Updated April 2020
I lived in Puno, Peru for 2 months a few years ago while working on a research project. Even though I spent a lot of time collecting data, I still got to explore this very unique spot in the altiplano of Peru just off the coast of Lake Titicaca. I used my Peru Lonely Planet guidebook to navigate Puno, but after living there myself, I felt I got to know the place pretty well. (Plus the Internet doesn’t have that much info on Puno either.) So in the end, I decided to just make my own guide to Puno!
Without further ado…
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Guide to Puno: What to pack
Puno has two seasons: dry (North American summer) and wet (North American winter). Most people choose to travel to Peru in the dry season – June, July, August – and will need to be prepared for extremely sunny and intense days and cold nights up at altitude.
Sunscreen is a must during the daytime. I brought BB cream, a combination of tinted moisturizer and sunblock that you can get at Walmart or any drugstore. Your face, neck, and hands will be the things most exposed to the sun so think about protecting them. Bring sunglasses with UV protection. You can also buy a *really cool* hat once you get to Peru:
For the cold, most travelers choose layers. I see a lot of people with sporty ultralight down/synthetic jackets or jackets with a waterproof/wind-breaking capacity.
During the day, one or two layers on top will be just fine but at night you will need more like 2-3 layers on top and perhaps 2 layers on bottom, including nice thick, warm socks. Most accommodations will NOT HAVE HEATING (although some will offer a heater for an extra cost), but thankfully they know how to dress a bed with thick blankets. (My bed had a regular soft blanket, a down comforter, and two thick alpaca wool blankets. And I slept with a hot water bottle.)
You can easily pick up wooly hats, socks, gloves, and scarves in Puno. They also sell a lot of thick, fleece-lined (although probably really cheaply made) decorative leggings both in the tourist shops and at the local market. My fleece leggings are perfect for the weather here I find.
Hiking boots are great to have. Mine are the Merrell Moab Mid hiking boots and I got them at REI. It’s very normal to wear hiking boots all the time, even when not hiking in Puno. I wear either those or my knee-high slip-on black boots every day. Even though I brought running shoes, I’ve never found a need for them.
If you want proper hiking gear (packs, sleeping bags, poles, adventure pants, etc.) don’t expect to get them in Puno. You can get them in Cuzco instead, or bring them from home.
Another thing to take into consideration is the altitude. I highly recommend getting a prescription filled for Diamox before you travel. You are supposed to start taking it before you get up to altitude and boy oh boy does it work wonders. It will make you have to pee a million times and you need to be sure to keep hydrated, but it will help relieve the initial symptoms of altitude sickness.
I know you can get a Peruvian drug called Soroche in Puno if you don’t go for the Diamox. I have never used it so I don’t know how well it works but it’s a thought! I found that coca tea, which is readily available in Puno, is a nice supplement and helps relieve symptoms short-term.
When I first got to Puno, I noticed I would be out of breath really easily and wasn’t hungry at all, but all of the most obvious altitude symptoms will fade within the first week. Oh, except increased flatulence. I’ll let you Google and discover that one for yourself;)
If you are planning on traveling to the Amazon region in Peru, you should grab a prescription for malaria prophylaxis (check which prophylaxis is recommended on the CDC website). You will also need a Yellow Fever vaccination (which is expensive in the States but it does last you 10 years of travel!) – you can get it in Peru for between 5 soles and 180 soles depending on if you go to a public hospital or private clinic.
Other packing info
Here are some things that are not so easy to find in Puno:
- Hair elastics
- Contact lens solution
- Any Apple products or accessories
- Any books in English
If you are a student GET AN ISIC CARD before you travel. It will save you money on certain things like tours and tickets to see Machu Picchu. #worthit
Where to stay
Casona Inka’s Dream – Stay within walking distance of the town’s main tourist area and markets in this budget pick. The reviews are great, with hot showers, friendly staff, and great breakfast.
Uros Marka Lodge – You can still stay on a floating island on the lake for a decent price. Uros Marka Lodge has great reviews – guests loved going fishing with their hosts!
Titicaca Marka Lodge – Stay overnight on one of Lake Titicaca’s floating islands. These lodge’s feature tasteful decorations, first-class service from your hosts, and lounge chairs where you can star-gaze and listen to the sounds of nature after all the tourists leave for the day.
Titilaka Hotel – This is peak luxury, and the price tag reflects that. The Titilaka Hotel is a boutique luxury hotel with modern amenities off the coast, outside the town of Puno. They offer activities and incredible meals, and all rooms have lake views.
Puno Guide: Activities
Puno Day trips: Uros Islands, Taquile, Amantani, Sillustani
I’m guessing that if you’re passing through, you came to Puno to see Lake Titicaca. No guide to Puno would be complete without mention of the floating Uros Islands. I’m not sure what the deal is with the other islands (I was told they aren’t worth it), but you should probably check out the Uros islands. They are made entirely of a floating mud bed topped with floating reeds.
You can walk down to the water to the end of the pier where the souvenir market is and buy a return boat ticket (12 soles) and entry to the islands ticket (5 soles) and go. I think something was 2 soles too but I can’t remember what it was. You don’t need to be on any sort of official tour ticket, but do ask questions to the people selling you the tickets.
For example, check if the tour is in English at all, check when the boat will return you to Puno, ask if there will be any required fees once you’re there (I had to pay to go on one of the traditional reed boats, pictured below, once I got to the island and I had no way out of it. It wasn’t that expensive but it was annoying).
If the Uros people offer to cook you food, find out how much it is and say yes if you’re hungry. They will literally grab the fish from the lake and cook them right then and there for you and from what I could tell the prices were the same as at a tourist restaurant (17 soles).
Pedestrian street (Jirón Lima)
If you for some reason end up staying in another part of the city, you should definitely check out Calle Lima. It’s not that impressive as far as tourist resources go (definitely no Khao San Road), but has things tourists need/like like English menus, souvenirs, tour tickets, banks, and cafes.
Puno’s closest thing to an actual park, it’s really just a city square with a fountain in the middle and benches. A great place to grab an ice cream and sit in the sun.
I’m not really clear what this is or why it’s here… Apparently it’s an important ship and you can visit it from Puno.
Kuntur Wasi viewpoint (the condor)
If you look up into the mountains, you will see the condor flying high above Puno. You can hike up to the condor and beyond from the Plaza de Armas. Just follow signs for Kuntur Wasi to the left of the cathedral. Warning: If you aren’t acclimatized (and even if you are!) this is an extremely strenuous uphill hike that will leave you sucking for air and taking lots of breaks. But the view from the top is wonderful.
Plaza de Armas and the Cathedral
Worth it to check out, take some photos outside. The inside is, well, it’s a cathedral.
The daily parade
Whether you are here for a few days or a long time, you will surely witness one of Puno’s many decadent parades. The people in the parades, who are often children it seems, get dressed up in costumes or traditional clothing and dance while marching bands play music LOUDLY and at varying quality. The people in Puno seemingly need no justification to parade – it literally happens every single day, so the specialness erodes quite quickly unfortunately. Another celebratory thing: firecrackers. Any day, any time.
Cerrito de Huajsapata (the man on the hill)
This is another viewpoint you can climb to. If you are facing the mountains, you’ll see the statue of the man lower and to the right of the condor. Follow signs for it from the right of the cathedral in Plaza de Armas. This little climb is way less strenuous than the condor.
Lake Titicaca walk
There is a pathway you can walk along the water – you make a sort of loop, even going through the souvenir market. Start by walking left along the water and follow the pathway in a loop back over the water and through the market stalls.
Puno is definitely not known for its nightlife. There are a few bars and clubs here and there but my impression is that most travelers passing through have early nights and early mornings and aren’t looking for a party. However, if you’re feeling a bit festive, here are some Puno nightlife options:
This place is right on the pedestrian street. It has lots of funky wall coverings including flags on the ceiling and blacklights in the back. The food is not so great but I haven’t had any drinks there yet so can’t speak to that.
The Megadisco (Domino) on Jr. Libertad
I lived across the street from this place (yaaaay). I think it’s mostly locals and loud Spanish music but I’ve never been inside.
I saw signs for it everywhere but have never been (oddly).
This place specializes in nitrogen-frozen drinks. You can get pisco drinks with a twist: with some sort of juice balls in the drink, or frozen and “smoking” with liquid nitrogen. It’s a fun little novelty place.
Above a restaurant that apparently isn’t very good. It looks like another loud local spot for dancing!
This is the local market. It has two stories – you can find raw food items like fruit and veg and meats on the bottom floor. The top has some places selling prepared foods and juices, as well as some clothing stalls and electronics stalls (you can get your electronics fixed cheaply here).
Puno’s less impressive Walmart. Good place to go for pantry items, electronics (like a hot water boiler), water bottles, some prepared foods, fruit and veg, clothing, etc. They don’t have the biggest variety and probably will be more expensive for fruit and veg than the mercado, but they are consistent and you don’t feel like you’re gonna get sick from eating the food. On Los Incas street, 3 blocks from Parque Pino.
Saturday outdoor market (Feria)
This is the local market, selling mostly things like boots, hats, leggings, and skirts. You can also get keys made here. There are some fruit stands as well. If you walk back into the permanent shops, you can find electronics stores that sell cameras, binoculars, and flashlights. I don’t know how to describe where the market takes place – it’s east from Calle Lima towards the water and is on a few streets running parallel to the water. You can’t miss it.
The souvenir/artisan shops by the lake
You will see these if you walk down to the pier to go to the Uros Islands. It’s just stall after stall of souvenirs – hats, gloves, bags, socks, colorful alpaca wool items. I haggle for things when I’m there and start to walk away if they won’t drop the price. It’s fun and effective.
The shops on Calle Lima
There are a few pseudo-convenience stores around here which is nice if you just want a candy bar or bottle of water. A lot of these shops will take/develop photos for you too. They have postcards as well and of course all of the souvenir items you could ask for.
What to Eat
This is a personal staple for me. This condiment is seemingly the only way to make your food spicy in these parts. It’s green or red sauce and you can ask for it at any restaurant. It’s pronounced ah-HEE but you can also ask for picante or rocoto picante and you’ll get the same thing.
A menú is not the same as a menu (la carta); it is a fixed priced, multi-course meal offered by most restaurants. You usually get a soup, a main dish, a dessert, and a drink for a set price. It can be fun to order the menú because you get to try a few things and it is usually cheaper than ordering a la carte.
Trout and kingfish
Lake Titicaca specialties! You can get fish any way you want it, but their favorite is fried. I have had really yummy trucha frita at one of the outdoor places just outside the artisan market by the lake. I have also had salty but delicious trucha in a tomato and onion sauce (I don’t know what the dish was called) at one of the restaurants on the pedestrian street.
This was our favorite cafe. They have really yummy breakfast options for great prices. We always got the “American breakfast” which comes with tea, fresh juice, bread, eggs, marmalades and honey, and a plate of fruit (12 soles). You can also get German waffles with delicious raw honey or even crepes here. The place is run by a European (German?) man and his Peruvian wife, and we found that not only is the inside more Westernized than other cafes but the food was as well. They don’t have an extensive menu, but they have the basics. The address is 142 Jr. Lambayeque.
Known as the “best restaurant in Puno” and in a prime location too – just in front of the Cathedral. Prices are around the 30 soles mark so it’s actually not that bad and the food is tasty. It’s nothing crazy special but the quality is definitely a tier better than other restaurants and the view over Plaza de Armas is great.
Queso helado and mora flavored ice cream
Queso helado is a bit of a misnomer. It has nothing to do with cheese but it is just a certain type of ice cream popular in Arequipa. There is a woman who sells it on the street (around Parque Pino) in the afternoons sometimes. It kinda tastes like Christmas. You can find mora flavored ice cream in the ice cream shops. It means “berry” flavor but I couldn’t really describe the taste so you’ll have to try it for yourself!
I recommend trying mate de coca (coca tea) if you are in Peru. You might not like it – it has a very earthy taste – but it’s worth a go. They also have other yummy tea flavors: muña (a minty herb), canela y clavo (cinnamon and clove), and sometimes even eucalyptus.
Pollo a la brasa con papas fritas
If there’s anything Peru knows how to do, it’s rotisserie chicken and french fries and a Puno guide would not be complete without it. There are a ton of pollerías in Puno – especially around Plaza Vea and the Mercado Central. I got a chicken leg, a hefty serving of fries, a green soup, ají and other sauces, and a small salad for 8 soles at Pollería Parador. It looks sort of sketchy from the outside but is nice on the inside and has really great french fries! Located at JR. Carlos B. Oquendo 154 Cercado.
Haven’t had enough fried things yet? The traditional chicharrónes are made with pork but you can find chicken or even fish fried this way too.
There are SO MANY PIZZA PLACES in Puno. You can get a personal-sized pizza and they make them in the fogónes (pizza-style ovens) in the middle of the restaurant, so these places tend to be warmer than other restaurants. My recommendation is to order it with less cheese than usual. They really pile on the cheese and it’s not the usual pizza cheese.
Surprisingly, Puno has bomb avocados. You can get them with salad at restaurants, or just buy avocados at the market and eat them by themselves. You can also get these 1 sol sandwiches – just slices of avocado with salt on bread (pan con palta) – from street food stalls. They will usually also be selling various types of drinks like quinoa juice and you have to stand there and drink them from a proper glass (no para llevar) if you want to try them. You can also get pan con palta at the stalls on the second level of the mercado central.
Juices and smoothies
You can get these anywhere and they are always nice and fresh! Well done, Puno.
This is a great basic restaurant a bit off the pedestrian street (so better prices) – they have a big alpaca on their sign. They have a few menú options, with soup, appetizer, main dish, drink, and dessert for like 18 soles. I always got the sopa del día for lunch for 8 soles, which was usually something with potatoes, maize/rice, chuños (rehydrated potatoes), carrot, and a bit of meat. I then add a ton of ají to make it nice and spicy 😉 Jackie liked their hamburguesa de pollo. They are located at JR. Grau 404 Cercado.
This is a restaurant on Calle Lima with some unusual Western-style offerings. They have a sort of English-breakfast with beans, egg, sausage, and tomato. They offer a gyro-style item which never tried, as well as falafel and something called The African Chicken (or something like that) – it’s turmeric chicken in a wrap served with olives, feta, tomato, and cucumber. I wouldn’t say the food is completely outstanding but it’s definitely consistent and better than nearly all the other restaurants on Calle Lima.
Peru is known for its chocolate. Just make sure when you order the hot chocolate, you ask how it’s prepared (if there’s no milk, don’t get it!). It is often served without being sweetened and you are given sugar to make it sweet to your own preferences.
Guide to Puno: Other
The post office – Serpost – is located at Moquegua 269 and has quite long hours for a post office. It’s even open on Saturdays and Sundays. Sending a postcard to the States costs 6.50 soles.
The bus station is south of city and it’s called Terminal Terrestre. There is a tourist tax I think of 2-3 soles so be prepared for that when you show up for your bus.
You cannot fly straight into Puno, but you can fly into Juliaca which is about an hour away, and make your way to Puno by public transportation.
Did I forget anything in this Puno guide? Add in the comments below!