Located in the southeast of Peru, the Puno region is characterized by a great variety of landscapes. Part Andean mountain range, part Amazonian jungle and mainly ‘Altiplano’ or high Andean plateau. Living in the Altiplano is a challenge because of the high altitude of on average 3,750 m (12,300 feet) and the biting cold. Fortunately, Lake Titicaca, a sapphire of deep blue allows life in many forms to flower in this hostile environment.
Ancient local mythology tells a tale of the ‘Apus’ or sacred mountains who were offended by mortals when they broke the rules and climbed the peaks where the sacred fire was burning. The Apus decided to punish them by sending pumas that devoured most of the men. When Wiracocha the creator God realized that everyone was dead, he cried for 40 days creating Lake Titicaca with his tears.
A more scientific view argues that the origins of the lake come from a long process of evolution through tectonic movements approximately 300 million years ago…
Lake Titicaca is the heart of the Altiplano, fed by rains and nearby melting glaciers. Its 8600km² of water regulates the temperature, capturing the solar energy during the day and releasing it at night. This creates a unique climate which produces aquatic resources allowing locals to farm livestock and produce agriculture including potatoes and quinoa.
Andean societies, attracted by this abundance, settled on the shore of these sacred waters. Nowadays, Aymara and Quechua communities live side by side speaking their own languages and using their own traditions. Their Andean cosmovision is entwined with the more modern catholic faith which is still strong in Puno. This faith is clear in Puno’s Candelaria Festival, which takes place in February every year and honours Puno’s patron saint the ‘Virgen de la Candelaria’. This colourful festival with music, traditional dances and bright costumes is one of the biggest festivals in Peru and is worth a visit if you are in the area.
Puno city is the regions’ capital and an almost obligatory stop-off point for a visit to the lake. Chaotic, dirty and crowded it is not a beautiful city. But it has not yet been damaged by hordes of tourism unlike other places in Peru. One of the things we loved about Puno was the authenticity of this city. Colourful ice-cream stands, ‘Mamitas’ selling sweets and drinks at their stalls and men with their mobile typewriters offering a typing service to passers-by. Enjoy wandering the streets, catching locals in their day to day life and learning about this amazing region of Peru. You won’t be disappointed.