi, password 1063071970. 2 for S12 happy hr.
- The WalkOn Inn, Jirón Libertad 115 (corner Jr. Tacna), ☎ +51 51 352 631, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Opened a hostel in downtown Puno. Rooms with ample space and private bathroom cost 60 soles for a double/twin with hot water 24/7. Breakfasts cost 8 soles for a buffet. The hotel can also connect you with tours. 60.
- Hostal Los Uros, Theodóro Valcárcel N8 135, 051-352141. Clean and decent hotel close to the center. Popular with foreigners. A single with shared bathroom cost 20 soles. Ask for a discount in low-season.
- Sleeping at one of the Uros Islands A new option available is hospedaje made of reed located on the Uro Islands The prices are well worth the atmosphere and getting away from most of the tourists on the daytrips (about 15 soles a night, 30 including dinner and breakfast).
- Pirwa Hostels Peru, Av. La Torre #492 (only 2 blocks from the main square), ☎ +51 84 244315, e-mail: email@example.com. Check-in: 10:30AM, check-out: 10AM. Services: Free continental breakfast, free pick up, free internet access, 24 hours reception, in house bar and more. from $ 8.50 /person.
- Quechuas Backpackers (a.k.a. Miski Wasi Inn), Calle Santiago Giraldo No 177. A new place with super comfortable beds and good and friendly service (they will greet you by name etc.). Free wifi. USD 20 for a double or twin incl breakfast (May 2012).
- Hostal Los Pinos Inn, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Tarapacá 182, Helpful staff, breakfast, private bathrooms, affordable.
- Eco Inn. Av. Chulluni 195. View to Lake Titicaca in an eco-friendly atmosphere.
- Lucky Your House, Titicaca 144, Puno, Peru, ☎ +51 51 353552. Free WIFI, hot water, 4 blocks from Plaza de Armas, breakfast, no kitchen anymore. US$30 double or twin room.
- Titilaka, ☎ +51-1-700-5100. A modern luxury refuge located on the shores of the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca, providing a travelers a rich authentic experience and a variety of excursions to choose from. The lodge has two types of Suites; dawn & dusk, all with lake-views spa bathrooms, heated floors, in house amenities, including meals and excursions. Staff of the hotel will pick you up from Juliaca Airport or Puno train station and transfer you to the Lake port, from where you will depart to the hotel.
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.
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.
- 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.
- Chucuito (19km, 1 Sol by colectivo) can be done as a daytrip from Puno, or en route to Bolivia.
- Cutimbo is a nice daytrip, for pre-Inca ruins and views.
- Sillustani has the best examples of pre-Inca tombs in the area, and also has some nice lakeside views.
- Isla Taquile, famed for its traditional Titicacan way of living, can be done either as a daytrip, or staying a night or two.
- Uro Islands, the floating reed islands, are mostly visited on daytrips. Recently has been opened a hospedaje on one of the islands.