The Altiplano is an amazing plateau between Bolivia and Peru nestled in the Andes Mountains at nearly 3,812 meters (about 12,507 feet).
Which holds a special place in the ancient folklore of the Andes Culture because happens to be the birthplace of the leader of the Inca Empire, ancestors of the Inca civilization Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo, sent by the Sun God Inti and rising for the water of the lake. That is why this enormous lake is shrouded in mystery and tales from Inca mythology.
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The region's only commercial airport makes Juliaca, the largest city on the altiplano, an unavoidable transit hub. The city bustles with commerce (and contraband) due to its handy location near the border with Bolivia. Daytime muggings and drunks on the street are not uncommon. Since Juliaca has little to offer travelers, it is advisable to stay in nearby Lampa or move on to Puno.
Hotels, restaurants, Casas de Cambio (foreign exchange), and internet cafes abound along San Roman, near Plaza Bolognesi. ATMs and banks are nearby on Nuñez.
If you are in a pinch, Royal Inn Hotel is an excellent upmarket choice. This towering hotel boasts recently revamped modern rooms with hot showers, heating,, and cable TV, plus one of Juliaca's best restaurants (mains from 20 Soles).
Mototaxí is the best option for getting around. A ride to local destinations, including bus terminals, will cost about 3 Soles per person. Bus line IB cruises around town and down Calle 2 de Mayo before heading to the airport (0.60 Soles).
This charming little town, 36km northwest of Juliaca, is known as La Ciudad Rosada (the Pink City) for its dusty, pink-colored buildings. A significant commercial center in colonial days, it still shows a strong Spanish influence. It's an excellent place to kill a few hours before flying out of Juliaca or to spend a quiet night.
Just out of town is a pretty colonial bridge, and about 4km west is a bull-shaped cave with prehistoric carvings of llamas and other animals. The cave is on the right-hand side of the road heading west. Its entrance is part of a large, distinctive rock formation. On route, you'll see several Chullpas (funerary towers), not unlike the ones at Sillustani and Cutimbo.
Worth seeing and the pride of locals, this lime-mortar church includes fascinating features such as a life-sized sculpture of the Last, Supper; Santiago (St James) atop a real stuffed horse, returning from the dead to trample the Moors; creepy catacombs; secret tunnels; a domed tomb topped by a wonderful copy of Michelangelo’s Pieta; and hundreds of skeletons arranged in a ghoul-icily decorative, skull-and-crossbones pattern. It truly has to be seen to be believed. Excellent guides are on hand daily. It is located in the Lampa Plaza de Armas, the tour cost 10 Soles and it is open from 9 am - 12:30 pm and 2 pm - 4 pm.
Staff at the shop opposite this museum, two blocks west of the Plaza de Armas, will give you a Spanish-language tour of this small but significant collection. It includes pre-Inca ceramics and monoliths, plus one mummy. They may also show you a unique vase inscribed with the sacred cosmology of the Incas.
In the small square beside the church, the town hall is recognizable by its murals depicting Lampa's historical past, present, and future. Inside there's a gorgeous courtyard, a replica of the Pieta, and a museum honoring noted Lampa-born painter Víctor Humareda (1920-86).
More than 60km northwest of Juliaca, the sleepy village of Pucará is famous for its celebrations of La Virgen del Carmen on July 16 and its earth-colored pottery including the ceramic Toritos (bulls) often seen perched on the roofs of Andean houses for good luck. Several local workshops are open to the public and offer classes where you can make your own ceramics. Try the reader-recommended Maki Pucará, on the highway near the bus stop.
The Museo Litico Pucará by the church displays a surprisingly good selection of anthropomorphic monoliths from the town's pre-Inca site, Kalasaya. The ruins themselves sit above the town, a short walk up Jirón Lima away from the main plaza, One ticket gets you into both sites, though there's nobody to check your ticket at the ruin.
If you get stuck, there are some simple accommodations near the bus stop. Buses to Juliaca (Bus ticket 3.50 Soles per person, 1 hour of trip) run from 6 am to 8 pm from Jirón 2 de Mayo.
From Ayaviri, the route climbs for almost another 100km to this Andean mountain pass (4470m), the highest point on the trip to Cusco. Buses often stop here to allow passengers to take advantage of the photogenic view of snowcapped mountains and the cluster of handicrafts sellers. The pass also marks the departmental line between Puno and Cusco.
With a regal plaza, concrete block buildings, and crumbling bricks that blend into the hills, Puno has its share of both grit and cheer. It serves as the jumping-off point for Lake Titicaca and is a convenient stop for those traveling between Cusco and La Paz. But it may just capture your heart with its own rackety charm.
Smoke from unvented fires wafts through Puno's streets, along with jangling waves of traffic, including Mototaxis and Triciclos (three-wheeled cycles) that edge pedestrians to the narrow slivers of sidewalks. Its urban center can feel contaminated and cold. But Puno's people are upbeat and ready to drop everything if there's a good time to be had.
As a trade (and contraband) hub between Peru, Bolivia, and both coasts of South America, Puno is overwhelmingly commercial and forward-looking. For a glimpse of its colonial and naval identity, you only have to peruse the spots of old architecture, the colorful traditional dress worn by many in-habitants, and scores of young cadets in the streets.
Puno is known as Peru's capital folkloric (folkloric capital) - its Virgen de la Candelaria parades are televised across the nation - and the associated drinking is the stuff of legend. Good times aren't restricted to religious festivals, though: some of Peru's most convivial bars are found in Puno.
Puno is handily compact. If you have the energy to spare, you can walk into the center from the port or the bus terminals; otherwise, hop into a moto-taxi. Everything in the town center is within easy walking distance. Jirón Lima, the main pedestrian street, files in the early evening as púnenos (inhabitants of Puno) come out to promenade.
Puno's baroque cathedral, on the western flank of the Plaza de Armas, was completed in 1757. 'lite interior is more Spartan than you'd expect from the well-sculpted facade, except for the silver-plated altar, which, following a 1964 visit by Pope Paul VI, has a Vadean flag to its right.
An attraction in its own right, this 17th-century house is one of Puno's oldest residences. A former community center, it now houses a small fair-trade arts-and-crafts store and a cafe.
This museum houses a fascinating collection of Puno-related archaeological artifacts and art. Upstairs there are three mummies and a full-scale fiberglass Chullpa (funerary tower). It's around the comer from Casa del Corregidor.
Tiny and quirky, this museum offers lots of interesting information historical, medicinal, and cultural - about the coca plant and its many uses. The presentation isn't that interesting, though: reams of text (in English only) are stuck to the wall and interspersed with photographs and old Coca-Cola ads. The display of traditional costumes is what makes a visit here worthwhile.
Though the relation between traditional dress and coca is unfathomable, it's a boon for making sense of the costumes worn in street parades.
The museum was closed for renovations at the time of research but should be open again by the time you read this.
Many regional holidays and fiestas are celebrated for several days before and after the actual day. Most festivals also feature traditional music and dancing, as well as merry mayhem of all sorts.
The region's most spectacular festival spreads out for several days around the actual date (Candlemas), depending upon which day of the week Candlemas falls. If it falls between Sunday and Tuesday, things get underway the previous Saturday; if Candlemas occurs between Wednesday and Friday, celebrations will get going the following Saturday.
A huge celebration marking the legendary birth of Manco Cápac, the first Inca. Events are held the first week of November, centered on Puno Day (November 5).
Also known as El Día de Los Reyes, this celebrates the day that the three wise men visited baby Jesus. Outside of every church, and in the Plaza de Armas, you will find women in traditional dress selling dolls for children to lay on church altars at Mass.
St John is the patrón saint of the ill and of hospitals and his image is carried around the main streets of Puno accompanied by prayers and songs for good health. There is food, fireworks, and music.
With the blessing of miniature objects, such as cars or houses, supplicants pray that the real thing will be obtained in the coming year. Features a miniature handicrafts fair in Puno on May 2.
Celebrations take place on Isla Taquile and in Huancané. Crosses (think of the + symbol, not crucifixes) are set up on the highest hills and people dance, eat, and drink in honor of this Christian-Andean fusion green (representing life) cross.
Locals in their distinctive colorful dresses and knitwear dance and play music to Taquile's patron saint. There are also fireworks It's celebrated mostly on Isla Taquile.
The Lady being calibrated is the patroness of Peru. This festival is celebrated mainly in Juliaca with a 'Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes' feast, religious ceremonies, and dancing. Images show the Lady of Mercy dressed in white praying for captive prisoners and people of every social class.
Central Puno's nightlife is geared toward tourists, with lively bars scattered around l lie bright lights on Jirón Lima (where touts hand out free-drink coupons) and next to the plaza on Jirón Puno.
Artesanías (handicrafts, from musical instruments and jewelry to scale models of reed islands), wool and alpaca sweaters, and other typical tourist goods are sold in every second shop in the town center.
This craft market sells the llama toys, rugs, alpaca sweaters, masks from Puno's 'La Virgen de Candelaria' festival, and other handicrafts you'll see elsewhere in town and on the islands, but at prices more open to haggling.
The dozens of nearly identical stalls are at the port entrance.
(Av El Sol) A market selling household goods and clothes. Watch out for pickpockets.
Sitting on rolling hills on the Lake Umayo peninsula, the funerary towers of Sillustani (admission from 10 Soles) stand out for miles against the desolate altiplano landscape.
The ancient Colla people who once dominated the Lake Titicaca area were a warlike, Aymara-speaking tribe, who later became the southeastern group of the Incas. They buried their nobility in Chullpas (funerary towers), which can be seen scattered widely around the hilltops of the region.
The most impressive of these towers is Sillustani, where the tallest reaches a height of 12m. The cylindrical structures housed the remains of complete family groups and plenty of food and belongings for their journey into the next world. Their only opening was a small hole facing east, just large enough for a person to crawl through, which would be sealed immediately after burial. Nowadays, nothing remains of the burials, but the Chullpas are well preserved. The afternoon light is, the best for photography, though the site can get busy at this time,
The walls of the towers are made from massive coursed blocks reminiscent of Inca stonework but are considered to be even more complicated. Carved but unplaced blocks and a ramp used to raise them are among the site's points of interest, and you can also see the makeshift quarry. A few of the blocks are decorated, including a well-known carving of a lizard on one of the Chullpas closest to the parking lot.
Sillustani is partially encircled by the sparkling Lago Umayo (3890 m), which is tome to a wide variety of plants and Andean water birds, plus a small island with vicuñas threatened, wild relatives of llamas). Birdwatchers take note: this is one of the best sites in the area.
Tours to Sillustani leave Puno at around 2:30 pm daily and cost from 30 Soles. The round-trip takes about 3 1/2 hours and allows you about 11/2 hours at the ruins. If you'd prefer more time at the site, hire a prívate taxi for 80 Soles with a one-hour waiting time. To save money, catch any bus to Juliaca and ask to be let off where the road splits (from 3 to 5 Soles, 25 minutes of the trip). From there, occasional combis (3 Soles, 20 minutes of trip) go to the ruins.
For longer stays, Atun Colla Centro Artesanal offers Turismo Vivencial (homestays) from 20 Soles per person per night. You can help your host family with farming, hike to lookouts and lesser-known archaeological sites, visit the tiny museum and eat dirt - this area is known for its edible Arcilla (clay). Served up as a sauce on boiled potato, it goes down surprisingly well.
Just over 20 km from Puno, dramatic (admission from 8 Soles) has a unique position atop a table-topped volcanic hill surrounded by a fertile plain. Its modest o number of well-preserved Chullpas, built by the Colla, Lupaca, and Inca cultures, come in both square and cylindrical shapes. You can still see the ramps used to build them. Look closely to find several monkeys, pumas, and snakes carved into the structures.
This remote place receives few visitors, which makes it both enticing and potentially dangerous for independent travelers, especially women. Go in a group and keep an eye out for muggers. People are known to hide behind rocks at the top of the 2km trail that leads steeply uphill from the road.
Combis en route to Laraqueri leave the cemetery by Parque Amista, 1 km from the center of Puno (3 Soles, one hour of trip). You can't miss the signposted site, which is on the left-hand side of the road - ask the driver where to get off. Otherwise, the pricier options from Puno are taking a taxi (about 30 Soles return with a 30-minute wait) or a package tour (US59 per person).
Lake Titicaca's islands are world-famous for their peaceful beauty and the living tradition of their agrarian cultures, which dale to pre-Columbian times. A homestay here offers a privileged glimpse of another way of life.
Be aware that not all islanders welcome tourism, which only stands to reason since not all benefit from tourism and may see the frequent intrusions into their daily life as disruptive. It's crucial to rasp the privacy of islanders and show courtesy.
All travel agencies in Puno offer one- and two-day tours to Uros, Taquile, and Amantani. Travelers often complain that the guided island-hopping tours provide only a superficial view of the islands and their cultures. For more insight into the culture, it's recommended to travel independently if you have the time. All ferry tickets are valid for 15 days so that you can island-hop at will.
Just 7 km east of Puno, these unique floating islands (admission from 8 Soles) are Lake Titicaca's top attraction. Their uniqueness is due to their construction. They have been created entirely with the buoyant totora reeds that grow abundantly in the shallows of the lake. The lives of the Uros people are interwoven with these reeds. Partially edible (tasting like no sweet sugarcane), the reeds are also used to build homes, boats, and crafts. The islands are constructed from many layers of the totora, which are constantly replenished from the top as they rot from the bottom, so the ground is always soft and springy.
Some islands also have elaborately designed versions of traditional tightly bundled reed boats on hand and other whimsical reed creations, such as archways and even swing sets. Be prepared to pay for a boat ride (Admission 10 Soles) or to take photographs.
Intermarriage with the Aymara-speaking indigenous people has seen the demise of the pure-blooded Uros, who nowadays all speak Aymara. Always a small tribe, the Uros began their unusual floating existence centuries ago in an effort to isolate themselves from the aggressive Collas and Incas.
The popularity of the islands has led to aggressive commercialization in some cases. The most traditional reed islands are located further from Puno through a maze of small channels, only visited by private boat. Islanders there continue to live in a relatively traditional fashion and prefer not to be photographed.
Getting to the Uros is easy - there’s no need to go with an organized tour, though you will miss out on the history lesson given by the guides. Ferries leave from the port for Uros (return trip 10 Soles per person) at least once an hour from 6 am to 4 pm. The community-owned ferry service visits two islands, on a rotation basis. Ferries to Taquile and Amantaní can also drop you off in the Uros.
An outstanding option is staying in the reed huts of Isla Khantati with boundless personality, from 180 Soles per person and full board). A Uros native family whose entre-premiership earned her international accolades. Over a number of years, they have built a number of impeccable semi-traditional huts (with solar power and outhouses) that occupy half the tiny island, along with shady decks, cats, and the occasional flamingo. The rates include transfers from Puno, fresh and varied meals, fishing, some cultural explanations, and the pleasure of the company of the effervescent Cristina The hyper-relaxed pace means a visit here is not ideal for those with little time on their hands.
Inhabited for thousands of years, isla Taquile (admission from 8 Soles), 35 km east of Puno, is a tiny 7-sq-km island with a population of about 2200 people. Taquile's lovely scenery is reminiscent of the Mediterranean. In the strong island sunlight, the deep, red-colored soil contrasts with the intense blue of the take and the glistening backdrop of Bolivia's snowy Cordillera Real on the far side of the lake. Several lulls boast Inca terracing on their sides and small ruins on top.
The natural beauty of the island makes it stand out; Quechua-speaking islanders have been banished from most of the surrounding Aymara-speaking island communities and inanition a strong sense of group identity. They saw rarely many non-Taquile people.
Taquile has a fascinating tradition of handicrafts, and the islanders' creations are made according to a system of deeply ingrained social customs. Men wear tightly woven hats that resemble floppy nightcaps, which they knit themselves -only men knit, learning from the age of fight. These hats are closely bound up with social symbolism: men wear red hats if they are married and red and white hats if they are single, and different colors can denote a man's current or past social position.
Taquile women weave thick, colorful waistbands for their husbands, which are worn with roughly spun white shirts and thick, calf-length black pants. Women wear eye-catching outfits comprising multilayered skirts and delicately embroidered blouses. These fine garments are considered some of the most well-made traditional clothes in Peru and can be bought in the cooperative store on the island's main plaza.
Make sure you already have lots of small bills in local currency, because change is limited and there's nowhere to exchange dollars. You may want to bring extra money to buy some of the exquisite crafts sold in the cooperative store. A limited electricity supply was introduced to the island in the 1990s but it is not always available, so remember to bring a flashlight for an overnight stay.
Visitors are free to wander around, explore the ruins and enjoy the tranquility. The island is a wonderful place to catch a sunset and gaze at the moon, which looks twice as bright in the crystalline air, rising over the breathtaking peaks of the Cordillera Real. Take in the lay of the land while it's still light - with no roads, streetlights, or big buildings to use as landmarks, travelers have been known to get so lost in the dark that they end up roughing it for the night.
A stairway of more than 500 steps leads from the dock to the center of the island. The climb takes a breathless 20 minutes if you're acclimatized - more if you're not, it can take 1 hour.
The festivities here are happy and rowdy. Many islanders go to Puno for La Virgen de Candelaria and Puno Week, when the island becomes somewhat deserted.
The Fiesta de San Diego is a big feast day on Taquile. Dancing, music, and general carousing go on for several days until the start of August when islanders make traditional offerings to Pachamama (Mother Earth).
Ferries (round-trip cost 30 Soles per person; admission to the island cost 8 Soles) leave from the Puno port for Taquile from 6:45 am. If the ferry stops in Islas Uros, you will also have to pay the admission there. A ferry from Taquile to Puno leaves at 12:30 pm. There's a ferry from Amantani to Taquile every morning; it's also possible to get here by ferry from Hachón.
Remote Isla Amantini (admission from 8 Soles), a population of 4000 inhabitants, is a few kilometers north of the smaller Taquile. Almost all trips to Amantani involve an overnight stay with islanders. Guests help cook on open fires in dirt-floored kitchens. Witnessing the different aspects of rural life can create engaging and memorable experiences.
The villagers sometimes organize rousing traditional dances, letting travelers dress in their traditional party gear to dance the night away. Of course, your hiking boots might give you away. Don't forget to look up at the incredibly starry night sky as you stagger home.
The island is tranquil (no dogs allowed!), boasts excellent views, and has no roads or vehicles. Several hills are topped by ruins, among the highest and best-known of which are the Mother Earth and Father Earth hills. These date to the Tiwanaku culture, a largely Bolivian culture that appeared around Lake Titicaca and expanded rapidly between 200 BC and AD1000.
As with Taquile, the islanders speak Quechua, but the Aymara more influences their culture.
Ferries (round-trip cost 30 soles; admission to the island cost 8 Soles) leave from the Puno port for Taquile from 6:45 am. If the ferry stops in Islas Uros, you will also have to pay the admission there. A ferry from Taquile to Puno leaves at 12:30 pm. There is a ferry from Amantani to Taquile every morning; it´s also possible to get here by ferry from Llachón.
On the northeastern part of the lake, this beautiful solar-powered island offers a total retreat into nature. The only privately owned island on Titicaca, it has been Leased long term by a luxury hotel. Remote ecolodge Casa Andina Isla Suasi hotel (per person all-inclusive 2 days/1 night cost around 1090 Soles) is as exclusive as resorts get. Terraced rooms are well appointed, with down duvets, fireplaces, peaked ceilings, and lake views, with lush flower gardens, trails, wild vicuña (relatives of llamas), and spots for swimming (yes, people do swim here!). It's unique in the region for presenting more nature experiences than cultural ones. Spa treatments and steam saunas with eucalyptus leaves provide a little pampering, and with games, canoes, and guide-led activities, also a great destination for families. The island is a five-hour boat trip from Puno or a more than three-hour drive on dirt roads, with a short boat transfer from Cambria. A $12 entry fee (included in lodging fees) helps local conservation projects.
The hotel provides daily transfers at 7:30 am for guests from the pier in Puno, with stops to visit the Uros Islands and Isla Taquile.
Poking far out into the northwestern part of the lake, midway between Juliaca and Puno, the Capachica Península has the same beauty as the lake islands but without the crowds and commercial bent. Each Pueblito (tiny town) boasts its own glorious scenery, ranging from pastoral and pretty to coweringly majestic. A few days here among the local people - handsome, dignified men in vests and black hats, and shy, smiling women in intricate headgear with nothing to do but eat well, climb hills and trees, and stare at the lake, can provide a real retreat. Homestay is the only accommodation on offer and a major element of the fun.
Strung along the peninsula between the towns of Capachica and Llachón, the villages of Ccotos and Chifrón are linked by deserted, eminently walkable dirt roads and lackadaisical bus services (it's generally quicker to walk over the hill than drive around by the road). Escallani is further north, slightly off the peninsula proper, not far from Juliaca. Locals get to the mainland by Lancha (small motorboat), which they are happy to hire out.
There is no internet reception on the peninsula, but cell phones work. There are no banks or ATMs and, as elsewhere in Peru, breaking extensive notes can be very difficult. Bring all the money you need, in bills of 20 Soles or smaller if possible.
Most of the communities here offer the same deal on food and accommodations, similar to that encountered on Isla Amantani. Families have constructed or adapted basic rooms for tourists in their homes, and charge around 25 Soles per person per night for a bed, or about 65 Soles for a full board. Full board is recommended - each town has at least one shop, but supplies are limited and the meals provided by the families are healthy and tasty. Apart from trout, the diet is vegetarian, with emphasis on quinoa, potatoes, and locally grown Habas (broad beans).
Llachón and, to a lesser extent, Escallani are set up for travelers just turning up. For other communities, it's very important to arrange accommodations in advance, as hosts need to buy supplies and prepare. It's preferable to Cali rather than email. Generally, only Spanish is spoken.
The peninsula's blisteringly forgettable commercial center has a couple of very basic sic restaurants and Hospedajes (lodgings), as well as a pretty church and an astonishingly oversized sports coliseum, all of which you can see from the bus. There's no reason to stop here unless you need to switch buses, or use the internet or a public telephone (there are a couple around the plaza); these services are unavailable elsewhere on the peninsula.
Almost 75 km northeast of Puno, this pretty little village community near the peninsula's southern tip offers fantastic views and short hikes to surrounding pre-Inca sites. The most developed of the peninsula's communities, thanks to locally managed tourism; it nevertheless feels far from the bright lights of modern Peru. With few cars and no dogs, it’s an incredibly peaceful place to sit and enjoy stunning views of Lake Titicaca, while sheep, cows, pigs, llamas, and kids wander by. From January to March, native birds are also a feature.
It's possible to simply turn up in town and ask around for accommodations.
If you found Llachón a bit too built-up, tiny somnolent Chifrón (population 24 inhabitants), off the main road in the northeast corner of the peninsula, is for you. Drowsing in rustling eucalypts above a deserted beach, three families offer fundamental accommodations for a maximum of 15 people. This is truly a chance to experience another world.
You can't get much further off the beaten track than Ccotos, two-thirds down the peninsula's east coast. Nothing ever happens here except the annual Miss Playa (Miss Beach) competition, in which the donning of bathing suits stirs much controversy Stay with the engaging Alfonso Quispe and his family, right on the edge of the lake. Catch your own fish for breakfast, bird-watch, hike to the lookout and some overgrown ruins and relax on the beach which is arguably Capachicas most beautiful (but it's a tough call).
A couple of hundred meters off Ccotos, Isla Ticonata is home to a fiercely united community and some significant mummies, fossils, and archaeological sites. Isla Ticonata is only accessible by organized tour and is a rare example of Lake Titicaca's local communities calling the shots over tour agencies, to the benefit of all. Activities include fishing, dancing, cooking, and helping till the family chakras (fields).
You could spend days ogling the majestic views of reed beds, patchwork fields, craggy rocks, and the perennially snowcapped Illimani (Bolivia's highest mountain, 6438 m). The lake takes on a completely different aspect from the settlement of Escallani, located off the peninsula, and on the way to Juliaca Rufino Paucar and his large family have built a rambling complex of more than a dozen rustic, straw-thatched cabins highly above the town. This area is a little more ready than other communities to receive guests unannounced - ask around at the plaza to find his place. There are also rumors of rock-climbing areas.
The trip from Juliaca to Escallani via Pusi by micro (small bus) is highly recommended for hardy travelers. The scenery on this unpaved road is unparalleled - sit on the left side of the bus if you're heading from Juliaca to Escallani so you can see the lake.
10 kilometers out of Puno, this rural community, spread across a gorgeous green valley, is home to a little-known ruin with superb views. It's a great place for a hike.
Leave the Panamericana at Ichu's second exit (after the service station) and head inland past the house marked 'Villa Lago 1960. Walk 2 km, bearing left at the junction, aiming for the two small, terraced hills you can see on the left of the valley. After bearing left at a second junction (you'll pass the school if you miss it), the road takes you between the two hills. Turn left again and head straight to tip the first one. Fifteen minutes of stiff climbing brings you to the top, where you'll be rewarded with the remains of a multilayered temple complex and breathtaking 360-degree views.
This can be done as an easy half-day trip from Puno. Take plenty of water and food as there's no store.
This tiny community, 53 km east of Puno on the Chucuito Peninsula, is stunning. If you want to relax in a rural community, Luquina Chico also boasts the best standard of homestay accommodations of any community around the lake. The community is making economic strides thanks to tourism.
Sweeping views of Puno, Juliaca, and all the islands of the lake can be taken in from both the headland's heights or the fertile fiats by the lake. In the wet season, a lagoon forms, which attracts migrating wetland birds.
Chullpitas (miniature burial towers) are scattered all around this part of the peninsula. They are said to house the bodies of gentiles, little people who lived here in ancient times before the sun was born and sent them underground.
Homestays (from 20 Soles) offer a full board (70 Soles). To get here, catch a combi labeled 'Luquina Chico' (4.50 Soles, 1 ½ hour of trip) from Puno, or take the ferry to or from Taquile and ask the driver to drop you off. Ask around about renting kayaks.
Past Chucuito, the road curves southeast away from the lake and through the commercial center of Ilave, best known for its livestock market and a lively sense of community justice, manifested most famously with the lynching of the town mayor in 2004. Ilave is best avoided in times of civil strife. Sleepy, friendly Juli is a more tourist-friendly stop. It's called Peru’s pequeña Roma (little Rome) on account of its four colonial churches from the 16th and 17th centuries, which are slowly being restored. Churches are most likely to be open on Sun-days, though opening hours here should not be taken as gospel. It's worth hammering on the door if one seems closed.
Dating from 1570, the adobe baroque church (admission is 8 Soles. Open from 8:30 am - 5 pm. Tuesday to Sunday) contains richly framed Escuela Cusqueña (Cusco School) paintings that depict the lives of saints. The imposing 1557 church of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (admission 8 Soles. Open from 8:30 am - 5 pm. Between Tuesday to Sunday) has an expansive courtyards approach that may awaken urges lo oratory. Its interior is airy, and the pulpit is covered in gold leaf. The church of Santa Cruz has lost half its roof and remains closed for the foreseeable future. The 1560 stone church, on the main plaza, is in the best condition, with carved ceilings and a marble baptismal font. Mass is celebrated here every Sunday at 8 am.
Sunday is also the day of Juli's market, the region's largest. Wednesday is a secondary market day.
Micros (micro ticket 4.50 Soles, one hour of trip) from the terminal zonal in Puno drop you off near the market, a 10-minute walk downhill from the center, but leave from Jirón Lima, two blocks up from the plaza. Internet cafes and basic guesthouses can be found around here.
Beyond Juli, the road continues southeast to Pomata, 105 km from Puno. As you arrive, you'll see the Dominican church (admission 2 Soles) totally out of proportion with the town it dominates, in terms of both size and splendor - dramatically located on top of a small hill. Founded in 1700, it is known for its Windows made of translucent alabaster and its intricately carved baroque sandstone facade. Look for the puma carvings - the town's name means 'place of the puma' in Aymara.
Just out of Pomata, the road forks. The main road continues southeast through Zepita to the unsavory border town of Desaguadero. The left fork hugs the shore of Lake Titicaca and leads to another, the more pleasant border crossing at Yunguyo. If you're going this way, consider stopping off at the Mirador natural de Asiru Patjata lookout, a few kilometers from Yunguyo. Here, a 5000m-long rock formation resembles a Culebra (snake), whose head is a viewpoint looking over to Isla del Sol. The area around here is known for its isolated villages and shamans.
Colectivos from the terminal zonal in Puno stop here (8 Soles, 2 hours); they are marked with signs for Yunguyo or Desaguadero.
If you are drawn to the idea of staying longer in Bolivia, Lonely Planet's Bolivia guidebook has comprehensive Information.
Just across the border from Yunguyo, Copacabana is a restful Bolivian town on Lake Titicaca's south shore. For centuries it has been the site of religious pilgrimages, and today local and international pilgrims flock to its fiestas. Small and bright, it makes a handy base for visiting famous Isla Del Sol and Isla de la Luna. On the weekend it's full of visitors from La Paz; during the week, it snoozes.
In the 16th century, the town was presented with an image of the Virgen de la Candelaria (now Bolivia's patron saint), sparking a slew of miracles. Copacabana's Moorish cathedral, where the Virgen is housed in a mystifyingly insalubrious chapel, is still a pilgrimage site.
Be prepared for heavy rains, especially during December and January, and chilly tights year-round.
Much of the action in Copacabana revolves around Plaza 2 de Febrero and 6 de Agosto, the main commercial drag, which runs east to west. The transportation hub is Av 16 de Julio at Plaza Sucre, where buses terminate. At the western end of 6 de Agosto is the lake and a walkway (Costanera), which traces the lakeshore.
The sparkling white Mudejar cathedral, with its domes and colorful Azulejos (blue Portuguese-style ceramic tiles), dominates the town.
The cathedral’s little atrium carved by Inca Tupac Yupanqui's grandson, Francisco Yupanqui, is incased above the altar upstairs in the niche (camarín); note, visiting hours can be unreliable. The statue is never moved from the cathedral, as superstition suggests that its disturbance would precipitate a devastating flood of Lake Titicaca.
The cathedral is a repository for both European and local religious art and the Museo (per person 10 Bolivares, mínimum 4 persons) contains some interesting articles - offerings from hopeful individuals. Unfortunately, the museum is open only to groups of four or more (unless you'll be happy to pay) and you'll most probably need to chase down a sister to arrange your visit.
The summit of Cerro Calvario can be reached in half an hour and is well worth the climb, especially in the late afternoon to watch the sunset over the lake. The trail to the summit begins near the end of Calle o Destacamento, northwest of Plaza Sucre, and climbs past, the 14 stations of the cross.
Musen Taypi is a small, private cultural museum within the grounds of Hotel Rosario. It features a small, lovely collection of antiquities and cultural displays in the region. Here, too, is Jalsuri, a fair-trade craft shop selling quality artesanía (handicrafts). This museum is located on Paredes street, near Costanera.
People buy miniature objects (such as diplomas, passports, and home appliances) in the hope that they will be converted into reality. Traditional music and dance fill the main plazas and an effigy of an Ekeko (a person representing abundance) is paraded around. It is celebrated on January 24.
A bash honoring the patron saint of Copacabana and all of Bolivia, with music, traditional Aymara dancing, drinking, and feasting. Celebrations culminate with the corralling of 100 bulls.
As part of the Holy Week celebrations, the town fills with pilgrims on Good Friday, with processions.
Copacabana stages its biggest event during the first week of August. It's characterized by round-the-clock music, parades, brass bands, fireworks, and amazing alcohol consumption. This coincides with a traditional pilgrimage that brings thousands of Peruvians into the town to visit the Virgin.
The most famous island on Lake Titicaca is Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun), the legendary birthplace of Manco Cápac and his sister-wife Mama Ocllo, and indeed the sun itself. Both Isla del Sol and Isla de la Luna (Island of the Moon) have Inca ruins, reached by delightful walking trails through spectacular scenery dotted with traditional villages - there are no cars on the islands. Sunshine and altitude can take their toll, so bring extra water, food, and sunblock. You can visit the main sights in a day, but staying overnight is far more rejuvenating.
Water is a precious commodity. The island does not yet have access to water mains and supplies are carried by person or donkey, Please bear this in mind; think twice before taking showers.
Note: in the high season (June to August and also during festivals) prices may double.
Isla del Sol's Inca Remains to include the Chincana labyrinth complex in the north, fortress-like Pilkokayna, and the verdant, gorgeous Inca Stairway in the south.
The Chincana is the site of the sacred Titi Khar'ka (Rock of the Pinna.), which features in the Inca creation legend and gave the lake its name. The largest villages are Yumani to the south and Ch'alkipampa to the north.
Far less touristic, quiet Isla de la Luna boasts the partially rebuilt ruins of the convent that housed virgins of the sun – women chosen at a young age to serve as nuns to the sun god Inti.