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 is a convenient stop for those traveling between Cuzco and La Paz. But it may just capture your heart with its own rackety charm.

Puno is known as Peru’s capital folklórica (folkloric capital) – its Virgen de la Candelaria parades are televised across the nation – and the associated drinking is the stuff of legend. 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 commercial (and contraband) hub, its colonial and naval identity can be glimpsed in its spots of old architecture, the colorful traditional dress worn by many inhabitants and scores of young cadets in the streets.