Puno sits at over 3,800 meters on the shores of Lake Titicaca and is Peru’s folklore capital due to its festivals and strong indigenous culture. However, the city itself is not very pretty, doesn’t have good weather, and has a bit of a gloomy vibe. There aren’t any unmissable attractions in Puno, and the scenic Bolivian town of Copacabana offers a much different Lake Titicaca experience. The main reason I visited Puno was to do a homestay with an indigenous family on Amantaní Island, and it was certainly a fascinating experience.
What to Do
Amantaní Island Homestay – The tour includes visits to Amantaní and two other islands. You’ll depart Puno for Uros Island at 8 AM. After a stop, you continue to Amantaní Island where you meet your host family. You’ll have lunch together and then hike with the tour group to Pachatata temple and viewpoint. After a family dinner, there is an event where you dress in traditional clothing, have a few beers, and dance to local music. There is not much to do or see on the island, but it’s an opportunity to learn a little about life on Amantaní and see how simply the people live.
The next morning you go to Taquile Island to learn about the history of Lake Titicaca, watch an impressive demonstration of how they make shampoo from plants, and have lunch. This is the last stop on the tour and you return to Puno around 3:30 PM.
The cost of the tour is 130 soles (S/) which includes transport, the homestay, and 3 meals. It’s usually 2-3 tourists per family and the accommodation and food are very basic. The host families do sell handicrafts, but aren’t pushy about it and are willing to answer questions about their life.
Amantaní Island is the best part of the tour because it’s an interesting experience to see a completely different lifestyle. The tour can be a bit boring at times because you spend so much time on the boat. If you have realistic expectations, you can take away positive things from the experience.
Uros Island – These floating reed islands are still inhabited by indigenous families. It’s unbelievable that people live on these tiny islands, but the visit here is incredibly awkward. You’re greeted by the women of the island singing a welcome song. Then, there’s a short presentation on how they built the islands and what life is like. After the presentation, there’s “local interaction” time where the families will grab you to show their house and sell handicrafts (which the guide instructs you to buy).
I tried to ask a few questions about their life, but they were only interested in selling crafts. It’s understandable because they rely on selling handicrafts for income, but nonetheless uncomfortable. Lastly, there’s the chance to ride a reed boat for S/10. The kids that live on the island hop on the boat and sing songs, then ask for money.
Honestly, the visit to this island felt very dehumanizing and it felt like the inhabitants were performers. The guide tells you they want to work for money and not be beggars, but begging is exactly what it felt like. It could be a lot less uncomfortable if they implemented a tourist tax to visit the island that goes directly to the families.
Sillustani – An archaeological site with pre-Incan tombs where you can learn about the unique views the Aymara people have on death. It’s best to go with an organized tour otherwise, you’ll just be looking at rocks. I went solo and there was minimal signage and no guides available for hire.
Museo Carlos Dreyer – The house of a German artist who moved to Puno is now a museum featuring Incan artifacts and 19th-century art. The entrance is S/15 and a tip-based 1-hour tour is available in English.
Mirador El Cóndor – The tough climb up a seemingly endless flight of stairs is worth it for views of the city and lake. If you’re not up for a difficult walk at a high altitude, Cerrito Huajspata is a viewpoint that’s easier to reach.
Where to Eat
La Casa del Corregidor – Enjoy coffee, lunch, or cocktails in their beautiful courtyard.
Mojsa Restaurant – Quality trout (a local specialty) & traditional Peruvian cuisine with views of Plaza Mayor.
El Establo – The city’s best spot for pollo a la brasa.
Where to Stay
Kantaya Hostel – The hostel is basic but it has everything you need. For S/35 a night, you get hot water, heavy blankets, all-day free tea and coffee, and breakfast. The friendly staff will book tours and buses for guests at fair prices.
How Long to Stay
2-3 days is plenty of time. The homestay is two days and you return around 3:30 PM which leaves a few hours to see the museum and a viewpoint.
Many people arrive on an overnight bus on the morning of the island tour and leave on the overnight bus after returning from the tour. Keep in mind that the road between Arequipa and Puno is very bumpy and you probably won’t sleep well on the bus.
Bookaway is a great resource that allows you to compare the prices of buses and flights, and secure your seat in advance!
Where to Next
Copacabana (5 hours by bus) – The Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca has hiking and fantastic landscapes.
Arequipa (7 hours) – The “White City” has beautiful architecture and delicious regional food.
Cusco (8 hours) – One of the continent’s gems is a hiker’s paradise full of incredible Inca ruins.
Pisac (9 hours via Cusco) – A laidback town with incredible Inca ruins and hiking.
Colca Canyon (13 hours via Arequipa) – A 3-day hike in the world’s second deepest canyon.
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