You can’t visit Puno without exploring the millennial culture of the traditional islands of massive Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake. Its surprisingly transparent waters stretch between Peru and Bolivia and provide refuge for more than sixty different bird species such as the Parihuana, which inspired the colors of the Peruvian flag. Together with the surrounding high plateau, it forms the Titicaca National Reserve.
One of its most unique draws is the famous Floating Islands of Uros, 40 manmade islands made of the lake’s prevalent plant: the totora reed. They are the home of about 2,000 people of the Aymara-speaking Uros tribe (also known as the kot-suña, or People of the Lake), one of the continent’s oldest cultures. The same reeds from which the islands are constructed are used for building houses and boats, the root can be eaten or made into a tea. Islanders rely on fishing, weaving, and tourism for their subsistence. Visitors can often arrange to embark on a short reed boat ride while at Uros.
Another fascinating stop is Amantani Island, whose approximately 4,000 traditional Quechua-speaking residents still don a mixture of Spanish peasant dress with Andean accessories, adopted shortly after the Spanish Conquest. Most tours of Lake Titicaca begin with the Floating Islands and then continue on to Amantani, where there are no inns but where local families welcome travelers for meals and offer their homes for the night. You’ll be able to see grazing alpacas along the terr It’s a 2-hour hike to one of the islands two hilltop temples, Pachatata (Father Earth) or Pachamama (Mother Earth). They are not used during much of the year, although on January 20th half the population congregates at one, half at the other. A representative from each temple races to a midpoint between the two peaks, and the coming year is predicted based on who which temple wins the race. Guests are generally invited to try the native dress and attend a dance in the evenings.
Most travelers visit Taquile Island after spending the night in Amantani. Taquile was known as Intika when it was incorporated into the Inca empire. During Colonial times the Spanish converted it to a prison. It was finally returned to the people of Taquile in 1970, and like Amantani and the Floating Islands of Uros, is managed collectively. Visitors can explore the pre-Inca ruins and stone agricultural terraces still in use. This is also a wonderful place for purchasing textiles, as the traditional weavings and embroideries of Taquile are considered to be some of the highest-quality artisan products in Peru; they’ve even been proclaimed “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO. You’ll notice while on the island that it is the men who knit and the women who weave. They can cost more on the island than in Puno’s artisanal markets, but buyers are supporting the artisans directly.
Pirwa Travel Service, our own tour operator, can arrange 2-Day tours embarking on Lake Titicaca from Puno and visiting the Floating Islands of Uros, Amantani Island, and Taquile Island. You can check out the detailed program here: 2-Day Lake Titicaca Tour: Uros, Amantani & Taquile. For those looking for nearby lodging, Pirwa Puno Hostel is located just a 15 minute walk from Puno’s Lake Titicaca harbor.
- Prepare for the cold and dry Puno weather, with the average temperature hovering around 45 degrees, dipping as low as 30 degrees in the June to August winter months and rising as high as 60 degrees in the December to January summertime.
- Don’t let the cold weather lure you into a false sense of security: use plenty of sunscreen no matter which time of year it is, as the high altitude means the sun scorches.
- Symptoms of altitude sickness include nausea and fatigue, plan to take the first day easy just in case, resting well and hydrating, perhaps with some coca tea, a preferred local remedy.
- Puno has no airport, with the nearest located in the city of Juliaca 28 miles north of Puno. Many travelers opt to arrive by bus, with buses by reputable companies like Cruz del Sur and Ormeño arriving throughout the day from Cusco, Arequipa, and other cities. Pirwa Travel can assist you with your transport needs as well if you’d like some help.