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Puno, Peru

Folkloric Center of Peru

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Puno cathedral

Puno cathedral

Peter and Jackie Main

Most travelers come to Puno as a means of getting to Lake Titicaca and seeing nearby Inca ruins. Founded in November, 1868 by the Spanish count Lermos, and once a prosperous community granted city status in 1810 due to the silver mines at Laykakota, Puno today is the capital of the altiplano region, a dusty, commercial border town across Lake Titicaca from Bolivia.

However, Puno has a wild, exuberant side. It is officially the Folkloric Center of Peru. Throughout the year, monthly festivals with music and dance fill the streets and bring out the photographers. The most popular of these festivals is the feast of the Virgen de la Candelaria in February with the famous Devil Dancers. The costumes are vivid and spectacular and no expense is spared for the
"10-day celebration in honor of the patron of Puno.. . This first day hundreds of dance groups from the neighboring towns pay their tribute to the mamacha, showing the best of their folklore and wearing their finest costumes. This is the time to see the famous and colorful diablada where, to the rhythm of the sikuri or panpipe players, groups of dancers dressed as devils parade worshipping their patron. The image of the Virgin is taken out in procession crossing the main streets of the city of Puno. The following days are celebrated throughout the area with fairs, festivals, drink and dancing day and night."

The city of Puno celebrates its founding during the first week of November and throughout the year, on Sunday mornings, the Plaza de Armas is the site of military parades, music and ceremonies. During Puno Days, on November 4 and 5, a lavish procession and masked dancers celebrate the beginning of the Inca Empire when Manco Capac and Mamá Occlo rose forth from Lake Titicaca.

Puno is 12,350 ft (3827 m) above sea level, dry and cold, very cold at night. If you are senstive to the altitude, allow yoruself time to acclimatize to the altitude. Coca tea is available and seems to help the acclimatization process. The town is hospitable, with plenty of restaurants and lodging options, from the very basic to the luxurious. When you register at a smaller hotel, ask about the overnight heating. You might need your own sleeping bag for extra warmth. Reserve ahead for the February and November celebrations.

Getting to Puno:

By air, flights from Lima, Cuzco and Arequipa via Aero Continente and other domestic airlines arrive daily at Aeropuerto Manco Capac in Juliaca, 31 miles (50km) north of Puno. If you're with a tour, the agency will arrange transfers to Puno; else you may take a taxi, or the cheaper shuttle bus.

By train, you have a choice of the 10 hour night, Pullman class train between Arequipa and Puno. ENAFER keeps the cars locked so you can sleep, although the ride might be rocky and rough. By day, the trip across the altiplano offers great scenery and stops to allow photos at the highest point. This trip takes about 12 hours, with a stop in Juliaca. Watch your belongings. You're better off to avoid the first and second class cars and take the Turismo Inca car, which is comfortable, and offers food and drinks. At certain points, the conductors might ask you to lower the shades. Unfortunately, some people throw stones at the train windows as Andrys tells you in her Peru Journey page: Peru - From Train Window - Puno to Cuzco

Although the lake crossing to Bolivia was the main way of travel in Inca and colonial times, today there is no direct crossing. Now you will first take the bus to Copacabana, then the hydrofoil to Huatajata and on to La Paz by land. There are ample boats for the trip to the Floating Islands, or to fish for the local trout and pejerey.

By road, you can take a bus from Moquegua, Tacna and other locations.

There are interesting side trips from Puno:

  • Silustani, the city of the dead, is about 19 miles (30km) from Puno and the site of the circular towers known as chulpas for the shrouds used to wrap the mummies entombed in the towers, which are properly named ayawasi. The city sits on a peninsula of Lake Umayo and is tremendously scenic. For the best view, climb to the top of the hill, an easy climb up wide steps. If you take pictures of the local shepherds or young girls selling souvenirs, offer a small fee.

  • When in Pomata, 12 m (20 km) from Puno, don't miss the church of Santiago Apostle with baroque carvings, pink granite, and altars covered with gold leaf.

  • Chuquito is an agricultural lakeside community of terraces where tortora raft making is a main industry. In colonial times, it was an administrative center for the area.

  • Cerrito de Huajsapata is a small hill with a monument to Manco Capac and a great view of Lake Titicaca.

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