Puno is best known as the jumping-off point for visiting Lake Titicaca. In recent years, the excursion as most agencies offer it has become extremely touristic, taking some of the charm out of the experience. This can lead to a dilemma as people want to see the Lake and its islands but do not want to feel like they are going to a theme park.
Fortunately, there are a number of tours of the islands offering alternatives that are less well-travelled.
Andrew Dare reports from one of the greatest parties in Peru, the Virgen de la Candelaria festival in Puno.
Charlton Heston had already visited Machu Picchu in Secret of the Incas, so not to be outdone, another of Hollywood’s greats, one Mr Donald Duck, decided to visit the lake that is famously the highest navigable lake in the world.
They say that only the carnival in Rio-Brasil and the carnival in Oruco-Bolivia compare to this, the biggest party in Peru in the city with the most traditional dances in the world – Puno.
Northwest of Puno lies the small town of Pukará. This tiny town has more than 2000 years of rich history. In the hills above the town, buried beneath the earth, is an ancient urban and ceremonial center of the Pukará pre-Inca culture.
Little is known of the culture, the ruins have only recently been excavated and work is still a long way from being completed. Although the site was known about when the Spanish conquered (they built a church over it, and when that was destroyed, dragged stones down from the site to build the new church you see in the photos of the town attached), the site has never been fully looked at by either Peruvian or foreign archaeologists.
This narrow cigar-shaped island has been inhabited for almost 10,000 years, and in that time life has remained mostly the same. The 1000 or so population still farm the ancient terraces and keep alive their traditional customs. There are no cars and no electricity.
The family we stayed with on Taquile was headed by the ever-smiling father, Patricio and his wife Anastasia. Our friend Patricio has several children, I asked him how many and he smiled and said “enough now”. Some of his children were not on the island, the eldest of them were away studying. Hilda, the oldest daughter seen in the photo, was the one who received us and brought us to our temporary home. This is when we first met Patricio. Having rushed home to great us, no easy task at this altitude I promise you, Patricio was completely black. As is the way here, where the extended families and groups of families called ayllus all cooperate and help each other, Patricio had been working hard all morning helping to build his brother-in-law’s new home.
This large, round and completely farm-terraced island is home to a community of farmers and fishermen who live an unspoiled traditional lifestyle. There is no electricity here – they have a generator but can’t afford the fuel.
Some 800 friendly families live on the island most of which are happy to welcome tourists into their homes.
We continued on boat to the island of Amantaní. Amantaní, unlike the Uros, is an island of solid ground, and we would be spending the night there with a local family.
The Uros people have lived for centuries on man-made floating islands on Lake Titicaca. The Uros fled into the lake to escape the attacks of the Colla and Inca cultures. These huge islands are made by hand from totora reeds that grow on the banks and shallower waters of the lake. Today there are more than 40 of these large islands with as many as 8 families living on each one. The islands contain homes, post offices and souvenir shops. Before the 1960’s these people had little contact with the outside world, but since then have grown dependent on tourism.
At the shores of Lake Umayo, a small lake not 20km from Lake Titicaca, still stand the ancient funerary towers of Sillustani. Thought to be built by Aymara-speaking people called the Colla, they could show the origin of Inca architecture – a westward movement and evolution of Tiahuanaco technology. Whatever the case, the chullpas as they are known, stand out beautifully on the landscape of Puno’s bleak antiplano.
The oldest ship on the highest navigable lake in the world, the Yavarí floats on the waters of Titicaca as it has done for nearly 150 years.
Built in England in 1862, it comprises of 2,766 pieces that arrive in Arica – then southern Peru – to begin the long journey by hundreds of mules to Lake Titicaca to be reassembled.
The Yavarí was discovered in a state of disrepair over a decade ago by a British woman from a family with a maritime background named Meriel Larken. On learning the ship’s history she founded The YAVARI Project and charity to restore it. Work is still under way but progressing.