Have you ever been somewhere where you took one look around and were like…uh, why did I want to come here? Well, that’s Puno. It’s the kind of place where you have to remind yourself of the reason for being there as well as work hard to see why it is worth checking out in its own right. Puno doesn’t have a whole lot that would interest the average traveller nor even one who likes to get off the “beaten track”. But what it does have is location.
So, where is this Holy Grail of Travel?
Puno is in south-west (ish) Peru. It’s a port city that sits on the shores of Lake Titicaca, hemmed in by surrounding hills and mountains. It’s very much a hillside city; the centre is pretty flat but if you wander up the side streets, you’ll quickly be huffing and puffing. Especially since it has an altitude of 3800 meters. If you wanted another excuse not to wander around too much, this is it.
Why do people go to Puno?
Not many people go to Puno for Puno. They go because it is the primary launching pad for any excursions out onto Lake Titicaca. There are also several interesting ruins nearby, including Sillustani’s funerary towers. Sometimes people also pass through here on their way to Bolivia, which lies on the other side of the lake.
Okay, but surely there is something to do in Puno itself?
If you are like me and believe that everywhere has some sort of charm, here are the things to do in Puno while there:
Wander the streets: Seriously. Just pick a street and start wandering. You’ll come across plazas with churches (two below), a market, and some interesting (and not so interesting) architecture. There is also the people watching.
Visit the churches: There are two churches to check out in Puno.
- Iglesia de San Juan: Simple church, fairly standard, built in 1876. Mostly worth visiting because it has a sign in front stating it is a UNESCO Heritage site…it isn’t one…
- Catedral Basílica San Carlos Borromeo: Built in 1757, this cathedral sits on one side of the Plaza de Armas. The outside façade is pretty with lots of carvings to keep you looking.
Have a meal or a drink: Puno has a few quite decent restaurants. I was surprised, especially considering how touristy this town is. Two places that I recommend are:
- Restaurant and Pizzeria Mojsa (Plaza de Armas): decently priced, good food, nice atmosphere. Can get busy so eat early or make reservations.
- Restaurant Colors (Calle Lima): Modern Andean cuisine (I had an alpaca steak) and North American dishes, decently priced, free wifi! Also good as a drink spot.
Visit the panoramic viewpoints: Note that I did not do this one. I only learned of it after my visit to Puno, unfortunately. Some say not to go due to potential for muggings. Others say there are local police around and the view is definitely worth the visit. I say ask your lodgings on the current safety situation and make your decision on whether or not to go from that.
So, should you visit Puno?
Quite frankly, even I was ultimately convinced that Puno really is only good for being a base for day trips. But! If you are open minded, it can still be a pleasant place if you ended up scheduling an afternoon (or even a day) in Puno itself. But if you do, keep your expectations low – really it is an opportunity just to experience a rustic town. If you’re only passing through the town, you can see “central” Puno in perhaps 30 minutes. If you meander and have a meal or two, you can have a pleasant day here. The rest of your time will be day trips. So, to answer the question if you should visit Puno, I say, “Eh. For a day, why not?”