The capital of the Puno (3827 meters above sea level, population 100,000) department is the base for trips on to Lake Titicaca, however, the city itself has just a few small attractions and the tourist activity is confined to more or less one street. Elsewhere there are just a few other outlying hotels, a pleasant dock area, and hundreds of blocks of dirty, dusty, shanty houses. The Spaniards moved into the area in the early 17th century in search of the Laikakota mines west of Puno. The city was founded on Nov. 4th, 1668. Puno is thought to be the center of folk art in the country with more crafts, music, and dances than anywhere else. There are many festivals where the culture and art still thrive as they have for many years. Heavy drinking is usually involved as well. The city is just the beginning to a greater Titicaca experience. To find the magic of Titicaca you must venture beyond Puno, to the lake itself. Also, there is no doubt about it; Puno can get cold at night. Be sure to dress warm. Days can be quite hot though. Warm enough for shorts at times. Altitude sickness can also be a problem. Many people actually head to Cuzco to escape the high altitudes if you can imagine that.
Attractions in Puno
The Plaza de Armas sits on the southern end of Jr. Lima and features the Catedral of Puno (1657) stands proudly on the plazas western edge. You can get a glimpse inside from 8am-noon or 3-5pm, although it is far less impressive than most colonial churches in Peru. It was however, visited by Pope Paul VI in the mid-60’s.
There are a few sites on the plaza, quite close to the cathedral. The mansion of the viceroy of the Count of Lemos, where he stayed in 1668 is at Deustua and Conde de Lemos beside the cathedral. Note that colonial balcony. The Museo Carlos Dryer, a municipal museum has a small selection of Incan artifacts, a few mummies, and documents regarding the founding of the city. (Mon-Fri, 7:30am-3:30pm, $1). There is also a small craft shop and café at the 17th Century Casa del Corregidor, thought to be the oldest house in Puno.
Jr. Lima, which runs for several blocks north of the plaza, is a pedestrian only street with many small shops, restaurants, tour agencies, and tourist facilities of all sorts. It is the center of the Puno tourist industry and you will likely make your way there during your visit for one reason or another.
The port area on Avenida Titicaca is lined with small snack areas and craft shops. Here you can also arrange your own transport on the lake. People will approach you.
The Yaravi (www.yavari.org) is the most famous boat on the lake and has a long, storied history. The James Watt & Co. built it in Birmingham, England from the Thames Ironwork and Shipbuilding. The 2766 parts were shipped piece by piece to Peru. The Yaravi and the Yapura (its sister ship) were shipped around Cape Horn to the port of Arica, Chile (then a part of Peru), then 40 miles in land to Tacna by train. From there man and mule then carried it over the Andes to Lake Titicaca where it was then assembled, a daunting task that took approximately six years. It was launched on Christmas Day, 1870. It became a Peruvian Navy ship, a transport vessel, and now a floating museum. Until 1914 the engine was fired by llama dung. In 1987 the Yavari Restoration bought the bought from the Peruvian Navy. It hasn’t been in operation in decades, although it has been restored and the engine still runs. Presently it is docked in front of the Sonesta Posada del Inca hotel where you can climb aboard for a free tour (Open 8am-10pm). Small bunks inside one of the cabins on the Yaravi have been made be available for overnight stays on the lake.
There are two scenic viewpoints on the hills surrounding town. First from Huajsapata Park a few blocks southwest of the plaza, where there is a white monument of Manco Capac. The other is from the Deustua Arch, built in 1847 by the people of Puno in honor to commemorate the fallen in the Battles of Junin and Ayacucho. To get there walk north on Independencia to just before Cornejo. To either location it is recommended to not go alone, as robberies are known to occur.