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Lake Titicaca, Puno (Peru) and the Search for Cuy Begins

Posted by on April 10, 2011

Post for Sunday, October 10, 2010.
Sunday morning we headed down early to the bus station to catch a bus to Puno, Peru. Another border crossing – for Andrew it’d be his last. The bus itself was ok, but it wasn’t too serious for only a five hour trip. We took the ‘fast’ route, which involves going along the coast of Lake Titicaca to Desaguadero, getting stamped on both sides of the bridge, and continuing on to Puno.

Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca


The border crossing itself was a little confusing, being dropped off on one side and picked up again 30 minutes later on the other, but otherwise you’re basically left to your own devices. Already we saw the effects of mass tourism – hawkers everywhere, some beggers, dodgy exchange houses, and kids offering to fill out your passport forms for money. And mototaxis! Ok not necessarily a sign of tourism, but I’d been wanting to see them – a sort of scooter with a sofa attached, for want of a better description.
Oh good, we're going the right way

Oh good, we're going the right way


Not long after lunchtime we arrived in Puno. We’d discovered in La Paz that The Point is actually a chain of hostels, and if you stay at four of them you get a free drink at each new one, and ‘a prize’ at your last. So given that the Point, La Paz was pretty decent, we figured we’d give it a go.

Puno is at 3822m, on the western shores of Lake Titicaca. Certainly still at altitude, it gets pretty cool at night. This is something I’ve not mentioned much – at altitude, as soon as that sun disappears behind the mountains, the temperature starts plummeting fast!

Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca

Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca


We got a taxi to the hostel at the top of the hill that Puno sits on, and were offered a twin room instead of a dorm as they weren’t terribly busy. I worked out it’d be the first night in about 44 nights that I hadn’t slept in a bunk bed! The view over Lake Titicaca, the giant lake separating Peru and Bolivia (and the highest commercially navigable lake in the world) was fairly impressive. The lake serves as a practice ground for Bolivia’s Navy – while they used to have access to the Pacific Ocean, Peru and Chile took that away during a couple of historical encounters.

We did a quick ‘tourist run’ around town, checking out the main square, as there’s not much else there. We also spotted some restaurants for later that served cuy and llama. We’ll come back to that later.

The Floating Reed Islands of the Uros

The Floating Reed Islands of the Uros


The hostel naturally was keen to get us onto a tour, and the thing to do in Puno is visit the floating islands of the Uros people, who live on Lake Titicaca. These are islands constructed entirely from reeds, and the tribes live on them their entire lives. The upside is if there’s a family problem, they can just cut the island in half. We had a short demonstration from the leader and were able to eat the ‘island banana’ – the reeds themselves, peel back the outside and eat the inner part. Not bad!

As an aside, I have a friend who is practically convinced that these are not ‘historical’ islands at all – he slept a night on one of the islands, and basically believes them to be set up purely as tourist traps. Cynical, one would think, until you visit them…

Ok, who stole the plug?

Ok, who stole the plug?


The downside for us, and what lends credit to his theory, is that they’re probably the most touristy thing I’d found so far, and were practically ramming souvenirs down our throats. An English couple was with us, and the four of us retreated to the boat that had taken us out there on the basis that a storm was coming. And just in time – as the rain started down, and lightning lit up the sky. Quite something being out on the water with a lightning storm all around you – the light was stunning and the rolling thunder deafening.
Storm clouds over Lake Titicaca and the floating Uros islands

Storm clouds over Lake Titicaca and the floating Uros islands


Back in town, we attempted to find cuy for dinner. Cuy is a Peruvian speciality, and a talking point of backpackers who either have tried it or are completely against the idea of it. Why would they be against trying a new food? Turns out many people have had cuy as pets when they were younger – that’s right, cuy means guinea pig :)
Lighting storm over Lake Titicaca

Lighting storm over Lake Titicaca


Unfortunately only two of the restaurants served it, and they were out, but they insisted Cusco was a better place to try it. We opted for llama instead, and were stoked to find it was also just as good as the alpaca from La Paz, if not better. A very lean meat, and apparently quite healthy eating in general.

We decided that we’d covered pretty much all there is to see in Puno, it is after all a handy stopping point and I’d really only wanted to visit the lake. We confirmed with the hostel a convenient time for a taxi in the morning down to the bus station – it wasn’t far and it was downhill, but this is how frustrating the altitude is – with heavy bags it’d take us quite a while! In fact going for dinner we’d even walked into town and taken a taxi back up! There were a couple of slots in the am, so even if a bus was full, we were pretty confident we’d get one to Cusco, the last major town before the jewel in Peru’s tourism crown – Machu Picchu…

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