Situated in the Altiplano, Puno is a picturesque lake town known as the Folkloric Capital of Peru.
From the remote Colca Canyon area, we had taken a local bus to the small town of Chivay. From there, we transferred to a tourist bus headed directly to Puno. At $35pp, the tourist bus was a splurge for our meager budget, but cut our otherwise 12-hour journey in half. As an added bonus, we enjoyed super plush, comfortable seats (and no surprise llamas came on board.)
Along the way, we stopped at Laguna Lagunillas. Nestled in a valley of the Sillapaka mountain range, this gorgeous blue lake is home to a variety of wildlife. After taking a few photos of the flocks of pink flamingos, we continued east for just two more hours.
Puno was a welcoming city from the start. As with the rest of Peru, we found it easy to blend in socially.
Taking a moto taxi from the bus station, we found a humble guesthouse to check into. Within an hour, we were out exploring the city. In Pino Park, locals sat in the shade of umbrella-shaped trees to stay cool. Outside Puno Cathedral, a rovering local photographer took photos of families dressed in their Sunday best. While in the Plaza de Armas, a large group of school boys swarmed past us, participating in a 10k race.
We perused the aisles of the farmer’s market then made our way down side streets encountering various street vendors. Soon, our stomachs began to growl. Following the crowds, we ended up at an authentic pollerias for a cheap and filling lunch. These restaurants serve fresh rotisserie chickens and can be found everywhere throughout Peru. Continuing our wanders, we climbed up a bazillion steps to reach Condor Hill. From the Mirador de Kuntur Wasi, we took in the gorgeous, panoramic view of shimmering Lake Titicaca below. The lake is South America’s largest by volume and the world’s highest navigable body of water.
We just happened to arrive in Puno on the anniversary of its founding. As such, we got to witness firsthand a city that knows how to party.
Originally known as Puno Day, the festivities have now extended to a week. Peru holds about 3,000 festivals every year and by the standards of this one, the bar is set pretty high.
On the day of the celebration, vendors begin setting up food and beer stands early in the morning. As the number of people arriving grows, so does the electricity in the air. Groups of performers, dressed in spectacular traditional costumes, begin practicing their music and dance routines. We noticed a sweet ten-year old girl manning her parents beer stand. We bought a couple of Cristals from her, then sat on a park bench to watch all the activities.
Eventually, the performers lined up and took their instruments and dancing to the streets. Women, adorned in bright red blouses with colorful pom-poms, gracefully twirled around in impossibly full skirts. Men in classic Peruvian hats and rainbow ponchos beat their drums in unison. A man adorned with an oversized headpiece of massive feathers, danced a quirky little jig. Despite all his hopping, he somehow managed to keep the hat on top of his head.
The camaraderie among everyone was infectious – from vendors to performers, men to women, adults to children.
Each and every person had a role to play and seemed to take genuine pride in it. It was easy to understand why. These costumes and dances had been going on for centuries – traditions passed down from generation to generation.
As the sun went down, the festivities continued well into the wee hours of the evening. Hard working. Hard partying. This is how we’ll remember the people of Puno, Peru.