The past and present of Puno is largely influenced by its alluring neighbor, Lake Titicaca.
The Inca Empire reigned from the 14th through the mid-15th century. Their lands extended over present-day Peru and into parts of Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, and Ecuador.
Lake Titicaca was sacred to the Incas. According the legend, Viracocha, the Inca God of Creation, emerged from the deep blue depths of Lake Titicaca and created the sun, the moon, the stars, and mankind. The discovery of gold and silver added to the region’s appeal. The Incas also used the altiplano landscape to cultivate high-altitude crops and raise herds of llamas and alpacas for wool and meat.
The Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire transpired from 1531 to 1533. Francisco Pizarro and his troops led the fight to dismantle Inca rule in Cusco. Shortly thereafter they arrived to the Puno and Lake Titicaca region on a mission to colonize southern Peru. Interest in the region was fueled by gold and silver, which led to violent conflicts during the mid-1600s over power over the mines.
Puno city was established in 1668 as the capital of Puno Province of southern Peru. The Catholic influence brought by Spanish colonialism is echoed by the grand churches built in the following decades that still line the streets of Puno.
During the 1780s, the indigenous communities in the Puno and Lake Titicaca region were among many that fought for their independence from Spain. Peru declared its independence from Spain in 1821.
As the main port of Lake Titicaca, the commercial importance of Puno continued to grow. In 1861, the Peruvian government ordered two small cargo-passenger “gunboats” for Lake Titicaca to improve the trade of regional goods. The Yavari ship (now the Yavari Ship Museum in Puno) was one of these iron ships that was carried in pieces by mules from the coast all the way to Puno where it was rebuilt.
Today, Puno city is celebrated as the folklore capital of Peru. The largest annual celebration in Puno is the Feast of the Virgin of Candlemas, in honor of the town’s patron saint. It’s a colorful mixture of Catholic beliefs paired with native Aymara and Quechua dances from the region. Travelers use Puno city as a hub to visit the exciting cultural highlights of Lake Titicaca and other highlights.
Festival of the Virgin of Candlemas (Candelaria)
The Candelaria festival in Puno stands out as one of the most elaborate cultural celebrations in Peru. The festival is often compared to Brazil’s Carnival in Rio de Janeiro because of its grandiose scale, number of participants, and religious syncretism of Catholic evangelization mixed with native Aymara and Quechua folklore.
Held during the first two weeks of February in honor of the city’s patron saint, the festivity begins with a religious procession at San Juan Bautista Church. Parades, live music, and even fireworks unfold in the following days. More than 40,000 dancers decked out in beautiful costumes perform in folkloric dance competitions. During the celebrations, thousands of tourists and locals mix and mingle in shared merriment.
In 2014, UNESCO recognized the annual Feast of Virgin of Candlemas in Puno as an Intangible Cultural Heritage practice. Amidst the whirlwind of activity, it’s easy to see how the Puno earned its title as Peru’s folklore capital.
Puno Cathedral (Catedral de Puno)
Puno Cathedral borders the western side of the city’s Plaza de Armas. Built in 1757 under the direction of Peruvian architect Simón de Asto, the church is considered one of the best expressions of Baroque architecture infused with Andean elements. The intricate designs carved into the stone facade at its entrance are particularly captivating illuminated at night. In 1930, a fire destroyed many of the original paintings in the Puno Cathedral. Inside, the marble altar designed by celebrated Peruvian architect Emilio Hart-Terré is a standout feature in an otherwise simple interior.
- Location: Plaza de Armas, Puno
- Admission: Free
San Juan Bautista Church (Iglesia de San Juan)
San Juan Bautista Church is the sanctuary of Virgin of Candlemas (Virgen de Candelaria). The city’s popular Feast of the Virgin of Candlemas celebration takes place during the first two weeks of February. Morning mass is held at San Juan Bautista Church on the first day and then the statue of the Virgin is carried along the streets during a religious procession accompanied with festive dancing and music.
The church itself started out as a simple adobe chapel. During the mid 19th century, it was rebuilt and became the San Juan Bautista Church. The yellow church with red trim bears a distinct French-style exterior that you’ll see passing through Pino Park (Parque Pino) in town.
- Location: Pino Park, Puno
- Admission: Free
Carlos Dreyer Museum (Museo Carlos Dreyer)
Head to the Carlos Dreyer Museum for a look at the Puno region’s history and culture. The museum has several artifacts displayed in an Inca Room, Lithic Gallery, Regional Archaeology Hall, Sillustani room, Art Gallery, Colonial Room, Religions Art Room and the Dreyer Inca Room. The well preserved mummies and gold pieces in the Sillustani room are among the impressive relics. These treasures were discovered at the tower-like ancient burial site of Sillustani, now an important archaeological site located outside of the Puno City.
The fellow for which the museum is named, Mr. Carlos Dreyer (1895-1975), was a German artist. In 1930, Dreyer settled in Peru along the shores of Lake Titicaca and established an art studio in Puno. The beautiful Andean landscapes inspired his artwork and the rich history of the region became a lifelong interest. Dreyer collected hundred of Pre-Hispanic, Colonial and ethnological objects during his lifetime, which his children donated to the Municipal Council of Puno after his passing. These artifacts were integrated with other historical pieces, now on display at the the Carlos Dreyer Museum.
- Location: Calle Conde de Lemos Jr. 289 (2 blocks from the main plaza of Puno)
- Admission: 15 Soles for foreigners
Yavari Boat Museum
Visitors can tour the Yavari Boat Museum docked along the shores of Lake Titicaca near Puno city. During the 19th century, this iron steamboat was used to transport natural resources (such as silver) across the lake and connected many remote communities.
The ship’s long voyage to Lake Titicaca in Peru is quite a tale. Purchased by the Peruvian government from a British-based company, the Yavari from Europe sailed across the Atlantic Ocean and around the Cape Horn to Peru. It was then dismantled into thousands of pieces and hauled by mule into the Andean region to Lake Titicaca. This was no easy task and took a painstaking five years to transport all the parts and rebuilt the Yavari ship on the shores of Lake Titicaca. On December 26, 1870, the ship made its maiden voyage on the lake waters.
In 1987, efforts to restore the deteriorating frame of the Yavari ship began after have been abandoned. Its engine has since been fixed, original parts repaired, and the exterior painted. In 1998, the Yavari ship was declared a museum by Peru’s Ministry of Culture. This historic boat also doubles as the Yavari Bed & Breakfast. Overnight reservations can accommodate up to seven guests in four cabins with bunks.
- Location: The Yavari Boat Museum is at the dock of the Sonesta Posadas del Inca Hotel in Puno.
- Admission: Free (Donations accepted)
Naval Museum (Museo Naval)
The Naval museum opened its doors in 1999 to showcase the maritime heritage of Lake Titicaca, from Inca-constructed reed boats centuries ago to steamships transporting goods across the lake during the 19th century. On display at the small but intriguing museum are historic documents, old photos, refurbished ship equipment, and honorary relics, like the sword of renowned 18th century Peruvian naval officer Miguel Grau.
- Location: Av. El Sol 725, Puno
- Admission: Free (Donations accepted)
Landmarks & Lookouts
Deustua Memorial Arch (Arco Deustua)
The lofty stone Deustua Memorial Arch over the street Jr. Independencia in Puno pays tribute to the soldiers who fought during the Wars of Independence against Spain. It was built in 1847 by General Don Alejandro Deustua.
Condor Hill (Mirador de Kuntur Wasi)
The large statue of a condor with outstretched wings can be seen from the streets of Puno atop Condor Hill. Visiting this lookout point offers sweeping views of the city and Lake Titicaca. Keep in mind that the top of Condor Hill is located at a whopping 13,180 ft (4,017 m) above sea level. To get there, it’s best to hire a taxi if you have not had time to acclimate to the altitude so you don’t not overexert yourself walking up the series of steps to the top.
Note: Condor Hill is not a tourist frequented site. Visiting at night is not advised.
Puma Uta Lookout (Parque Mirador Puma Uta)
Puma Uta is located about 2 mi (3 km) northwest of Puno. At the hilltop lookout point, a large statue of a puma casts a permanent gaze over the port city and Lake Titicaca below. It’s the perfect spot to snap some great photos!
The following are our preferred Puno and Lake Titicaca hotels, selected for their outstanding service, ideal location, and excellent amenities.
Libertador Lago Titicaca
Isla Esteves s/n, Puno
Libertador Lago Titicaca is a luxurious low-rise hotel located about 3 mi (5 km) from Puno city itself and nestled right on the shores of Lake Titicaca on a private peninsula. For travelers who enjoy tranquility in a lovely setting as well as high quality services, this elegant hotel is, without a doubt, one of the area’s most well-appointed lodging options. All 123 guest rooms are comfortable, tastefully decorated, and equipped with all latest modern amenities. In addition, they all boast splendid views of the shimmering Lake Titicaca and its floating islands, as does the excellent restaurant. This hotel is also known for the excellence of its expert staff.
Casa Andina Premium Puno
Avenida Sesqui Centenario 1970, Sector Huaje, Puno
Boasting magnificent views of Lake Titicaca, this upscale hotel in Puno, featuring an amazing gourmet restaurant, bar and terrace, will guarantee you a memorable stay. The traditional Andean architectural theme of Casa Andina Premium Collection Puno can best be described as understated elegance, where obvious care has been taken to allow the spectacular surroundings to speak for themselves, rather than detract from them. Rooms are sophisticatedly furnished in a classic but elegant style, and most of them feature attractive wooden balconies from which to admire the spectacular views of Lake Titicaca.
Sonesta Posada del Inca Puno
Sesquicentenario 610 Sector Huaje, Puno
The Sonesta Posada del Inca rests on the shores of Lake Titicaca, just a few miles from the main plaza of Puno. From the property’s terraces and outside seating areas are sweeping views of the deep blue lake waters and snow-capped peaks of the Cordilleras Real in the distance. All 70 rooms, available as double or matrimonial, have sound-proof windows, individual climate controls, and Wi-Fi accessibility. The on-site Inkafé offers a buffet breakfast and the serves a varied menu for lunch and dinner. Adding to the points of interest nearby the hotel, including the islands of Lake Titicaca, is the historic Yavari Boat Museum moored at the hotel’s dock.
Avenida Chulluni 195, Puno
A few minutes drive from downtown, Xima Puno Hotel (formerly Eco Inn) is a charming hotel with beautifully landscaped grounds. As expected, this modern hotel offers great comfort and excellent service at affordable prices. Each of its spacious rooms, 61 in total, are adorned with wooden floors, blackout curtains, and splashes of red decorative flare. Open daily, the hotel’s Ayara Restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
See all Lake Titicaca & Puno Hotels
Where to Eat
The culinary scene in Puno is not as refined as Lima or Cusco, but there are still some great sit-down restaurants to enjoy a hearty meal after a long day of exploration. Mojar Restaurant and La Casa del Corregidor Cafe Bar are among the most popular options located on the city’s main plaza. Don’t forget to browse the restaurant menu at your hotel as these kitchens are often hidden oases of culinary goodness.
Mojsar Restaurant is one of the nicest dining options in Puno. Its relaxed ambience and charming balcony with views overlooking the Puno Cathedral is a great way to unwind after a long day of exploration. Order from a well-assorted menu of typical Peruvian dishes including Aji de Gallina, Lomo Saltado, and Rocoto Relleno.
Location: Jr. Lima 635 (2nd floor), Puno
Cafe Bar de la Casa del Corregidor
Bordering the town’s main plaza, this cafe is a pleasant spot to enjoy a casual meal. Its menu includes Peruvian and international soup, salad, sandwich, and savory main course options.
Location: Jr. Deustua 576, Puno
When is the best time to visit Puno?
- Peak travel season is during the months of June, July, and August. These months are at the heart of the region’s dry season.
- Shoulder season falls between the rainy season and peak dry season; April-May and September-November. The weather during these months is pleasant and there are fewer tourists. April and May – after the tail end of the rainy season – is a particularly beautiful time to visit Puno because the surrounding landscapes are green and flowers are in bloom.
What should I pack?
Pack some short and long sleeve t-shirts in addition to a warm jacket to wear at night when temperatures get really chilly. Plan to dress in layers so you can add and remove clothing as the temperature changes. A comfortable pair of shoes with good traction are ideal for day tours organized from Puno city. Don’t forget protection from the strong sun; glasses, hat, and sunblock.
How long should I stay in Puno?
The following are some popular Puno-based itineraries;
- A 2-day itinerary is a popular option. Travelers usually arrive to Puno by way of bus or flight from Cusco or Arequipa. After checking into your hotel, you can enjoy the rest of the day at your leisure exploring the city attractions around the main plaza. For a dose of the region’s history, check out the Yavari Boat Museum or the Carlos Dreyer Museum. Then gear up for a tour of the fascinating islands of Lake Titicaca the second day. Our expert guide will take you to the floating islands of Uros made of totora reeds and then to Taquile Island to experience residents maintain time-honored traditions.
- A 3-day itinerary gives you time to visit the region’s best historical sites and appreciate the incredible beauty of the natural landscapes at a slower pace. Explore the city of Puno and enjoy nice sit down dinner on your first day. After a restful sleep, wake up on day two for a cultural exploration of Lake Titicaca’s the islands. Then take a guided tour of Sillustani Chullpas – a sacred burial site now archaeological site – on a hilltop overlooking Lake Umayo about 45 minutes outside of Puno.
How much should I tip my tour guide?
Tipping is a great way to show your appreciation for a job well done, and warmly accepted by your guide. Below are suggested tipping ranges to give your guide for a half or full day tour.
- Half day tour: 10-30 Soles per person
- Full day tour: 20-60 Soles per person
*The ranges represent a total amount that varies with the number of people in your tour group and can be divided amongst everyone. Of course, the amount of tip you leave is at your own discretion.