Puno is a port city at an altitude of over 3,800 meters, 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 cold at night, and it is very high, so there is significant risk of altitude sickness (80% if you 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 blisteringly 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. The “Andean Explorer”, run jointly by Peru Rail and Orient Express, is spectacular — one of the world’s great train journeys. It leaves Cusco W F Sa at 07:10 and arrives at Puno at 17:30 (US$313-334 one way as of Dec 2017). The other way (leaving Puno M Th Sa at 07:30, arriving at Cusco at 17:50) is significantly cheaper: US$186-196 (Dec 2017). 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 min 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, it is the best way of travelling to or from Cusco and Macchu Picchu.
The train to Arequipa is only used for goods and no longer for passengers.
The 1 Terminal Terrestre is about a 20-minute walk (or a much faster taxi ride) from the Plaza de Armas. Daily buses depart to and from Cusco, Arequipa, Copacabana, Lima, and La Paz. Buses depart to Copacabana twice daily. There are 4 buses that depart at 07:30 (S/15 (soles)) but only Titicaca has an afternoon service that leaves at 14:00 (S/20).
There is a departure fee (tasa de embarque) for passengers on buses leaving from the terminal (S/1.50 as of 2017). Pay it at a little office in the middle of the terminal, where the clerk will put a sticker on your ticket to show that you've paid.
Ormeños has buses leaving Puno between 08:00 and 09:00 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 07;00 to find out what time the bus will be passing through. The price is S/100 per person and the journey should take about 6 hours.
There are three types of buses from Cusco:
- Less expensive local buses that are bumpy and make lots of stops. They pick up passengers and salesmen, which delay the trip and often turn the bus into a driving, smelly restaurant.
- More expensive and more comfortable direct buses (around S/35 as of December 2017, or more for more comfortable seating). Almost all companies leave around 08:00 and 22:00. The ride from Cusco to Puno takes between 6 and 8 hours, depending on the bus company. These buses mostly follow the train tracks, which means you'll have most of the same views as if you took the (much more expensive) train.
- Expensive tourist buses that make stops for sightseeing, for well over S/100. Inka Express/Turismo Mer has a special tourist bus starts at 07:30 in Puno with several stops to take photos on the interesting points. It takes 8 hours to Cusco. Peru Hop buses offer comfortable and safe trip to Puno from Cusco (as well as from Lima, Arequipa or Bolivia), with free pickups and drop-offs. These bus passes are hop on hop off and include stops along the way.
Avoid San Luis which has very bad buses!
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.
From La Paz
- Direct route via Desaguadero (the fastest route, about 5 hours taking shared taxis). To do this, take a bus from the terminal that's heading for Puno. If it's taking the Desaguadero route, it'll drop you off near Bolivian passport control. After getting your passport stamped on both sides of the bridge, you'll get back on the same bus. You can change money here at one of the stalls outside Peruvian immigration – it's best if you know the exchange rate in advance.
- Via ferry boat across Lake Titicaca and Copacabana. 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.
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 S/3 (taxi) or S/2 (moto) for a ride within the city.
- Urban colectivos charge S/0.50.
Most Puno sights are outside of the city. Check the “Go next”-section below.
- Floating Islands Tour boats leave every 40 min from the dock (S/5 by taxi). These cost S/10 for the return boat trip plus a S/10 entry fee to the islands. The last boat leaves around 16:30. 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 Puno 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 (S/8) to the top and go down the more than hundred stairs, in 10 min you are on the main square.
Also worth visiting: the Dreyer Museum (S/15) close to the main square, and the Yavari boat museum. S/7 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.
- Many agencies offer a 2 days/1 night trip to the islands of Lake Titicaca. Visit the Uros floating islands on the water, just outside of Puno, where a small community dwells in reed huts. From there, you can continue to Amantani, where you sleep over in a family house. Lastly there’s Taquile island, famous for its textiles made only by men. Ask your hostel for a quote -- it should be around S/100.
- Kayaking with Augusto. Augusto is really into kayaking and an experienced guide. He cares very much for the well-being of the participants and does everything to make everyone feel safe and comfortable. He offers a tour to the Reserva Titicaca Lake (3 hours/US$35 per person) and to the floating islands Uros (5 hours). He was born in Peru and lived many years in the United States, so he speaks Spanish and English very well.
- There are several llama farms in Puno available for tourists to go to. You can learn about the history and agricultural llama use. Fun Fun!, check all the places in Inca lake
You can buy souvenirs here for less than in Cusco or Lima. There is a fairly large market down by the water.
If you get away from the heavily touristed walking streets near the Plaza de Armas, there are plenty of places with inexpensive lunch and dinner combos for S/3.50 as of December 2017.
In and around the mercado central are several budget places to lunch for less than S/3.
Down Jr Tacna from the mercado, many restaurants have dinner menus for S/3 or so.
Most tourist spots are in and around Calle Lima, with main courses around S/20. Make sure you taste a pollo a la brasa, it’s sold everywhere and costs 20 Soles for 1/2 chicken (as of Sep 2018). 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 Wi-Fi. 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, and offers Wi-Fi.
- 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 Wi-Fi. 2 for S/12 happy hour.
- The WalkOn Inn, Jirón Libertad 115 (corner Jr. Tacna), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Downtown Puno. Rooms with ample space and private bathroom cost S/60 for a double/twin with hot water 24/7. Breakfasts cost S/8 for a buffet. The hotel can also connect you with tours. 60.
- Hostal Los Uros, Theodóro Valcárcel N8 135, +51-352141. Clean and decent hotel close to the center. Popular with foreigners. A single with shared bathroom cost S/20. 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 S/15 a night, S/30 including dinner and breakfast).
- 1 Pirwa Hostels Peru, Av. La Torre #492 (2 blocks from the main square), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 10:30, check-out: 10:00. Services: Free continental breakfast, free pick up, free internet access, 24 hours reception, in house bar and more. From US$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 Wi-Fi. US$20 for a double or twin incl breakfast (May 2012).
- 2 Inka's Rest B&B, Pasaje San Carlos 158, e-mail: email@example.com. Backpackers' hostel with fast Wi-Fi, kitchen access, and free breakfast. Calm but friendly atmosphere.
- 3 Hostal Los Pinos Inn, Tarapacá 182, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Helpful staff, breakfast, private bathrooms, affordable.
- 4 Eco Inn, Av. Chulluni 195. View of Lake Titicaca in an eco-friendly atmosphere.
- 5 Lucky Your House, Titicaca 144, Puno, Peru, ☎ . Free Wi-Fi, hot water, 4 blocks from Plaza de Armas, breakfast, no kitchen. US$30 double or twin room.
- 7 Titilaka, ☎ . 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 S/5 for this service.
- Chucuito (19 km, S/1 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.
- Cuzco - if you can afford it and are a railway lover, the train to Cuzco is unforgettable. You won't find any locals on this train, but you'll find luxury and beautiful scenery. Bookings on Peru rail.