If you visit the world-famous Lake Titicaca in Peru, you can't miss the city of Puno. The capital of the region of the same name is considered the excursion base and tourist centre for the highest lake in the world.
ProbablyPeru's second most important sight after Machu Picchu is Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. The starting point for numerous excursions around and on the lake is the city of Puno directly on the lakeshore, which is also considered the folklore capital of Peru due to its lively culture.
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Journey to Puno
Getting to Puno, 3,800 metres above sea level, can be done by car or by train, as Puno is the southern terminus of the Peruvian Southern Railway from Cusco. Long-distance buses bring visitors from all over Peru to Puno. The nearest airport, Juliaca, is also only 50 kilometres away. From Bolivia, Puno can also be reached by boat via Lake Titicaca.
Sights of Puno
Puno's main attraction is, of course, Lake Titicaca with its numerous islands; Puno itself has rather little to offer in the way of sights.
A walk through the old town leads to Puno's proud cathedral, which sits enthroned on the richly decorated Plaza Mayor. The Roman Catholic house of worship dates from the 17th century. Both the façade and the interior show a fascinating mix of Spanish Baroque and Andean art with decorative animal and plant elements.
The house called "Balcón del Conde de Lemus" ("Balcony of the Duke") is also worth seeing. It was built in 1668 shortly after the founding of Puno as one of the first buildings in the city. Legend has it that it once housed the Viceroy of Peru himself. Today it houses a branch of the National Institute of Culture.
Also worth mentioning are the unusual "Museo Flotante Yavari", located in the belly of the iron ship Yavari, and the stone arch Arco Deusta, a memorial to all those who gave their lives in the struggle for freedom for Peru.
Numerous viewpoints, such as "Kuntur Huasi" with its gigantic condor statue, "Puma Uta" or the Huajsapata hill, reveal a magnificent panoramic view over Lake Titicaca.
But beware! It is better not to venture to the secluded vantage points alone and only take valuables and camera out of your backpack when needed. This also applies to the city of Puno, especially at night.
Puno is also considered the folklore capital of Peru. The lively tradition that is cultivated both in Puno and on the islands of Lake Titicaca manifests itself through music, dance and the colourful knitwear, which, by the way, is mainly made by men. In this typical costume, dances are performed for the tourists, which, however, often seem a bit forced.
Excursions from Puno
Every day, numerous excursion boats depart from Puno to take tourists to the sights on Lake Titicaca - its islands. Attractive in landscape and dotted with popular villages and Inca ruins, the Isla Taquile, the floating Islas de los Uros and the Isla del Sol the mythological birthplace of the Incas, are among the most visited tourist destinations.
Some of their inhabitants still live today as they did a hundred years ago without electricity or cars and keep their traditional culture alive. The famous handicrafts of the Taquileños even belong to the oral and intangible world cultural heritage of UNESCO. By the way, host families on the islands offer both completely original and dirt-cheap food and accommodation.
Boat tours can also be booked through the Reserva Nacional del Titicaca. The extensive reed area is a nature reserve and covers about a quarter of the lake. Numerous water birds live among the rushes, including Andean flamingos, egrets and Inca divers.
A little further into Bolivia, the journey takes us to the Copacabana peninsula, namesake of Rio's most famous beach, and the fascinating temple town of Tiwanaku. Overland, about 30km away, are the mystical Cholla burial towers of Sillustani.