Getting to Puno from Cusco
Puno is the main base for visiting Lake Titicaca. There are several ways to get to Puno from Cusco.
You can fly to Juliaca (50 km from Puno – see for example Skyscanner), and then get a minibus from the airport to Puno.
You can take a scenic train (see Perurail). The journey takes approximately 10.5 hours in a luxurious train with an open-air observation carriage. There is entertainment and fine dining on board. The service operates in summer months only.
You can take a regular bus service. Cruz del Sur run a regular service which takes around 6.5 hours. Or you could try the innovative PeruHop service – especially useful if you wish to visit several locations by bus.
Another option, which we would highly recommend, is to take the Inka Express coach. This is so much more than just a coach journey. It is an excursion, with five interesting stops en route, an English speaking guide, and a buffet lunch included. The service runs daily, departing from Cusco or Puno at 6.50 am, and the journey takes approximately 10.5 hours in total.
The journey crosses the scenic La Raya pass at 4338 m. We stopped here to admire the view – and the woolliest alpaca I have ever seen.
Check the Inka Express website for more information about the places visited – it is a great day out! (Note that some of the places visited have a small entrance charge which is not included.)
Hotel at Puno
Puno is the busy main base for people visiting Lake Titicaca. It is actually quite a bit higher than Cusco at around 3820 m, so it is best to visit here later in your tour, when you have had time to acclimatize. We only got a quick glimpse of the city as we were whisked to our hotel.
We had chosen to stay in the Casa Andina Premium Puno hotel, which is situated a little way out of Puno on the edge of Lake Titicaca. This lovely hotel has a restaurant with a panoramic view over the grounds to the lake. It was especially nice at night when you could see the lights from Puno reflecting on the water.
The hotel has its own private pier where you can be picked up for tours on the lake (see below). The lakeside is a reedy area which was great for spotting wading birds.
An alternative suggestion, if you prefer not to stay in busy Puno, is the nearby Hotel Libertador Lago Titicaca. This is situated on an island joined to the mainland by a pier!
Lake Titicaca and its Islands
Lake Titicaca is the largest true lake in South America, and at over 3800 m, the highest navigable lake in the world. There are many boat tours on the lake to visit its islands, including the famous Uros floating reed islands. See Viator for a wide choice of small group and private tours which can be booked online before you travel.
I had booked a private tour to visit the Uros islands and Taquile island, and arranged for us to be picked up at our hotel’s private pier. When our boat arrived I was amazed – such a large boat for just the two of us!
The first part of the trip was through the reedy area at the edge of the lake.
Our first destination was to one of the fascinating floating Uros islands. The entire islands, and all the structures on them, are built from reeds and float on the surface of the lake. Originally built as a defense mechanism, the islands are still occupied by the Uros people today.
Approaching the islands, they initially don’t look real – more like scale models with perfectly constructed thatched dwellings and lookout towers. But they are – communities spend their whole lives here.
Boats are also made of reeds, and are often used for tourist trips as well as trips between the islands and to the mainland.
Stepping onto one of the islands feels strange – you can feel the ‘give’ in the reeds, as well as the slight movement from the gentle swell.
The local people have embraced tourism, and are genuinely welcoming and friendly. They told us a little about the practicalities of living on, and maintaining, the islands, and sang us a local folk song. They even insisted on an embarrassing photo shoot in one of the dwellings…..
Leaving the intriguing Uros islands, we headed for our next destination, the island of Taquile.
It is only when you get further out that you begin to realise just how huge Lake Titicaca really is. The total length is almost 200 km, shared between Peru and Bolivia, and there are many islands dotted around the lake.
Approaching an island, surrounded by shimmering blue water, felt more like being in the Mediterranean than being 3800 m high on an Andean plateau!
Taquile island is stunningly beautiful, with views of the lake and adjacent Amantani island from its lovely stone paths.
Over 2000 people live on Taquile. The cultivated terraces of the island are communally farmed, and the people also rely on fishing, beautiful handwoven textiles, and of course tourism. We were shown around the island and told about the culture and local way of life. The tour also included a pleasant lunch with a great view.
Our visit to these fascinating islands was quite a long trip (over 9 hours), but when we got back to the hotel all I could think was “What a Lovely Day!”
For more information and resources about travelling to and within Peru please see the Practicalities page.
Please remember that this post is based purely on our own experiences – therefore kindly note the Disclaimer.