Note: This entry is part of a series about our 2014 trip to Bolivia and Peru.
When we first put together our trip itinerary, we had planned on spending three disjointed nights in Puno, Peru. However, we had such a good time seeing Lake Titicaca from the Bolivian side in Copacabana and Isla del Sol, that we decided to cut out the days we had planned for visiting the Peruvian islands of Uros, Amantani, and Taquile. This freed up more days to visit our next destination, Arequipa. Sadly, this left us only a portion of one Sunday morning and early afternoon to visit Puno.
Puno can be described as a transportation hub between La Paz, Bolivia and destinations in Peru such as Arequipa and Cuzco. Our package tour of Isla del Sol included transport from La Paz to Copacabana and then to Puno on a Vicuña tourist bus. We boarded the bus in Copacabana before sunset, prepared for a short ride with more gorgeous lake views before reaching the Peruvian border.
By the time we reached the border it was dark. We had to get off the bus and were surprised that we were able to leave our luggage behind. We entered a building for Bolivia’s exit process. Here we were glad we had held on to our immigration “card”–really just a slip of paper we had paperclipped to our passports. Several of the bohemian types traveling with us claimed they never received one and had to purchase it before being allowed to exit. They made a bit of a fuss.
We then were instructed to walk across the border and were confused as to where we were supposed to go. A woman changing money pointed us to a building on our right–we decided to trust her and found ourselves in the correct place. We didn’t need Peruvian money since we had already withdrawn some at the Lima airport during our layover to La Paz. Passports and visas were checked and stamped without any brouhaha, then we waited out in the cold for the bus driver to let us reboard.
Some of our traveling companions inclined to making fusses were impatient and began yelling at the bus driver, banging on the door to let them in because they were cold. I was thinking to myself, he is not who we want on our bad sides considering our safety depended on his talent of navigating the crazy road ahead. Eventually everyone made it through the crossing, we were able to board, and were on our way. And thankfully the bus driver didn’t hold the poor behavior against us.
When we reached the bus station we had to get a cab to our hotel because it was too far to walk. We went out to the taxi stand and met our second reckless taxi driver of the trip. By reckless I mean what we came to realize as typical: no seat belts, driver in a hurry to get you there, weaving in and out of traffic, turning in front of other vehicles, etc.
Where We Stayed
By the time we arrived at our hotel, Colon Inn, it was late and we were tired and hungry. Our “simple room” was about S/.150 (about $50). It was clean, included an electric heater and was at a good location just a short walk from the Plaza de Armas. We had cold, leftover, mediocre pizza from Copacabana. After forcing myself to eat it, I was excited to get cleaned up and (after a small learning curve–it wasn’t easy to control the temperature), was spoiled by a hot shower. The room itself was a bit tired and dated, but we also had decent wifi–always a plus!
The next morning we went down for the complimentary breakfast, which included juices, ham, cheese, fruits, eggs, and grains for adding to yogurt. The public spaces of the hotel are very elegant looking with a central courtyard. According to our guidebook, it’s central Puno’s only hotel in an unmodernized colonial era building. We checked out and the staff held our luggage while we did some exploring.
A Few Sights
The first thing we did was make our way to the Plaza de Armas, which includes topiary trees, a monument to military hero, Francisco Bolognesi, and a beautiful view of Puno’s baroque cathedral dating to 1757. We sat to rest on the monument and were soon approached by a beautiful woman selling hand-knitted hats. She claimed she made them herself and perhaps she did. It didn’t matter to us, however, because she had charmed us and we quickly picked out one for each of us.
Next, two girls approached us with a camera. I think we misunderstood them asking to take our picture. We thought they wanted us to pay them to take a picture for us, as we noticed this being a popular thing at squares in La Paz. But then they walked away dejected and we realized that they must have just wanted a picture of us gringo tourists. I really felt bad for telling them no.
We made our way into the cathedral and mass was being held. It was one of those magical travel moments. A choir of children were singing and a ray of light was shining upon a statue of Jesus at the altar side. We loved this cathedral. It was understated and dignified.
We stopped for some ice cream–gelato like in a myriad of flavors–before seeking out the Central Market. If we hadn’t just had breakfast…and ice cream…this would have made a great place to eat. It was busy with vendors selling meat on the first level, with little food stalls set up along the balcony of the second level. I guess we weren’t feeling adventurous enough because we left without making any purchases.
A pedestrian walk connects the Plaza de Armas to Parque Pino, a pleasant square full of friendly people.
Our too-short tour of Puno was over. We returned to the hotel where the staff called for a taxi. This time we were met by a young man in a beat up taxi who took us to the bus station–but he was an excellent driver! Tipping is not the norm for taxi drivers in Peru but this driver deserved an extra sole.
At the bus station we found the desk for Cruz del Sur–a company we would use for the remainder of our bus travel in Peru. We were able to check our bags and then seek out something to eat, because we were getting hungry by this time. Upstairs is a food court where we found Peruvian style spaghetti, which we got to go because I was nervous about catching our bus. It was delicious! From the second level we could again see Lake Titicaca–we were probably among the few visitors to Puno that didn’t visit the Port for lake excursions. Maybe next time.
I’ll save my tale of the bus ride for my next post in Arequipa. Good times! (I say now.)