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krisek Puno - A travel report by Krys
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Puno,  Peru - flag Peru -  Puno
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krisek's travel reports

Peru Trilogy. 1. Puno & Lake Titicaca

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Planning for Peru has taken years. One of my guide books was eight years old. I found out about the many different cultures. It wasn’t any easy task to fit all attractions in to one month holiday. And then, I had to cut it down to two weeks! Not ideal.

Puno travelogue picture
I still wanted to see everything. After reducing the number of days in each location, I only had to resign from one site on the northern coast: Chiclayo. But added some hiking in Cordillera Blanca and a trip to see the condors in the Colca Canyon.

The actual plan was: Lima, Cusco, Puca Pucara, Pisac, Aguas Calientes, Machupicchu, Puno, Sillustani, Uros and Taquile Islands, Arequipa, Colca Canyon, Nazca, Huaraz, Cordillera Blanca, Trujillo, Huanchaco, Chan Chan.

Puno, located at the very shore of Lake Titicaca, wasn’t a particularly nice town. Even Plaza de Armas was nothing spectacular. There was one attractive pedestranised street called Lima, which was packed with mainly shoe shops and eateries. Otherwise, Puno wasn’t very attractive and diesel fumes didn’t particularly add any charm to it. Buildings were ugly and the city had no ambiance. It was a large urbanistic monster, very fortunate to find itself at the shore of the highest navigable lake on this planet. The lack of safety was a problem, which shouldn’t be taken likely in any circumstances. Ironically, the area around the lake was said to be the worst.

Tricycles were Puno’s only attraction. They were absolutely everywhere and were used to transport people, cargo, people with cargo or used as a mobile shop offering anything from produce to hardware.

But, Sillustani, apart from the lake itself, was the closest traveller attraction. It was home to weird Inca-Kola structures designed to be tombs. They were considered the most complex structures the Incas ever built, so difficult that archaeologists had struggled to reconstruct them accurately.

The site was said to be situated in quite nice scenery but I'd seen a lot nicer places on this planet. There was a nice lake there and a cool view from the top of the hill, which in fact was a cemetery, but everything looked empty and somewhat boring. Well, that was my impression, however I do admit that poor, or rather dramatic, weather might have clouded my impression.

Favourite spots:
Sillustani village
Sillustani village
I’d also like to add that I’d strongly recommend going there with a guide who’s knowledgeable of the area, the history and the culture. Since I was lucky to come across a good guide, I didn’t regret going there. What I found strikingly surprising was to learn that the Kolas and Incas mummified the dead like the Egyptians did. They had similar gods as well, at least one deity for every force of nature as well as the sun, the moon, the star constellations, and even the rainbow.

The area around Sillustani was very, very poor and weather could get very severe, particularly in the winter with temperatures dropping to -25C. There were no such things as heaters in the houses, actually built from mud brick, which provided for insulation but often the houses had no doors, but just openings big like doors, which did let frost inside, for sure.

Many children in the area got very bad frostbite, which was clearly visible on their faces. This was possibly one of the saddest things I saw in Peru.

What's really great:
Sillustani village
Sillustani village
During the escapade to Sillustani, I had a chance to visit a local household on the way. It was arranged with a genuine family, who was very hospitable. The mother and the grandmother cooked some bread and cheese, which were delicious! They also allowed to visit the entire household and speak with the entire family.

I liked the little guinea pig farm behind the house. The little animals had their own miniature house and playground. Poor creatures were absolutely unaware that they were being grown for consumption purposes. I myself tried a roasted guinea pig back in Cusco, in the fabulous Mystique restaurant. It was good and so it should be, since it was Peru’s culinary speciality, locally known as cuy.

The kids weren’t very talkative. They were busier with the llamas and alpacas. They posed to photographs in the front of the household with a very dramatic sky in the background. Many people wanted a nice blue sky with the picture, but I preferred a more realistic and dramatic one.

Taquile men
Taquile men
I chose Lake Titicaca to ensure there was some nature involved during this holiday. I thought it would be a great idea. Well, it turned out to be only a good idea, at best. Lake Titicaca had very little to do with nature and a lot to do with mass tourism. Well, this was still a lake. I will say more – it was a natural lake. However, what was associated with it was little natural these days. It must’ve been more natural and less commercial, say, fifteen, maybe even ten years ago. But not anymore.

Boat trips, which numerous agencies ran out of Puno ($15), were concentrated on specific items. Almost unfortunately so was my plan. These items were Uros, the floating reed islands, and the islands of Taquile and Amatani. I did want to see these and I most definitely did not regret that I saw them – that was an important experience of this holiday. The trip on the lake was longer than I’d enjoy although the scenery was nice, the ride relaxing and with opportunity to speak to other travellers.

Sillustani village
Sillustani village
Puno had a few hotels and luckily there were enough options to fit virtually all budgets. The hostel of my initial choice was closed, so I had to look around to find an alternative. It was the Hostal Imperial ($25), which enjoyed an incredible reputation amongst the locals, which didn’t necessarily correspond to what the hostel offered. Peruvians thought it was an expensive hotel, because it looked decent from the outside and the lobby was nice. It was indeed a clean hotel with mid range facilities. The terracotta floors and tiled bathrooms made a great feel. The personnel was polite and helpful, but what I loved the most were free coca leaves for the tea. It was a perfect altitude sickness remedy. I don’t know if other hotels offered the same, but it was a great idea. One only had to ask for some boiling water. The leaves were simply sitting in a bowl in the lobby. Anyway, it was great value for money, the Imperial was.

Uros (cat) boat
Uros (cat) boat
Grabbing some action was relatively easy in Puno. There was a sufficient number of bars and cafes along and around Jr Lima. Two of them stood up: Pub Ekeko’s (Ekeko is a little funny god of good fortune and plenty) and Pena Hosteria, both with live music and happy hours. Actually, it seemed that all bars had a happy hour and many competed for customers. A few touts kept handing out cards of bars and nightclubs, promising great fun and free drinks. There was surprisingly a lot of action, actually. And Jr Lima felt remarkably safe and organised!

Apart from the bars and cafes, and perhaps the Plaza de Armas and Parque Pino, there were not many places to hang out in Puno that would be safe. So, the only other option to hang out would be on the lake. The Uros islands, close enough to the city seemed like a perfect spot. But to get there required a boat deal ($5-$10 per person).

Little Uros artist
Little Uros artist
Uros, islands made entirely out of straw reed and floating in the lake, have been described by some as floating souvenir islets. I have to agree with that, I am afraid. The Uros who lived on the islands were genuine, but they were reduced to give in to tourism. The entire show how they lived was like a human zoo. Furthermore, they embarked on building completely dysfunctional reed structures only for show, like observation towers and boats that look like animals. I was very disappointed, but then again I was actually one of them bloody tourists. Shame on me, too? A sweet little Uros girl helping her mother sell some souvenirs was also selling her own art. These were little drawings that she made – each costing one sol. I bought one of them and asked her to sign it for me like a professional artist would do. I did not actually believe she was old enough to be able to sign it but without a blink of an eye she took a pen I handed her and with one smooth movement she signed her name!

Uros people
Uros people
Pascana at Jr Lima served a few vegetarian dishes and parrilladas and the waiting staff wore traditional folk clothes. The decor was very simple and most of the diners were Peruvians, which must have done well in their lives. The restaurant was not expensive. The food was alright but nothing special. What was special along Jr Lima was patisserie Al Paso Antojitos, which served bar snacks, cakes, pies, sweets, great coffees and wide range of drinks. Everything was delicious. It truly was. Their pisco sour was decent, too and it is not an easy drink to make. It was a delightful little place with a small horseshoe-shaped bar. It was very popular. Very popular. I saw many travellers there. Only few locals though.

Overall, the trip to Puno and the lake was in some ways disappointing but it was also really interesting. Without a closer and more natural contact with the locals, it wouldn’t be good, though. Sillustani was the highlight!

Next part 2. about Arequipa, Colca Canyon and condors.

Other recommendations:
Taquile's famous gate with a little girl sitting on it
Taquile's famous gate with a little girl sitting on it
Taquile ($15 boat pp) could be summarised with a quite technical term: a tourist trap. There were pictures around in Puno showing a stone arch standing on a slope facing the blue waters of the lake. It’s how good it got. Officially, it was a communistic island where all had to work and men were those who knitted, by the way. Everyone was expected to share with everyone. But I got completely confused because there were beggars in the streets and how come? Shouldn’t everyone be equal and shared with all? Something didn’t fit to the official description, methinks. A big fat lie!

There was absolutely nothing to do on the island. The main square (Plaza de Armas) was ugly enough and yet the governor was constructing another ugly concrete building there. I guess to keep the piazza consistently unattractive. It WAS indeed interesting to visit the island though, if only to see how mass tourism affected the locals’ lives. And, it was a gorgeous day with blue skies and beetroot-red burning sun.

Published on Friday March 21th, 2008

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Sat, Mar 22 2008 - 09:32 AM rating by rangutan

Following my footsteps from 1987, this is most exciting reading for me, many memories come back. When I visited Puno, a room was about $4, breakfast for four round $1 and the boat-trip to the floating island $2 pp. I remember that quite clearly because our daily budget was only $20...... Thanks!

Sat, Mar 22 2008 - 08:36 AM rating by jorgesanchez

As said by Davidx, splendid report. Nothing more to add.

Sat, Mar 22 2008 - 07:00 AM rating by davidx

This splendid report brings back memories. I agree about Puno and largely about the Uros, although now the islands have become so tourist dependent, I think it could only result in further impoverishment if people stopped visiting.

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