Planning a trip to the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca and don’t know what to do? Keep reading for the best things to do and see. Lake Titicaca, as hilarious as it is to say, is a place of mystery, mythology and the mystic. It’s a deeply spiritual and cultural place, holding significance to the Incas, Uros and Aymara people as well as the civilizations before them.
It’s one of the highest, deepest and largest lakes in the world sitting at 3,800m above sea level and it’s definitely one of the most beautiful. You can expect beautiful scenery, deep cultural experiences, crystal clear waters, homestay experiences, local food and a chance to really learn about the history and folklore of this area.
Lake Titicaca has an extremely rich cultural history that goes back four millennia. For almost all the civilisations that have inhabited this area, it holds significant meaning. It is considered to be the birthplace of the Incas and it’s also believed that the first Incan King was born there. Incan mythology believes that this lake is the centre of all creation.
There are many places to base yourself around Lake Titicaca and Puno seems to be the most interesting and most accessible option if you aren’t heading to Bolivia. While not the prettiest of Peruvian cities by miles, it does have it’s photogenic corners and its the easiest place to organise onward travel and lake boat trips which are a must-do.
You can book all your boat trips from the pier in Puno, so I would recommend heading down there as soon as possible to check out the departure times. While you can try to talk to a local and rent out a boat privately to do your own itinerary – I would advise for doing this for some places but not for others. You may know that I’m not a fan of doing organised tours but unfortunately, this is one of the places where not going on a large tour isn’t really an option unless you make friends with a boat-owning local.
Lake Titicaca is a must-see on a trip around Peru but what does it actually have to offer?
#1 Visit Amantaní and Taquile
For me, this visit was the highlight of my trip and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a deep, cultural experience. Located about 2 hours boat ride from Puno these two islands can be visited by an organised tour on an overnight homestay experience. You can reserve this from a number of agents at the pier in Puno. While you get on a boat with many other people, on arrival at Amantaní, our large group got split up into smaller groups and each group was assigned to a homestay. The island homestays get continuously rotated to ensure even distribution and income for all locals. Our accommodation was very simple but comfortable and the bathrooms are shared.
During the afternoon you can explore the island entirely on foot, enjoy the silence (no motorised traffic here), watch the Aymara people go about their daily lives in the main square, climb two peaks and stare out over the lake. I highly recommend hiking to the top of Pachamama, the islands highest point and watching the sunset over the lake.
The next day, the same boat takes you to Taquile for a few hours before going back to Puno. While Taquile was a lovely island with lots of beautiful stone buildings and churches it was very touristy. All the tourist boats seem to be there at one time of the day and it was quite busy. I’d recommend going for a hike around the island if time permits.
#2 Uros Floating Villages
Seeing these magnificent floating villages is definitely a once in a lifetime experience. Home to the unique and fascinating Uros people, these islands are constructed of Totora reeds, their roots are woven tightly to form giant platforms which float on the water’s surface. Even the houses are constructed of the same reeds. Upon arrival, you’re greeted by the colourfully dressed locals and your guide takes your round explaining many facts about the island. While seeing this highly unusual and fascinating way of life, I personally didn’t like the tour. I was put into an awkward situation and almost felt pushed into buying local handicrafts. It felt extremely contrived and false and if you can find a way to avoid an organised tour I would recommend you do.
#3 Taste the Quinoa drink
You may already know that quinoa comes from Peru and it’s used throughout Andean cuisine. At breakfast time locals sell a quinoa drink from carts on the street. It has a thick milkshake consistency and is made from quinoa, a fruit of the day and spices such as cloves and cinnamon. It’s hearty, nutritious and delicious. Give it a try!
#4 Virgin de la Candelaria festival
If you’re lucky enough to be in Puno at the beginning of February, take to the streets to enjoy this amazing, colourful sight. This festival combines Andean culture and the Catholic religion in dance, costume and colour. Walk around, enjoy the buzzing atmosphere of the town, mingle with the locals and watch the festivities.
#5 Visit Puno Cathedral
In the town’s central square, Plaza de Armas, you’ll notice the Baroque 18th-century Basilica San Carlos Borromeo, towering over the historical centre. This cathedral is charming and grandiose from the outside and definitely deserves a closer look even if the inside doesn’t quite live up to expectations.
#6 Visit La Casa del Corregidor
This 17th-century colonial house is located just off Plaza de Armas. Painted a very bright yellow and blue, it is one of the oldest houses in the city. Admire the pretty balconies and masonry over a cup of coca tea in the quaint cafe.
#7 Eat at Loving Hut
If you’re plant-based you’ll rejoice to know there is one 100% plant-based option in Puno and that’s Loving Hut. It serves delicious salads, sandwiches and typical Peruvian dishes. It’s the perfect place to eat plant-based Peruvian food in a relaxed environment. A rare find indeed.
Where to stay?
Tierra Viva Puno Plaza This plush 3-star hotel has all the mod-cons. Clean, modern rooms, a very good hearty breakfast and lovely touches of Andean decoration all around. Book it here.
Bothy Backpacker Hostel This hostel is a great option, providing the area has running water. There was so much rainfall at one point that it affected their water supply. Book it here.
Traveling to Arequipa? Check out my guide here.
I’d love to hear your comments and questions. Please comment below.