With a regal plaza, concrete block buildings and crumbling bricks that blend into the hills, Puno has its share of both grit and cheer. It serves as the jumping-off point for Lake Titicaca and a convenient stop for those traveling between Cuzco and La Paz. But it may just capture your heart with its own rackety charm.
Smoke from unvented fires wafts through Puno’s streets, along with jangling waves of traffic, including mototaxis and triciclos (three-wheeled cycles) that edge pedestrians to the narrow slivers of sidewalks. Its urban center can feel contaminated and cold. But Puno’s people are upbeat, cheeky and ready to drop everything if there’s a good time to be had.
As a trade (and contraband) hub between Peru, Bolivia and both coasts of South America, Puno is overwhelmingly commercial and forward-looking. For a glimpse of its colonial and naval identity, you only have to peruse the spots of old architecture, the colorful traditional dress worn by many inhabitants and scores of young cadets in the streets.
Puno is known as Peru’s capital folklõrica (folkloric capital) – its Virgen de la Candelaria parades are televised across the nation – and the associated drinking is the stuff of legend. Good times aren’t restricted to religious festivals, though: some of Peru’s most convivial bars are found in Puno.