Puno, Lake Titicaca, a top place to visit for any traveller while touring Peru. Of all of Peru’s cities, Puno is the only one that sits aside the highest lake in the world AND is the jumping off point for tours out to the Floating Islands of Lake Titicaca. So really, Titicaca is a huge Peru bucket list item!
Travelling from the Colca Canyon to Puno
The bus from the Colca to Puno, the town on the shores of Lake Titicaca, was decent, they even gave us snacks. The exciting part of this trip was the hour long lightening storm 3/4 of the way through which really made me think, and then realize how little I know about lightening. If the bus is hit will I die? Will I feel it? Do the tires insulate us from the blast? Or do they ground us? If we are hit and I survive, do I hop with both feet together away from the bus? How far do I hop? I’m really hungry. Will my cork soled Birkenstocks protect me from being electrocuted? Am I wearing any other metal that could act as a conductor? Oh good, sports bra, no underwire! Wait, permanent orthodontic appliance in my mouth. Gah!
Luckily, the bus was seemingly not hit by lightening, so I did not have to put any of this non-knowledge to the test, but it was a pretty gnarly storm, one that I’m glad to have survived, orthodontic appliance intact. First step once at home, research electrical storms and how to survive them in a clinch.
That said the bus from Colca Canyon to Puno was about 6 hours long, so I got in after dusk, and found out something fun about Lake Titicaca’s altitude: it’s cold up that high! Which is 3800 metres for anyone who is counting…
3 Days to Tour Puno
Puno is at about 3800m above sea level and it sits on the edge of Lake Titicaca, which is fun fact alert the highest navigable lake on Earth (not to be confused with the second highest, which is Issyk Kul in Kyrgyzstan). No big deal or anything, but Peru seems to have a lot of the extremes on Earth in it. Way to be Peru!
Now, every time I heard this particular fun fact I always wondered, what makes the next highest lake on Earth non-navigable?? If someone could find that out, I would appreciate it, because really, all it takes is a boat on water right?
Besides having an awesome name and being high, what makes Lake Titicaca one of the top tourist attractions in Peru is the fact that it also known for having people living on the lake, on islands that they have built and are floating all around the place. Yes, this makes me think of the floating island in Doctor Doolittle as well. But I can assure you that these islands are real.
Titicaca’s Islas Uros are clustered in the lake about 30 minutes out from Puno, and they are in a continuous state of upkeep, since they are built with the reeds that grow in the lake itself, making them incredible environmentally sustainable engineering marvels.
How did they end up out there? Well, back in the day, the people who now live on the islands then lived on the mainland. But in response to mainland angst eons ago, turned towards the lake eons and decided to basically say “Screw you mainland, we will make our own land”. So they harvest the reeds from the lake and built up thick layers resulting in sturdy islands.
The people who live on the Islas Uros also use the reeds to build the houses that they live in and the boats that they row around in, presumably, to harvest more reeds. The islands need to have more reeds added all the time and the houses need to be rebuilt, or at least re’roofed every so often, as the reeds obviously disintegrate over time. It’s pretty damn impressive that there are literally 60 islands made of almost nothing.
Islas Uros Tour in Lake Titicaca Peru
My first day in Puno, I took a boat tour out to the Islas Uros, and call me cynical, or knowing how awkward my life is, fully expected to step onto the first island we landed on and to fall straight through. Really, if it is going to happen to anybody, it will happen to me!
But what do you know, off I stepped and the island held. Its like walking on a trampoline, as the reeds give a bit under your weight, which is a bizarre sensation at first, but after thinking about it, totally makes sense for those of us in the exclusive club of people who fall down a lot. I mean, you fall down on this stuff, you might get a scratch from a rogue reed, but it’s a pretty soft landing. I could have used a softer landing more than a few times, I know some of my readers could have too.
So I visited a couple of the floating islands, and while I was out there ate trout. Head on. Titicaca trout: very yummy. Eating the good local food while travelling is a big deal, even if it means spending a bit more money. Food’s important right? And it’s part of the Peruvian “cultural experience”.
And if there is anything that this blog promotes it’s experiencing culture. I love the word culture, it covers all manner of sins.
Handicrafts from Peru?
I also bought some swag on the islands, you know, to support the local communities, as that is another thing this blog very much promotes. One thing that I could not buy was unfortunately something that would have gone to my brother. Aaron is totally crap to buy for, so I always try to find the most bizarre oddity, or weapon, that I can find, and that is his gift from my trip. In the past I have bought him snake wine from Vietnam, a throwing star from Mexico, a cannibal fork from Fiji, you can see the pattern. So far I had not found anything weird enough, until the islands.
This guy was standing at the booth of swag and started demonstrating how the things on the table worked. Most, pretty obvious, but then there was a duck. At first I thought, “No way that’s a real duck”, since as part of his demonstration, he was contorting the duck’s wings and head in all sorts of ways: Oh look, the duck is about to take flight, oh look the duck is sleeping, oh look the duck is eating. And it was a real damn duck!!! Dead, obviously, but how the hell is that duck not in full on rigor?!?!?!?!
I am still utterly baffled by the science behind it. Also, who came up with that as a craft? Oh look, a dead duck, let’s maintain its flexibility and sell it as art! This thing was terrifying, and grotesque, but seemingly very interesting to the men in the crowd. Something about dead animals that appeal to dudes I guess. I refused to touch it. I like my animals dead, head on, ready to eat, and not ready to put on the mantel. Needless to say, and apologetically so, Aaron did not get the duck.
Tourist Attractions in Juli near Puno
After my morning trip to Titicaca’s Floating Islands, I hopped on a local minibus and went south of Puno, and checked out some of the small villages along the coast of the lake. Juli, has 4 huge Catholic churches, all in various states of disrepair, but has been named Little Rome. I went into two of them, checked out some religious artwork, because I am pious like that, and wandered around this small, non-touristy town.
Chiculi: El Templo de la Fertilidad aka Home of the Stone Phalluses
Hopped back on a minibus back towards Puno, and hopped off again at Chiculi, another small town along the coast. The reason I got off at Chicuili was based on three words in the Lonely Planet: “Enormous Stone Phalluses”. I mean really, who in their right minds can read those three words together and NOT check it out!!! I would dare any one of you to be able to bypass such a sight.
What I was looking for was el Templo de la Fertilidad, or in English, the Fertility Temple. Walking through town asking people where said temple was located was somewhat awkward, but I found it. It is a big field, with a walled in area that contains about 30 phalluses (phalli?) sticking out of the earth. Some are in better shape than others, as about half have definitely been terrorized. I didn’t know the Incas were into Eunuchs, but hey that is what travelling is about, learning stuff!
As legend has it, young and wanting women go to this particular locale, and physically like, maybe, rub themselves on the stone structures, and it is said to bring them babies.
And since you are all thinking it: No, there was no rubbing for this young lady. I did however meditate upon the grandest of the phalli in proxy for a friend. Because I am an awesome person and I love her. So the phalli were a total hoot. I know Titicaca is the real tourist attraction of the area, but I would really tout the phalluses for anybody looking to get off the beaten path in Peru!
Visiting the Coca Museum, Puno Peru
After my sesh with the schlongs, I headed back to Puno Central and took a cab to the Coca Museum, which covers all things related to the medicinal coca leaf, even its most latest Western bastardization, cocaine. Boooooo Western science of the early 20th century ruining everything!!! Then it started to rain, torrentially.
I ran out of the Coca Museum and got as far as I could before running into a restaurant and ordering a pizza and an Inca Cola. So much for giving up my nuclear yellow fascination. As I said, embrace the local food and drink, it’s “cultural”.
Day Trip to Isla Taquile in Lake Titicaca Peru
The next morning I went back out onto Titicaca, this time to the Isla Taquile, not a floating island, but one that has a very vibrant sub-culture of islands. The people of Taquile Island have made the 7km long bit of land a going concern with terraced agriculture and awesome weaving. I again, ate trout, and then headed off on an adventure. Which led me to running around the countryside, lost, sweaty, and hoping to get back to the boat before it left so I didn’t have to spend the night on the island. As I did not have warm enough clothes for that shit.
Not sure what it was with me in Peru, maybe its because their maps are crap and the “trails” have no guidance on them, but getting lost was starting to be my m.o.
Anyways, Isla Taquile is truly gorgeous, sitting in the middle of the deeply blue Lago Titicaca. The terraced hillsides are spectacular, and with no roads, no streetlights, and obviously no signs, it was a very blast-from-the-past kind of place to be. I wandered around for a while and got mauled by a 4 year old named Miguel who wanted to run and hold hands, ok.
We did that for a while, but then he abruptly stopped and started to pull out his own phallus to pee. Again, what was with Peruvian males peeing in front of me!!! This was about the time I headed off alone, not about to retake hold of his little hand after that pit stop. But have no fear, I did make it back to the boat, sans urine hands.
Places to Stay in Puno: Hotels and Guesthouses
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Accommodation in Puno Peru
Casa Andina Standard Puno
3.5 Stars, City-center hotel within walking distance of Puno Cathedral
Family hotel with restaurant, near Puno Cathedral
otel with restaurant, near Puno Cathedral
Colonial Plaza Hotel
Character hotel with restaurant, near Puno Cathedral
Mama Quilla, Chucuito
Chucuito ski-in/ski-out hotel with restaurant, bar/lounge, all kinds of character!
Travel Blog Tidbits from Titicaca
Toilets in Peru! I have a good toilet story, trust me. When I was in Juli, I was in need of the facilities. Being a non-touristico village, they didn’t have any just sitting around for the gringa, so I asked at a restaurant. And they said yes. Great, but a yes really only means there is a spot of some kind for you to relieve yourself in.
In Peru, a banio can come in many variations: There probably is no toilet paper (like 95% of the time nothing), doubtful to have a toilet seat, may or may not flush, and you may or may not have to pay. In this particular experience, there was a real toilet, no toilet paper (totally cool, I carry my own), no toilet seat (no biggie!), the flush was a bucket of water (I can haul water with the best of them), and oh yeah, it was in a little room with no light. So I was figuring out the absence of above materials in the dark. Eff bomb. Good news is they didn’t ask me to pay, which was nice. So toileting in Peru is always el adventura.
There is a fantastic Peru Hop on Hop off bus that goes around the country’s popular travel destinations, and even runs between Lima and La Paz, Bolivia. Next time I’m in Peru, that may just make for a much easier life…
When I opened my bedroom door one morning a little dog was there waiting for me. Shivering. I then got into the shower, which was cold, so we hung out for a while together after that, shivering.
Money is an odd issue in Peru. I had enough, don’t worry about that, but when you get cash from the cash machine, generally you get it in 100sol notes. Now that is equal to about $40 Canadian. But, trying to use a 100sol note is next to impossible, people typically shake their heads and wait for you to find small change. So sometimes, the situation is desperate trying to break those annoying things. One day, in a total bitch move, I paid for a 1.50sol bus ride with a 100sol note. I knew the dude had enough change, so I played dumb and shrugged my shoulders. In reality, I just really needed the note broken. He laughed at me. I put on my “No espangol” face.
Honking. Oh the honking! Instead of signalling, or stopping at stop signs, drivers just honk. All the time. Taxi drivers also honk when they pass you, as if you would remember that “Yes, that’s right, I did need to get into a taxi!” Also, some people had replaced their lame traditional car horns with sirens. Like an ambulance or a police siren. Which is very confusing, and hard to believe was legal. Was it!? Oh the honking!