Elevation: 3809m / Population: 150,000 / Telephone Code: 051
The city of Puno is located in the south east corner of Peru, on the shores of the magnificent Lake Titicaca and only 126km from the frontier with Bolivia.
At 3,809m in altitude, Puno is a rather cold and bleak town surrounded by the desolate altiplano (or high plateau). It is not so much a destination in itself but a necessary stop on the way to visit the islands on Lake Titicaca, or when crossing the border to Bolivia.
Puno is, however, a melting pot of Indian cultures including the Aymara from the south and the Quechua from the north. This has earned Puno the title of 'Folkloric Capital of Peru' which it lives up to well with its huge number and variety of traditional fiestas, dances and music.
The city, whose full name is San Carlos de Puno, was founded in 1668 following the discovery of nearby silver mines. Prior to this, Puno had been a small stopping off place between the much larger silver mines at Potosi in Bolivia and Lima. Today, Puno is a predominately agricultural region. Its main economic activities are cultivating potatoes, barley and quinoa, as well as raising cattle, sheep, llamas and alpaca.
If you're looking for Peruvian knitwear you'll find the markets in Puno have a huge selection and are probably the cheapest in Peru. Alpaca sweaters can be bought for as little as US$10. There's also a selection of good hotels in Puno as well as all the usual tourist services that you'd expect from this busy town.
Lake Titicaca is the main attraction that draws people to this part of Peru. This amazing deep blue lake, 195 km in length with an average width of 50 km, is the largest lake in South America and the largest in the world above 2,000m.
Lake Titicaca was, according to Andean legend, the birthplace of civilization. Wiracocha, the creator god, brought light into a dark world by directing the Sun, Moon and stars to rise up out of the lake and take their place in the sky. With time the Sun and Moon had children who also rose from the depths of the lake. These new people were sent out from Titicaca to the four corners of the earth, with Manco Capac and his sister-wife Mama Ocllo and their family clan being sent off to inhabit the Cusco region. Inca legend believed that Manco was the first Inca and a direct descendent from the Sun.
The supposed location in Titicaca of the birthplace of the Sun, Moon and Manco Capac is actually on the Bolivian side of the lake on the islands not surprisingly named the Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) and Isla de la Luna (Island of the Moon).
There are, however, several islands, that can be accessed from Puno and make for an equally interesting visit. The most popular of these are the floating islands of Uros, Taquile and Amantani island and can be easily visited by taking an organized tour with one of the several local tour operators.
Next >> Islands of Lake Titicaca