The port city of Puno is located in the region of the same name and stretches from the shores of Lake Titicaca up into the hillsides. Many travelers stop by Puno in order to visit it’s most popular attractions, the Floating Islands of Uros and the traditional islands of Uros and Amantaní. Others choose to cross the border between Bolivia and Peru by passing through Puno on the Peruvian side into Copacabana on the Bolivian side.
There are several ways to reach Puno:
Fly into Juliaca, travel by taxi or shared van to Puno
Unfortunately, Puno does not have its own airport. The closest airport is actually in the nearby city of Juliaca, a ragged industrial town with nothing to recommend it besides the airport. It takes about 50 minutes to get from Juliaca to Puno by car. The cheapest option is to take one of the shared vans, also known as colectivos. These are located across the street from the airport and leave throughout the day, each one departing when full. With luggage, they can get rather crowded, and as always in crowded situations, you should keep an alert eye on your luggage and possessions to avoid falling victim to pick-pocketing or petty thievery. Prices can vary, but tend to be around 15 Peruvian soles.
You can also opt to take a taxi. Choose one from inside the airport rather than from the street, and check to see that the car has a phone number on top. This generally means that its part of a standardized, registered taxi service, which can sometimes cost slightly more but is the safest and best choice. You can expect to pay from 60 to 70 Peruvian soles.
Although we have a hostel in Puno, we no longer arrange pickups from the airport in Juliaca, as we don’t currently have a driver in the city and sending someone from Puno doubles the cost.
Flights leave Lima and Cusco for Juliaca daily, and can be quite cheap at times. However, be aware that some airlines, mainly LAN, charge a tax that applies only to foreigners. This means that you won’t be eligible for their best fares. Make sure that the price you are quoted online or at a ticket counter is the final price before completing the purchase.
Travel from Cusco to Puno by Train
Trains travel along the Cusco to Puno route and vice versa every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. They will occasionally travel on Thursdays as well, although this is dependent on demand. The train is known as the Andean Explorer and is run by Peru Rail. It’s definitely a more expensive option, averaging US$290, but it’s considered the most beautiful train route in South America, and wins international prizes to that effect annually.
The trains are equipped with plenty of windows, with a final car that offers views that are almost completely panoramic. Even the roof has large windows. You don’t buy tickets for seating in the final cars, as these are fitted with benches and available for all passengers to visit as they please.
Travel to Puno by Bus, from Cusco or Arequipa
Buses to Puno depart Cusco every evening, with most leaving between 8:00 and 10:30pm. There are also morning buses, which leave between 7:00 and 8:00am. You can visit the city bus terminal the same day you plan to travel and visit the ticket counters of the various bus companies to compare prices and services. Don’t be fooled by anybody offering fully reclinable seats- even “bus cama”, the bed seats, only recline partially. Still, spring for “bus cama” if you can, because they’re still the most comfortable. Also, any claims of a Wi-Fi connection are bound to disappoint- one or two companies offer this service, but it lasts for about 20 minutes and is so slow that you won’t successfully be able to so much as send a chat message indicating that you’ve departed…
From Puno to Cusco, the bus trip lasts 5 to 8 hours, which means that if you take the most common option, an evening bus, you will arrive in Puno around 4:30am. Even with the included blanket, it can get quite cold during the night. Most locals travel with their own blankets, and if you can you should bring a blanket, poncho, or a good coat.
Buses depart Arequipa for Puno throughout the day at varying hours, although the best service, Cruz del Sur, only leaves at 8am and 2pm.
If you are planning on staying at our Puno hostel, and are arriving in the city by bus, we can arrange for your pickup. It’s free for arrivals between 7am and 7pm, but we charge outside of these hours, generally about 10 Peruvian soles, although it depends on the time.
Bus from Cusco to Puno with guided stops
The Inka Express bus company offers a unique option that takes you from Cusco to Puno but stops at spots of interest. It’s known as the Sun Route (because it replicates the route that Manco Capac, the founder of the Incan Empire, took from Lake Titicaca to the area where he would eventually found the city of Cusco).
We’ve written about this service in more detail, but in summary, these buses leave Cusco at 7:30am and arrive in Puno at around 5pm. Along the way, there are guided stops at the chapel of Andahuaylillas, Raqchi Archeological Site, the lookout at La Raya Pass, and Pucara Lithic Museum. A buffet lunch in the town of Sicuani is included with the ticket.
If possible, we recommend traveling to Puno during its famous Candelaria Festival, to learn why the city is considered the Folkloric Capital of Peru. Now that you know how to get to Puno, you have no excuse for missing the festival!
If you need any assistance arranging your transport, you can contact our Puno travel agency for assistance at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, stop by reception at Pirwa Puno Hostel for information regarding excursions, tours and transport.