Puno is the ideal city to use as a base to explore the Lake Titicaca region. It has a population of nearly 150,000 and sits at 12,556 ft. (3,830 m.) above sea level. The city sits on a small plain between the lake and the foothills of the mountains that surround it. Boats regularly leave to go to the nearby Uros Islands and the islands of Taquile and Amantani. The Chullpas de Sillustani, pre-Inca and Inca ruins, are also nearby. I wouldn't rate these as some of my best photos, but I felt like Puno deserved it's own blog post.
We flew into the airport in the nearby city of Juliaca and took a bus into Puno. It quickly became apparent that it was election season. There wasn’t a wall on the road to Puno that didn’t have an election slogan painted on it. When we got to Puno, there was large march going through the streets in support of local candidate, Hugo Llano.
The altitude is quite an adjustment if you fly directly in from Lima, which is at sea level. Fortunately, I didn’t have too many symptoms of soroche, or altitude sickness. However, after we settled in at the Casa Panqarani (which I highly recommend), I ran up a flight of stairs to ask Consuela, one of the owners a question. Apparently what little oxygen I was bringing into my lungs did not make it up to my brain. I suddenly lost all ability to speak Spanish. I remember standing there and thinking that I must sound like a complete blithering idiot (more so than usual). Fortunately, that was the only time the altitude affected me.
One of the local remedies for dealing with the altitude is coca tea. Coca tea is made by steeping coca leaves in hot water. Coca leaves are an important part of Andean culture. Chewing them alleviates symptoms of altitude sickness and provides a nice, even boost of energy, much subtler than coffee.
The Central Market isn’t exactly the number one tourist attraction in the region, but it was one of the more interesting spots that we stumbled upon in Puno. The ground floor was vendors selling fresh produce and meat. The Puno region is where the potato was first domesticated. Today there are more than 4,000 varieties of potato. It seemed like most of them were for sale at the Central Market.
The upper floor had vendors that sold a wide variety of goods. There were a number of cobblers, many vendors selling fabric and clothes and hat makers. It was interesting getting to see where the bowler hats that are so common among Andean women were made.
The Puno Cathedral, or Catedral Basilica San Carlos Borromeo, sits on the west side of the Plaza de Armas. It was designed in the Andean Baroque style by Simon de Asto in 1757. For as ornate as the cathedral is on the outside, it is surprisingly austere on the inside.