At first sight of Puno, Peru the word “dive” immediately comes to mind.
No, I don’t mean dive in the beautiful blue sparkling lake called Titicaca in which it’s nestled in. I mean like a dive bar, the place is a dump. It’s a bunch of ugly clay buildings and streets littered with dump. Dump and litter seem to be the recurring theme of Peruvian and Bolivian roads.
Full of decaying buildings and strange smells, Puno is used as a stopover for most travelers making their transition from Peru to Bolivia. The bus station welcomes travelers to Lake Titicaca and the Puno Port which offers travelers the option to explore Puno’s main attraction, the Floating Island of Uros.
Outside the bus station are shops and vendors selling street food and various alpaca products. You’d have to take risks if you want to sample the street food. I managed not to catch anything funky while trying the soups and various ceviche offerings. But YMMV.
When you arrive by bus, you can book a tour of the Floating Islands of Urus. I’ve done this tour myself and would NOT recommend it to you. I’d say skip Puno altogether to head on towards Copacabana, Bolivia instead.
On tour, our guide told us that Peru has 60% of Lake Titicaca and Bolivia owns 40%. I’d venture to wager it would be a different story if I were over at the Bolivian side. As for the Floating Islands, it’s inhabited by the Uros. Hundreds of years ago they created the Floating Islands made of reed in Lake Titicaca to escape the Inca Empire.
This interesting feat of engineering seems enough to prompt you to want to visit the islands. But the tour quickly degenerates into the natives and tour guides using questionable methods to get you to buy trinkets and spend more money. The whole thing seems like a trap to get you to empty your wallets to keep the islands floating.
Whatever lifestyle the Uros had before the tourists came has gone the way of the dodo. I didn’t appreciate the fucking tour guide sneaking in the extra fee for riding a reed boat to hop over to the next island. The natives also pressured us to buy trinkets after a little song and dance.
A quick hop to the other side of the lake and the story’s different. Copacabana is nowhere near the dump that is Puno. Sure, litter is all over the place, but at least there’s a bunch of vantage points where the city itself looks gorgeous.
There’s no Floating Islands made of reeds made by a group of people escaping an empire. But there’s the fantastic Isla del Sol just a 2-hour boat ride away, and it’s far more interesting the Floating Island of Uros.
Copacabana looks like an epic beach resort by comparison. There’s a beachfront where you can just lay down and enjoy a few Cerveza or sample the Trucha in one of the many street vendors lining the waterfront. There’s a market on the main boulevard that’s fun to explore and the view on top of Cerro Carvallo is something not available in Puno or its famed Floating Island Uros.
If I’d known what I know now, I would have skipped Puno and hopped on over to Copacabana as soon as humanly possible. I hope this article gives you enough knowledge to decide and perhaps save you the time and money from gallivanting over to Puno. Maybe it will sway you from checking out the tourist trap that is the Floating Island of Uros if you ever make this trip.
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GOOD TO KNOW
- If I can redo Puno, I would have checked out the island of Tequili instead of Uros.
- Cerro Carvallo is a shrine with lit candles by pilgrims. This is the most refreshing view of Copacabana, and I highly recommend you hike to the top.
- Lake Titicaca is cold at night. Dress accordingly.
- Street food in Puno and its streets looks dodgy, but the fruits are safe.
- Trash is a massive issue in both places and sometimes can depress when seeing beautiful landscapes littered with them.
HAVE YOU BEEN TO PUNO OR COPACABANA?