Nestled on the high Andean plateau lies the picturesque Lake Titicaca, a shimmering inland sea which the Inca believed to be the birthplace of the sun. Indeed, after spending a few days enjoying breathtaking vistas and exploring mysterious archaeological sites, it’s not hard to understand why. Here’s everything you need to know about a trip to Peru’s portion of the great lake.
Puno is the main hub for exploring the Peruvian side of the lake.
Budget: With heated common areas, friendly staff and plenty of nice snugly blankets, Cozy Hostel does a great job of living up to it’s namesake. Dorm beds are cheap and it’s only a few blocks from the central plaza.
Mid range: The name is a bit misleading as it’s actually just east of the plaza, but that’s about the only thing to fault with the Sol Plaza Hotel. Well decorated, spacious and spotlessly clean rooms combined with friendly and helpful service make this the best value mid range joint in town.
High End: Built on an island just out of the city, the luxurious Libertador Hotel Lago Titicaca feels a world away from the chaos and dilapidation of downtown Puno. Although there isn’t much to do within walking distance, onsite facilities such as a gym, spa, Jacuzzi and fine-dining restaurant are bound to keep guests entertained.
Some of the floating islands of Uros include specially built accommodation to receive foreign guests. Although lodgings are extremely basic, staying on the islands is certainly an interesting cultural experience. Uros Summa Paqari are a favorite for the friendly host family who make a real effort to look after their guests.
The Uros islands are what most people come to see and, despite feeling a little touristy, are definitely worthwhile. These ancient people learnt how to build and survive on floating islands made out of totora reeds in an attempt to escape Inca colonization over 500 years ago. Best of all, their traditions have been kept alive, albeit now primarily as a tourist attraction. Several tours depart each day which last around four hours.
But there’s more to Titicaca than Uros. Those with the time should opt for a two day tour which takes in the floating islands, an overnight home stay with a local family on Amantaní Island, then a visit to renowned weavers of Taquile Island on the way home. Ample time is allocated to hiking, shopping or even a game of football with the locals.
Another interesting attraction is Sillustani, a large pre-Inca burial ground overlooking the lake. A series of cylinder shaped funeral towers are scattered throughout the site, making for an informative and insightful half-day tour.
Bus: Public buses leave to Cusco (5 hours) and Arequipa (6 hours) every hour or so, with prices varying from 25 PEN (US$7.50) to 75 PEN (US$23) depending on the seat type and company. Cruz del Sur have the best service.
Inka express run a special tourist bus between Puno and Cusco which stops at several Inca sites along the way over an eight hour period. It costs 145 PEN (US$45).
For La Paz, the quickest and cheapest route is to grab a shared taxi from the Terminal Zonal De Puno to Desaguadero, cross the border and take another bus or shared taxi to La Paz. Budget around US$10 and have a firm grasp of Spanish for this five hour trip. The easier option is to get a morning or afternoon bus via Copacabana which takes around eight hours and costs US$15.
Peru Hop sell a bus pass to ferry international travelers around Peru’s top attractions, including Puno. Although marginally more expensive than local buses, their dedicated door-to-door service and bilingual guides make Peru Hop an excellent, hassle-free option.
Train: Peru rail offer a luxury train service between Puno and Cusco which departs every second day. At just under US$200 including food and drink, it’s by no means cheap, but it does provide an enjoyable and more sophisticated way to see the countryside.
Flight: The nearest airport is in chaotic Juliaca, about an hours drive from Puno. Direct daily flights include Lima and Cusco.
Ferry: Those who prefer to avoid tours can visit all three islands independently, although savings are seriously minimal. Ferries leave the port at 6:00 a.m and 7:30 a.m, costing 25 PEN (US$7.50) one way. Travelers have the option of getting off at Uros, Amananti or Taquile.
By far the city’s best vegetarian restaurant, Loving Hut Vegan has an extensive menu of lovingly prepared vegan and vegetarian dishes. The set lunch is great value at 12 PEN (US$3.50). For a la carte, try the quinoa burger.
Loving Hut Titikaka Vegan, Choque Huanca, Puno, Peru +51 51 353523
Funny name, amazing pizza. Machu Pizza serve the best pie in town, which is saying something considering the abundance of competition in Puno. Order a nice glass of hot wine (local variation of gluvine) to warm the belly.
Machupizza, Arequipa, Puno, Peru +51 980 886 717
Those after something a little more fancy should head straight to La Table del’ Inca, widely considered to be Puno’s best restaurant. Expect to pay around 80 PEN (US$25) for a delectable three course meal of French-Peruvian fusion cuisine.
Expect very basic food on the islands. Whenever possible, opt for trout which is caught fresh and is absolutely delicious.