Travel Notes: Puno and Lake Titicaca

After our exhausting Inca Trail hike, it was off to the legendary Lake Titicaca. The 3,200 sq. mile lake borders Peru and Bolivia, accessible on the Peruvian side via Puno, and is the largest lake in South America. ‘Titicaca’ roughly translates to “stone puma,” which the lake’s shape is supposed to resemble. I suppose this is true if you have a highly creative imagination and squint ūüôā At any rate, the day long tour of the Uros and Taquile Islands was a much needed break to recover from the fast pace of the Inca Trail. The tour began at 6:30 AM (it takes about 1.5 hours to get to the Uros Islands and another hour from there to Taquile) and ended around 5 PM.

Travel Notes: Puno and Lake Titicaca
We arrived in Puno on a Sunday, only to find the Plaza de Armas almost completely deserted. 

Travel Notes: Puno and Lake Titicaca

Travel Notes: Puno and Lake Titicaca

Travel Notes: Puno and Lake Titicaca
Finally got to eat at a chifa (Peruvian term for the numerous Chinese restaurants that can be found across the country). Cheap and delicious!

Travel Notes: Puno and Lake Titicaca
¬†En route to the Uros islands. The lake’s water was a glistening deep blue.

Travel Notes: Puno and Lake Titicaca

Travel Notes: Puno and Lake Titicaca
 Reed houses and boats on the Uros Islands

DarwinDiscovered_Puno-8

Travel Notes: Puno and Lake Titicaca

Travel Notes: Puno and Lake Titicaca

DarwinDiscovered_Puno-12Ta
Taquile Island

Additional notes and tips after the break

Getting There:

The closest airport to Puno is Juliaca (JUL), located approximately 30-40 minutes away by shuttle. A group shared van as you come out of the airport cost us about 80 soles for a group of 4. Other ways of getting there include bus (we took Cruz del Sur from Puno to Arequipa and would recommend it) or the luxurious Peru Rail (almost double the cost of airfare!). Ultimately we took a flight since it took the least amount of time- both rail and/or bus would have taken 8-10 hours from Cusco.

Stay

We stayed at Quechuas Backpackers, booked via hostelworld.com. It was clean, cheap, and quite ‘social’ as far as hostels go. Breakfast was a nice spread of bread (which was fresh baked and delicious), yogurt, meat, and cheese. As with all the¬†accommodations¬†we encountered in Peru, hot water was spotty at times, but not so bad that you couldn’t enjoy the shower. Speaking some Spanish helps- the kid that works at the front (probably the owner’s son) seemed confused at times. We also had our laundry done at the hostel, which was about 30 soles for me and D.- probably not our best bargain, but we were sorely in need of fresh clothing. The hostel also helped us book our Lake Titicaca tour and is just around the corner from city center.

Eat

  • Chifa Shanghai (Jr. Arbulu 169)- Delicious, cheap, and super crowded.¬†
  • Cafe Bar de la Casa del Corregidor (Jr. Destua # 576)- Try the alpaca burger and one of their many coffee brew varieties. I regret not buying a bag of beans while we were here. They also have a lot of board games; we spent a happy evening playing Jenga with a pair of travelers we met earlier in the day on Lake Titicaca

See

We came to Puno specifically to see Lake Titicaca, and for the most part found the tour of Uros and Taquile islands interesting. They are a bit of a tourist trap, but it was educational to learn how the families live. Others may disagree, but I found the Uros islands slightly depressing- each island is tiny (fits no more than 10 houses) and smells a little fishy. The families get electricity off a generator, and the kids we saw running around were pretty dirty. Inside the houses, the families’ belongings were piled high so that it seems the house only contains enough space to sleep. While tourism is the island’s main source of revenue, it’s clear these people don’t seem to reap the same benefits as the tourism companies.

Taquile Island is much larger and more scenic. There’s a number of beautiful archways around the island that signal the beginning (or end) of a ‘community.’ Hiking to various high points on Taquile yields beautiful views of the lake. The snow-capped mountains in Bolivia that can be seen from these points are particularly captivating.

Puno itself is quite desolate and empty compared to the other cities we visited. We didn’t have much time to explore the city, so spent much of it in the various shops surrounding the Plaza de Armas. Even if we had more time, the elevation (3,830 m or 12,556 ft) made even the simplest acts more tiring.

Conclusion

A nice-to-see, but probably not essential if you’re short on time. Or perhaps everything paled in comparison to the Inca Trail hike (which we think is true).

More on our travels in Peru can be found here:

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