D A T C O T O U R
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Located on the shores of Lake Titicaca and 391 km (239 miles) from Cuzco, Puno is at an altitude of 3,827 m (11,481 ft). As a town it is not all that interesting, but it is the gateway to several interesting excursions and to crossing the lake into Bolivia.
You can get to Puno by flying to Juliaca or by train from Cuzco. The altiplano train trip has long been considered one of the prime rail experiences in the world, and Orient Express Trains' upgraded service on the Andean Express makes this full day journey very comfortable. Along the way, at La Raya which is the highest point, the train makes a stop so you can visit a small exhibition of local crafts
In Puno there are now a variety of hotels, right on and along the shores of the Lake, including the 5-star Esteves Libertador, the Casa Andina Private Collection and the Posada del Inca.
From Puno you can visit the "chullpas" (pre-columbian funeral towers) of Sillustani, on a peninsula jutting out into Lake Aymara. Located just 32 km (20 miles) from Puno over a good paved road, you can stop there en route from Juliaca to Puno if time allows. You need at least two hours to walk up the hill and view the multiple "chullpas" and to enjoy the magnificent scenery. They are considered more complex than the traditional Inca construction.
You can also visit the Uros "floating islands". These are islands made from piling up cut tortora reeds, in the traditional way of centuries. The islands are inhabited by the Uros Indians and the flow of Indians departing to live on the mainland has been stemmed by the onslaught of tourism. While Uros Indians have long since intermarried with the Aymara Indians and there are no longer any pure Uros Indians, those remaining on the islands still practice some traditional ways.
You can make a visit by boat to several of the islands. The boat ride is slow enough to catch some of the wildlife of the tortora reeds. Once at the islands, you can walk about - feels almost spongy, with the give of the packed reeds under your weight. On one island there is an observation tower for a panorama of the islands, and on all of the islands visited there are Indians selling hand sewn tapestries and textiles portraying life in the islands and on the lake.
The Uros "floating islands" are often combined with a viti to Taquile, another island a bit further away from Puno, said to have been inhabited for over ten thousand years, with a community on top of the island, reached by some 525 grueling steps, but the effort is worth it - there are spectacular views and panoramas of the lake. According to the Rough Guide to Peru: Most of the 1200 inhabitants are weavers and knitters of fine alpaca wool. The men sport black woollen trousers fastened with elaboratewaitbands woven in pinks, reds and greens, while the women wear beautiful black headscarves, sweaters, dark shawls and skirts trimmed unusually with shocking-pink or bright-red tassels and fringes.
Puno is also the gateway to Suasi Island with a lovely Casa Andina Private Collection property for those who want a few days away from everything, with a chance to hike, canoe, sail on the lake and enjoy the flora and fauna of the altiplano.