The Peruvian city of Puno is perched on the edge of one of the highlights of any Peru vacation – the spectacular and mythical Lake Titicaca.
The city of 200,000 people is often dismissed as nothing more than a convenient staging post for a Lake Titicaca tour, but this reputation is unfair: Puno offers many attractions which will all add to your Peru travel memories.
The city of Puno with Lake Titicaca in the background.
Photo by Matt Barker, 2009
A note of caution to any visitors, especially those arriving from low altitudes: Puno is one of Peru’s highest cities and mild altitude sickness is common. Take it easy when you first arrive and don’t attempt anything too strenuous.
Begin your visit to Puno with a short walk along the city’s pedestrianized central boulevard, Calle Lima. This central thoroughfare offers the best of the city’s restaurants, shops and bars, and has two small but handsome plazas at either end.
On the central Plaza de Armas you’ll find the city’s Spartan-style Cathedral which is open to tourists (entrance free) during non Mass times. At the other end of Calle Lima you’ll find Parque Pino where many a local sits to enjoy the high altitude air and bright sun (from which you’ll need plenty of sun protection.)
Stop for lunch at one of the many local menú restaurants which line the side streets. These are great places to fill up on cheap, authentic Peruvian cuisine from a set menu which includes a starter, a main course and a drink.
Alternatively, the nearby central market is a fine place to explore and witness every day Peruvian life, while the top floor is home to a countless number of small food counters offering cheap, delicious food for next to nothing.
After lunch hail one of the city’s ubiquitous mototaxis (motorbikes that have been converted to take two passengers) for a 4 sole ride to one of the best Puno hotels, El Posada del Inca. But you’re not here to check into one of the finest luxury Peru hotels, for just outside on the lakeside you’ll find a piece of Peru’s fascinating history.
The iron Yavari steamship was originally purchased by the Peruvian Navy in the 19th century, from a British shipbuilders in Birmingham. The ship was sailed across the Atlantic to a Peruvian port before being disassembled into thousands of pieces and hauled by mule across the Andes to Lake Titicaca at almost 4000 meters above sea level.
Having been retired and fallen into disrepair, the ship was subsequently bought and restored by a British enthusiast and is now open to visitors who can visit the ship’s decks, engine room and bridge.
After your tour of the Yavari, head back into town for dinner at one of Puno’s fine restaurants, where the Lake’s trout and kingfish are both highly recommended, being served up in a rich variety of dishes.
Before heading to bed, take a look around Puno’s vast number of tour operators for a trip out onto the lake the following day. International Peru vacation providers will also offer these excursions.
The options are almost limitless, from a short three hour trip to the floating island communities on Uros, to a full day island tour, to a multiple day cruise around the lake.
If, on the following morning, you choose not to take a tour onto Lake Titicaca, go for a walk up to one of Puno’s many miradors, viewing points. The viewing point at Huajsapata Park is probably the easiest and most accessible which also offers great views of the city and lake under the shadow of an enormous Manco Capac, the legendary Inca said to have been born from the lake.
Stop off at a bakery for a delicious empanada pastry and a coffee before continuing on to your next Peru vacation destination.
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Matt left England for Peru in 2008, originally planning to stay for just 12 months but ending up settling down in Lima working for Latin America For Less for three fun-packed years. He remains a perpetual traveller, working and writing his way through Europe, North America and Asia but he has always saved a special place in his heart for Peru and South America.