Puno is a bustling city in southern Peru, nestled on the shores of Lake Titicaca. The main draw of the city are the floating islands of the Uros people. This one-of-a-kind experience is one that you will only find in Peru. For those backpacking long-term throughout South America, visiting Puno is a no-brainer, especially if one plans on moving onwards towards Bolivia.
However, for people who only plan on sticking to Peru or don’t have a significant amount of time to spare, Puno might seem very out of the way. It is a long bus ride away from Cusco or Arequipa, unlike other one-day stops like Huacachina and Nazca that are firmly on Peru’s gringo trail. It is a reasonable question to ask whether or not visiting Puno solely for the floating islands is worth it. I passed through Puno my first time in Peru en route to Bolivia and didn’t even visit the floating islands myself then.
But fortunately, on my third visit to Peru, I was finally able to visit the islands for myself. It far exceeded my expectations, and really solidified the fact that Peru is one of the most diverse countries you could ever visit. As a traveler, that goes for both its cultures and its activities.
Are The Floating Islands of the Uros Worth Visiting?
Yes. A 3-hour tour will only cost you about $10-12 dollars. If you are in the area, then there is no reason not to visit the Floating Islands. They are among the most unique destinations in all of Peru.
Although the people of the floating islands have definitely begun to cater more towards international tourism, they still maintain some of their old traditions and lifestyles. These days, it’s hard to blame them for transitioning when they can sell a blanket for 100 soles, likely more than they would earn in weeks doing whatever they did before.
You will also get a chance to ride one of their traditional boats made of reeds and straws. These boats are beautiful and unique, and unlike any boat you’ve ever seen before. I paid an additional 10 soles for this but considering the already cheap price of the tour, it was definitely worth it to end the trip with a sunset ride around Lake Titicaca.
How To Get To Puno, Peru
Puno is a bit out of the way for travelers situated in Cusco or Arequipa. It doesn’t fit in nicely with the rest of the gringo trail, although it also isn’t too far out of it. From Arequipa to Cusco and vice versa, you will pass through the city of Juliaca. From Juliaca, you can take a colectivo or a bus for about an hour to Puno. You can take buses directly to Puno from Cusco and Arequipa, as well, but know it will add a couple of hours to your journey between Arequipa and Cusco.
If you are coming from Bolivia, then Puno is actually on the way to the rest of Peru’s best destinations. You’ll likely cross the border near Copacabana, and from there, Puno will be the first major city that you hit. It is about 3 hours from the Bolivian border and can be a good place to break up a lengthy journey from La Paz or Copacabana to Cusco or Arequipa.
Another good way that I would recommend to visit Puno without spending too much time there is with PeruHop. PeruHop is a safe and convenient hop-on hop-off bus company that can take you to Puno either for a day trip or drop you off there for as long as you want. I was in a bit of a rush to get to Cusco so I took PeruHop to Puno, went on the floating islands tour with them and then took their night bus to Cusco after some free time for dinner. It’s convenient because they give you a place where you can store your bags for free and chill out, so you don’t just have to drag your bags everywhere or pay for a hostel or storage.
How Much Time Should You Spend in Puno?
For me, Puno was a one hit wonder. After visiting the floating islands, there was not much else that warrants one’s attention. I might have had some travel fatigue after months of traveling through South America, but there was nothing in particular about the city that stood out. The Plaza de Armas was under heavy construction, although it definitely has the potential to be beautiful. The intricate details of the church were the most similar to the stunning city of Cajamarca’s that I had seen.
The food is cheap and there are a decent number of okay restaurants in the area. However, Puno is far from a gastronomical capital of Peru. Being on the shores of Lake Titicaca makes for beautiful sunrises and sunsets. I didn’t even spend the night in Puno, and that felt like enough time for me. I did the tour of the floating islands and spent the other three hours eating or roaming around the city.