Puno is the capital of the department of the same name, which is well-kown throughout the world as a result of its location on the shores of Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world.
The city and lake are situated at 3827 meters above sea level and the inhabitants of the area have adapted well to the local geographical and climatic conditions. Their copper-colored skin withstands the cold nights and the strong, burning sun in the day. Fortunately, the lake produces a unique microclimate, with the sun heating the water during the day and this heat moderating the nighttime temperatures in the vicinity of the lake. This creates a small area where agriculture is viable. In addition, the lake also provides cheap and easily accessible food for local inhabitants in the form of fish.
The geography of the department of Puno is very different from that of the rest of the Peruvian Andes. Much of its territory is composed of an almost flat plain between 3850 and 4000 meters above sea level. This high plain and the lake are shared with Peru´s neighbor Bolivia, as is the language spoken by the ethnic Aymara inhabitants of the region.
This flat plain is surrounded by several mountain chains: the Cordillera Real to the south in Bolivia; the Carabaya to the north; the Cordillera Oriental in the tropical forests of Puno to the east; and the more coastal Cordillera Occidental, the volcanic range to the west on the border with the department of Arequipa, Moquegua and Tacna. Only the coarse grass known as ichu, which grows above 3000 meters, grows on the cold plains of Puno, and it provides grazing for the South American camelids that inhabit the area.
In addition, the rivers that flow into Lake Titicaca also create a series of microclimates which make agriculture viable, and the main crops grown are potato, quinua, barley, oats and beans. These microclimates also make it possible to raise cattle in the area.
Destination Puno City
Puno is the capital of the department of the same name, which is well-kown throughout the world as a result of its location on the shores of Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world.
Choose your Puno City Tour
Puno is immensely rich in living traditions – in particular its modern interpretations of folk dances – as well as fascinating pre-Columbian history. The Pukara culture emerged here some three thousand years ago leaving behind stone pyramids and carved standing stones, contemporaneous with those of Chavín 1600 km further north. The better-known Tiahuanaco culture dominated the Titicaca basin between 800 and 1200 AD, leaving in its wake the temple complex of the same name just over the border in Bolivia, plus widespread cultural and religious influence. This early settlement was conquered by the Incas in the fifteenth century.
The first Spanish settlement at Puno Sprang up around a silver mine discovered by the infamous Salcedo brothers in 1657. The camp forged such a wild and violent reputation that the Lima viceroy moved in with soldiers to crush and finally execute the Salcedos before things got too out of hand. The Spanish were soon to discover the town´s wealth – both in terms of tribute-based agriculture and mineral exploitation based on a unique form of slave labour. In 1668 the viceroy made Puno the capital of the region, and from then on it became the main port of Lake Titicaca and an important town on the silver trail from Potosi in Bolivia. The arrival of the railway, late in the nineteenth century, brought another boost, but today it´s a relatively poor, rather grubby sort of town, by Peruvian standards, and a place that has suffered badly from droughts and poor water management over the years.
Puno rests on the northwest shores of Lake Titicaca in the southern Peru. This highland plateau region is known as the Altiplano and extends into western Bolivia. On the opposite side of the lake from Puno, in Bolivia, the Cordilleras Real jut up from the altiplano landscape and create a stunning skyline of snowcapped peaks.
Distances from Puno
- to Cusco, Peru, 240 mi / 390 km
- to Arequipa, Peru, 190 mi / 300 km
- to Yunguyo, Peru (Bolivia border crossing), 80 mi /130 km
- to Copacabana, Bolivia, 87 mi /140 km
- to La Paz, Bolivia, 170 mi /270 km
What is the altitude of Puno?
The city of Puno is located at about 12,500 ft (3,800 m) above sea level. This is slightly higher than the elevation of Cusco city at 11,120 ft (3,400 m).
Altitude sickness is a common health concern for travelers going to Puno. Everyone’s body reacts different when ascending rapidly to altitudes greater than 8,000 ft (2,500 m). Acute symptoms of altitude sickness, the most common form of the disorder, include headache, fatigue, insomnia, and loss of appetite. Severe reactions to the altitude are hard to predict. Before you travel, ask your doctor about medications to help acclimate to the high altitude. During your visit to Puno, keep hydrated, avoid heavy meals, and try coca leaf tea, a local remedy used to combat altitude sickness symptoms.
Fiestas & Floklore
If you like festivals, you´ve come to the right place. Puno is the folkloric capital of Peru, boasting as many as 300 traditional dances and celebrating numerous fiestas throughout the year. Dazzling outfits can range from strikingly grotesque masks and animal costumes to glittering sequined uniforms. Accompanying music uses a host of instrumentation, from Spanish-influenced brass and string instruments to percussion and wind instruments that have changed little since Inca times.
LA VIRGEN DE LA CANDELARIA The festival in honor of Puno´s patrón virgin is celebrated over several days with masses and processions. It culminates with a thunderous street party on February 2, when thousands of splendidly attired dancers perform.
PUNO WEEK Centered on Puno Day (November 5), this festival is celebrated in style and marks the birth of the Inca Empire, when Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo first emerged from Lake Titicaca.
EPIPHANY Masked paraders take to the streets for the festival better known as Día de los Reyes (Three Kings Day), when celebrants honor the magi who bestowed gifts on the baby Jesus. It takes place on January 6.
FIESTA SAN JUAN DE DIOS On March 8 a more demure religious procession honors St John of God, the patron saint of the sick.
FIESTA DE SANTIAGO The Feast of St James on July 25 is a big feast day on Isla Taquile, when dancing, music and general carousing lasts several days, and islanders make offerings to Pachamama (Mother Earth).
The seventeenth – century Catedral is surprisingly large, with an exquisite Baroque façade from 1657 and, unusually for Peru, a very simple and humble interior, in line with the local Aymaras´ austere attitude to religion.
Museo Municipal Dreyer
Opposite the Catedral´s north face, the Museo Municipal Dreyer contains a unique collection of archeological pieces, including ceramics, golden objects from Sillustani, some textiles and stone sculptures, mostly removed from the region´s chullpas.
Iglesia San Antonio
The Iglesia San Antonio, two blocks south of the plaza, is smaller and colourfully lit inside by ten stained-glass circular Windows. The church´s complex iconography, set into six wooden wall niches, is highly evocative of the region´s mix of Catholic and Indian beliefs.
High up, overlooking the town and Plaza de Armas, the Huajsapata Park sits on a prominent hill, a short but climb up Jirón Deustua, turning right into Jirón Llave, left up Jirón Bolognesi, the left again up the Pasaje Contique steps. Often crowded with cuddling couples and young children playing on the natural rockslides, Huajsapata offers stupendous views across the bustle of Puno to the serene blue of Titicaca and its unique skyline, while the pointing finger on the large white statue of Manco Capac reaches out towards the lake.
The nineteenth-century British-built steamship Yavari privides a fascinating insight into maritime life on Lake Titicaca over a hundred and fifty years ago and the military and entrepreneurial mindset of Peru in those days. Delivered by boat from England to Arica on the coast, it was designed by James Watt. From Arica it was brought 560 km by mule in over 1300 different pieces, having started life as a Peruvian Navy gunship complete with bullet-proof windows, but ending up delivering mail around Lake Titicaca. At times it has hard to use llama dung as fuel. The Yavari is in working order now. But needs $559,000 more work before it can be certified for passenger use.
Standing on rolling hills on the Lago Umayo peninsula, the chullpas of Sillustani (admission S10; hour 8am-5pm) can be seen for kilometers against the desolate altiplano landscape.
The ancient Colla people who once dominated the area were a fearsome, Aymara-speaking ethnicity, later integrated into the southeastern part of the Inca empire. They buried their nobility in chullpas, which can be seen scattered didely around the region. The most impressive of these are at Sillustani, where the tallest reach a height of 12m. the cylindrical structures housed the remains of complete family groups, along with plenty of food and belongings for the journey into the next world.
Nowadays, nothing remains of the burials, but the chullpas are well preserved. The area is partially encircled by the sparling Lago Umayo (3890m), which is home to a wide variety of plants and Andean waterbirds, plus a small island with vicuñas (threatened, wild relatives of llamas).
Tours to Sillustani leave Puno at around 2:30pm daily. The round-trip takes about 31/2 hours and allows you about 11/2 hours at the ruins.. Take sunscreen and a hat. There is no shade to speak of.
The dramatic site of Cutimbo (admission S6; 8am-5pm) has an extraordinary position atop a table-topped volcanic hill surrounded by a fertile plain. Its modest number of well-preserved chullpas, built by the Colla, Lupaca and Inca cultures, come in both square and cylindrical shapes. Look closely and you´ll find several monkeys, pumas and snakes carved into the structures.
A little more than 20km from Puno, this place receives few visitors, which can make it problematic for independent travelers, who have been assaulted here. Go in group.
Ten kilometers out of Puno, on the lake´s southern shore, this rural community is spread across a gorgeous green valley that is home to a little – known ruin with superb views – a multilayered temple complex with breathtaking 360-degree vistas. It´s a great place for a hike.
To gest there, leave the Panamericana at Ichu´s second exit (after the service station) and head inland past the house marked “Villa Lago 1960”. Continue on for 2 km, bearing left at the junction, aiming for the two small, terraced hills you can see in the left of the valley. After bearing left at a second junction (you´ll pass the school if you miss it), the road takes you between the two hills. Turn left again and head straight up the first one. Fifteen minutes of stiff climbing brings you to the hilltop complex.
This can be done as an easy half-day trip from Puno. Taxis from Puno can take you to the top of the hill and wait while you hike. Take plenty of water and food; there are no facilities.
About 19 km south of Puno, this little village (population 1100) on Lake Titicaca´s south shore offers one outlandish attraction: the Templo de la Fertilidad (Inca Uyu; admission S5; hour 8am-5pm). Its dusty grounds are scattered with large stone phalluses, some up to 1.2m in length. Local guides tell entertaining stories about the carvings, including tales of maidens sitting atop the stony joysticks to increase their fertility.
Further uphill from the main road is the main plaza, which has two attractive colonial churches, Santo Domingo and Nuestra Señora de la Asunción. (ask around for the elusive caretakers if you want to get a glimpse inside).
Puno, the Folklore Capital of Peru
Puno is the folklore capital of Peru. This recognition stems from the wealth of artistic expressions and dynamic traditions showcased during the city’s numerous Aymara and Quechua-infused celebrations.
When Spanish colonialism made its imprint on the altiplano region during the 16th century, the indigenous communities adopted Catholicism in a selective manner. Churches were built in Puno city and Catholic holidays asserted into the annual calendar. Yet no local would think about planting crops without paying respects to Pachamama, or “Mother Earth”. The end result was a glorious mix of religious syncretism that is evident in its annual folkloric celebrations.
Puno Cultural Calendar
- Festival of the Virgin of Candelaria – February 2 (two weeks long). This wildly popular festival honors the city’s patron saint. Religious processions are accompanied by folkloric dance competitions and lively music. Thousands of locals from all over the region come decked out in elaborate costumes.
- Carnival – February/March moveable dates (begins 40 days before Easter Sunday). This celebration is celebrated with lively parties and the throwing of water.
- Semana Santa – March/April (moveable date). Also known as Holy Week, this week-long celebration leads up to Easter Sunday.
- La Fiesta de las Alasitas y de las Cruces – May (moveable date). This celebration pairs religion with a unique touch of cultural flavor. A procession commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus Christ followed by the tradition of exchanging small trinkets representing desires and ambitions for the future.
- Puno Day – November 4th. This is the second largest celebration in Puno, after Candelaria, involving a lavish processions throughout city streets and masked dancers celebrating the beginning of the Inca Empire.
Explore the streets Puno
The city’s pedestrian boulevard, Calle Lima, is a block away from the main plaza. This central thoroughfare is lined by shops, bars, and restaurants. Must-see city attractions include the Puno Cathedral, the Carlos Dreyer Museum, and the Yavari Boat Museum.
Celebrate the Candelaria Festival
The Feast of the Virgin of Candlemas is one of Peru’s largest festivities and recently earned the recognition as an Intangible Cultural Heritage practice by UNESCO. This two-week celebration in Puno every February honors the city’s patron saint. In a vibrant display of faith and devotion, the city streets are abuzz with religious processions and dancing competitions rooted in Aymara and Quechua tradition. Over 40,000 dancers and musicians from all over the region are joined by thousands of locals and foreigners during this festival. You too can experience the truly unique cultural flare of Candelaria!
Each community of the Uros Islands have some activities and traditions to share with you. Although close to each other, Taquile Island and Amantani Island have remarkable differences and their own particular way of life. Most tours leave from Puno’s harbour in the morning and last for a full day. Tours include the Islands, interactions with local people and opportunities to purchase authentic, traditional handicrafts.
Stay with the Locals
For a totally authentic experience stay on the floating Uros islands…
Take the train to Puno
The Andean Explorer is a luxurious train that runs between Cusco and Puno city. Cruise along this beautiful stretch of railway across high altitude plains, past towering Andean peaks and glacially-fed lakes, and through small rural communities.
There is no shortage of accommodation in Puno for any budget, but most of it is bland compared with Arequipa or Cusco. The town´s busy and narrow streets also make places hard to locate, so you may want to make use of a taxi or mototaxi (motorcycle rickshaw).
The following are our top choices for hotels in Puno City.
Libertador Hotel Puno
Address: Esteves Island s/n, Lago Titicaca, Puno.
It is the only luxury hotel in Puno city that sits atop private Esteves Island on the shores of Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. From anywhere in the hotel, guests can admire the sunrise and sunset into this area, as each room has a spectacular and unique view of the lake.
The hotel offers superior rooms, featuring flat-screen televisions and views of the city or lake, as well as the Junior suite, which is more spacious to stretch out , and includes a separate dining and living area. The hotel offers an array of modern amenities like Wi-Fi, a fitness center, Jacuzzi and outdoor pool where you can enjoy a day of sun.
Casa Andina Private Collection Puno
Address: Sesquicentenario Avenue #1970, Puno.
With its contemporary design cutting-edge technology, the Casa Andina Private Collection. Puno hotel is the top of its class.
The rich and varied breakfast buffet features seasonal fruits, cereals, hams, cheeses and egg. For lunch and dinner, the restaurant offers a proposal that combines inputs from roots and traditional local cuisine with the best of international dishes. Besides services like facial, body treatments and massages, hot stones, reflexology and relieving.
Eco Inn Hotel Puno
Address: Chulluni Avenue #195, Puno.
The Eco Inn Lake Titicaca hotel offers the best in Puno accommodation and treats each individual guest with high quality service, making each vacation a memorable one. This 4 star hotel is perfect for solo travelers who would like to explore the wonders of South America, honeymoon couples looking for something a bit different, friends and family.
The Eco Inn Lake Titicaca Hotel features a restaurant where its guests can try local cuisine, business travelers can make use of the hotel’s complimentary wired Internet access and onsite business center.
La Hacienda Puno Plaza
Address: Puno Street #419, Puno.
The Hacienda Puno Plaza hotel offers a central location in the city, a few steps from the main plaza and the Cathedral of Puno. This hotel offers a restaurant where guests can try Peruvian and international dishes, also is offered a complimentary breakfast is served daily, as well as a business center that guests can have complimentary high-speed Internet (wired), open 24 hours and a computer at your disposal.
The hotel features 28 pleasant rooms with LCD cable TV, free wireless internet; guests can also watch their favorite TV show with satellite channels, besides offer private bathroom with a bathtub or shower and hair dryer, bath amenities, telephone.
Sonesta Posada del Inca Puno
Address: Sesquicentenario #610, Sector Huaje, Puno.
This lovely 4-star hotel feature panoramic views of the Lake and is designed to resemble traditional Peruvian and Inca cultures.At this hotel, guests will be immersed in the magical city of Puno while discovering the wonders of Tiahuanaco culture and enjoying the beauty of this unique landscape and the genuine hospitality by its people.
Make sure to try the excellent "Inkafe" restaurant, offering a huge variety of menus with delicious Andean and international dishes. During your meal time, you will enjoy great views of the Lake either on the terrace if weather allows it, or from the large windows.
Jose Antonio Hotel Puno
Address: Highway Puno - Desaguadero Km 6.5, Puno.
The hotel is located in front of the Lake Titicaca, at 10 minutes from the center of Puno. Jose Antonio Puno hotel offers people the comfort and the warmth of home that everybody deserves.
The Jose Antonio Puno Hotel is enviously set upon the shore of Lake Titicaca; the vast whitewashed red-roofed building is carved almost in solitude into the sloping cliffs that drop into the world’s highest navigable lake. The hotel was opened in 2008, it boasts ultra-modernity, top-class luxury and impressive views of the stunning lake from almost every window of its rooms.
Sol Plaza Hotel Puno
Address: Puno Street #307, Puno.
The Sol Plaza Hotel is located in the heart of the city of Puno, a few steps from the main square, near museums, colonial churches, shopping centers, banks, ATMs, travel agencies and among other interested places.
The Sol Plaza Hotel offers its guests the comfort of modern facilities and equipment, as well as its experience in hospitality. Its main priority is to satisfy the desires and needs of its guests, ensuring their holiday unforgettable and maximizing their trip.
Tierra Viva Puno Plaza
Address: Grau Street #270, Puno.
The Tierra Viva Puno Plaza hotel is located at Grau Street, into the historic center of Puno city. Its strategic location allows its guests an easy access to several main attractions, such as the main plaza, the Cathedral and the Dreyer Museum. The hotel is also next to Lima Street, the most commercial and cosmopolitan street in the city, where travellers may enjoy the best restaurants, popular art stores, artistic bars and peñas of Puno.This hotel was design, with spacious, bright rooms equipped with modern soundproof windows, which allow its guests the maximum comfort and resting after a long day discovering the Lake Titicaca and the Andean Plateau.
Puno's restaurant scene is fairly busy and revolves mainly around Jirón Lima, but bear in mind that places here shut relatively early - not much happens after 11 pm on a weekday. The food in Puno is generally nothing to write home about, but the local delicacies of trout and kingfish (pejerey) are worth trying and are available in most restaurants. The best local fare can be found in small traditional restaurants in the Hualje zone, en route to the Isla Estevez; here you'll find various picanterias, many with convivial atmospheres and goof views.
Apu Salcantay Restaurant
Jr. Lima 425. Offers pizzas and pastas, as well as alpaca and a range of wines, and a variety of vegetarian disher, main meals start at round S/. 18.
Jr Lima 517. The best restaurant in town, particularly for evening meals, serving excellent criolla dishes in an attractive traditional envirofiment with lace tablecloths. It is also something of a museum, with antiques everywhere, and is very popular with locals.
Jr. Lima 348. A groovy restaurant-bar in the heart of town, serving a wide range of inventive meals, including great alpaca steaks, lakefish, stir-fries, even curry; good-value set menus and breakfasts.
Av Simón Seta 401, Barrio Bellavista. Quite far from the center, but worth the trip for its wide range of quality local foods in a traditional setting; the barrio is a bit dodgy after dark, so ifs advisable to arrive, and depart, with friends and take a taxi.
Restaurant Bar Remembranzas
Jr Moquegua 200. Open from breakfast till late, this place specializes in pizzas but also serves alpaca and trout among other delicades
Restaurant Don Piero
Jr. Lima 364. A favourite with travellers and relatively inexpensive, Don Piero has good breakfasts, a fine selection of cakes and a rack of magazines for customer browsing.
Jr Moquegua 201. A classic Puno restaurant, popular with locals for lunch and supper, with a good range of reasonably priced meals. Go upstairs for the best atmosphere.
Jr Moquegua 431. This restaurant specializes in broasted chicken meals (basically roast chicken and chips) in a well-preserved colonial mansion, where the poet Carlos Oquendo y Amat was born in 1905.
Jr Moquegua 326. A delightful bakery with freshly baked bread, cakes, pies and pasties. Also serves reasonable coffee, herb teas and cold drinks.
Pasaje Gran 172. Very nice ambience and varied cuisine, including pizzas, Chinese, local, novo andino and vegetarian. Good service.
Jr Lambayeque 141. Serves probably the best vegetarian food in town including salad, set lunches and yoghurt. The place is family run and very dean and the service is friendly.
Drinking and Nightlife
The city's strong tradition as one of the major Andean folklore centers in South America means that you're almost certain to be exposed to at least one live band an evening. Musicians tend to visit the main restaurants in town most evenings from around 9pm, playing a few folk numbers in each, usually featuring music from the altiplano - drums, panpipes, flutes and occasional dancers. Nightlife centers around Jirón Lima, a pedestrian precinct where the locals, young and old alike, hang out, parading up and down past the hawkers setting woolen sweaters, craft goods, cigarettes and sweets. Most bars are open Monday to Friday 8 to 11 pm or midnight, but keep going until 2am at the weekends.
Jr Tarapaca 330-a. Well-stocked bar with good service, ambience and decor, and a variable music policy according to clientele; it's a large friendly space which rarely gets too crowded.
Ekekos Discoteca Bar
Jr Lima 355, 2nd floor. Ekekos offers snacks, drinks, cable TV, books and games; also shows films and favors a soundtrack of rock, salsa, reggae, trance and techno music.
Jr Lima 501. A smart pizzeria and bar, busy in the evenings and a good meeting place; also serves steaks, Including alpaca.
Pizzeria Del Buho
Lima 349. A warm, genial environment, crowded with travellers on Puno's cold, dark evenings. Serves delicious mulled wines and often has good music.
Jr Lima 355. A decent, trendy bar, popular with young locals and travellers alike; also serves decent breakfasts and plays rock and reggae music.
Block 1 of Arequipa. Hosts folklore music, dance and other cultural events. For details of what's on, check at the tourist information office or the box office.
Artesanía Jirón Lima is the best street for craft goods; try the Asociación de Artesanos "La cholita", Jr Lima 550,2nd Floor.
Ceramics For original Andean handmade ceramics and to see artesans at work, there's the Cerámica Titikaka, Jr Tarapaca 341.
Musical Instruments The unnamed shop at Jr Arbulu 231 sells most traditional Andean musical ¡instruments (though fairly similar ones can be bought cheaply in the street market, on Av Los Incas).