Puno is located on the shores of Lake Titikaka at 3850 meters above sea level. On the north it has the mountain range of Carabaya which starts with the Palomani Grande and Palomani Cunca on the border with Bolivia. To the west the Real mountain range, to the south the maritime mountain range (volcanic) . The limits of Puno are Tacna, Moquegua and Arequipa. Puno is 1303 Kms. south of Lima.
The City of Puno
Puno is a tourist place thanks to the nearby Titikaka Lake and Sillustani Burial Towers. The city itself isn't very interesting and looks poor. Most of the buildings are made of adobe and covered with metal roofs. The center is small. The Jirón Lima is a car free street with restaurants and pubs. This street is the center of nightlife and many tourists and locals come together in this place. Peñas with live music create a pleasant atmosphere. One end of this street is the Plaza de Armas with the Cathedral built in 1747 by Simón de Asta. In the Avenida la Torre the railway station is situated and a market of vegetables and fruits. In the small tiny streets of Puno a lot of bicycles are used for transportation. As these are also used as taxi, they bring visitors to the harbor at the end of Avenida el Puerto and Avenida Titikaka. Boat trips are offered with a guide to the floating islands of the Uros and to the islands of Taquile and Amantaní.
Puno is the city of folklore, music and dance. In no other place in Peru so many different dances are practiced as in Puno. In "la Fiesta de la Virgen de Candelaria" in the first week of February 70 local groups show their dances. She became the guardian angel of the city because of a miracle that happened in the 16th century. The religious Kollavino Indians attacked the city and an army of Spanish soldiers showed up out of nowhere. The Indians surrendered and scared away. The apotheosis of the festival is the 12th of February when hundreds of groups pay their respect to dance in a long procession through the city, accompanied by the typical music of the Andes. In and around Puno more than 300 dances stood the test of time and are still practiced.
The Floating Islands of the Uros Indians
When the Incas extended their Empire, especially under the great Inca Pachacutec, the Indians living on the shores of the lake Titikaka withdraw on the Titikaka. The main vegetation is the Totora reed. With this they built their floating islands. The Incas left them alone and centuries later until now they still live on their islands. They live from fishing and recently from the sales of souvenirs to tourists.
The Totora reed is the most important material they have. The islands are in fact not really floating, but in rainy season, when the water level rises of the shallow end of Titikaka, some islands start to float. The reed at the bottom rotten so every time they have to pull up their islands. Their houses, boats, tools, fishing nets and souvenirs are also made of the same reed. Totora is even part of the menu, the taste is a little bit sour and sweet. Boat trips can be made on their typical totora boats. The guides might invite to taste the reed (only the white, soft roots are eatable), but know that you are risking diarrhea doing this.
The nearby lake of Titikaka attracted in the pre-ceramic period nomads living from fish and meat. Original cave paintings are found in the area. The impressive grave towers of the Kolla-culture in Sillustani are remains of this period. Later on the region of Puno and the Titikaka Lake was the scenery of important cultures like the Pucara and Tiahuanaco. According to the legend Titikaka is the birthplace of Inca Manco Capac and his consort and sister Mama Ocllo. They raised out of the water with the divine assignment to establish an empire and unite the different cultures in the name of peace and civilization. The Incas incorporated the region of Titikaka and the Kolla-culture under Inca Mayta Capac to the empire of Tahuantinsuyo and became part of the region of Kollasuyu. The importance of this Suyu into the empire was especially the presence of gold and silver mines, the breeding of alpacas and llamas for wool and meat and the culture of altitude plants as potatoes, quinua and coffee.
When the Inca Empire came to an end, the Dominican priest Fray Tomás San Martín arrived in 1534 to convert the Indians into Catholics and to establish new settlements in the ruins left by the conquistadors. The Dominican, the Franciscan and Jesuit priests built many churches on the shores of the Titikaka. The dedication of the Indians in building the churches made these religious places as pearls of architecture and art. Especially a little place called Juli is known for its eight churches.
The religious pre-Hispanic evolution and the rivalry between the mutinous and faithful Spanish soldiers are a sad part in the history about the development of the region. Separatist made a hard life for the viceroy of Peru and the local people. Their interest was the gold and silver mines. The Salcedo brothers Jose and Gaspar discovered the gold mine of Layakakota and became in short time the richest men of Latin America. They founded in 1657 a city called San Juan Bautista de Puno. Next to the gold mine arose the city of San Luis de Alva and grew bigger than Puno with 10.000 inhabitants. Fighting between Spanish separatists flared up to capture the gold mines. In 1661 an Indian revolt began in La Paz and many cities and villages, including the gold mines, were plundered what lead to an absolute chaos. The viceroy Conde de Lemos conquered all fighting camps, executed José Salcedo and burned San Luis de Alva. From this moment on Puno was the most important city of the region. The gold mine of Laykakota is still closed and a local legend tells that nobody exactly knows where the gold mines were situated.
The period of peace was over in 1781 when Indian revolutionists fought for independence, as for example the revolt of Tupac Katari. In the war of independence in the beginning of the 19th century Puno was an important connecting city between the freedom fighters of Peru and Río de la Plata in Buenos Aires. After the independence in 1821 Puno was the scene of battle between Peru and Bolivia. When the Bolivians won the battle of Ingavi, they occupied Peru up to Tacna and Moquegua. The convention of 1847 neutralized the victory of the Bolivians and Puno and its region could finally live in peace.
Steamboats were transported from Arica to the frontier with Chile to lake Titikaka. Mules carried the parts over the Andes and a railroad connection was constructed between Arequipa and Mollendo increasing the importance of Puno as a harbor. Bolivia exported lots of their minerals and ore with the steamboats on the Titikaka. These boats were used until 1982 for transporting goods and passengers.