We left Arequipa very early in the morning with our Peru Hop bus. We arrived in Juliaca where we took a transfer (all arranged by the company) all the way to Puno and drop off at our hostel. We stayed at Suite Independencia, which is just a few blocks from the main Plaza and the main touristy street. As a lot of places in Peru, there was barely any heating and the rooms were cold. I also skipped shower for a few days in Arequipa and Puno due to the lack of consistent hot water in the shower… ha well.
We arrived early in the afternoon and took time to walk around, arrange our tour for the next day, slowly and surely, as we had just moved from 2700m to 3800m in Puno. This is quite a jump in altitude for a few hours, so we slowed down and made sure we stayed hydrated properly. At that point, most hostels offer free coca tea and coca leaves at all time of the day. We all had our altitude medication as well, prescribed by our travel clinics before leaving. For prevention, I used Acetazolamide (half a tablet twice a day, 24hrs before going up and for 2-3 days after reaching max altitude). I also had some Diamox pills for moderate-acute altitude sickness for treatment as needed, but I did not need to use these. Your body reaction to altitude can vary widely, both between people and between times you will go up. For those who have been following me for a bit, you might recall that I had a bad reaction to altitude back in Argentina, when I hiked in the Valle de las Lagunas near Cafayate. It made me fear a bit my time in Peru, due to many days and activities spent in altitude, so I went for full on prevention this time.
This issue with the pills was that their side effect is very similar to the altitude sickness symptoms, and it tends to dehydrates you a bit as well. My doctor also told me that ibuprofen had been proven to help as well (basically reducing inflammation caused by altitude). In Puno, except shortness of breath, I didn’t feel any problem with the altitude, although my mom had a bit of a headache for 2 days. Some people said they used baby Aspirin, but it wasn’t recommended by my doctor, so I stayed with coca tea and coca leaves as needed on top of my pills.
So our first night in Puno was very chill – we had dinner at the IncaBar (2 days in a row, actually, because we had a deal for 20 soles for full dinner menu and dessert with Peru Hop). We finalized our payment with Edgar Adventure for our day trip on Lake Titicaca the next day. I found the company online by doing some research. There is a tour organized as well that you can book with Peru Hop, however it is the typical tourist boat tour and I couldn’t be bothered. I wanted to move a bit, so I booked the kayak adventure with Edgar Adventure.
We joined a group for the boat tour at the beginning of the day, and they dropped us off directly at their main camp where the kayaks were waiting for us. The rest of the group continued by boat to one of the island, on a touristy part where they stopped for some shopping and quick touring. During that time, we crossed from the main camp to Taquile Island, at the other side of the island (less crowded). The paddle took about 2hrs for 10km, the lake was really smooth and quiet that day, and it got quite warm. The gear was really good (mainly NRS) and we stayed mainly dry. I did have a bit of water coming up my sleeves, but we had a chance to dry our clothes while we waited for the boat tour to come and get us a bit later. We had a small motor boat following us the entire time, so if you are worried about safety or being sick with the altitude and exercise, we had our private secure shuttle just in case we needed them! They also carried back the gear and the kayak, so we didn’t have to paddle round-trip (although I would have been happy to!).
After we joined the group again, we went back to the main camp where we participated in a traditional dinner. Our lunch had been cooked in a traditional ground oven, called a Pachamanca. After heating rocks around a fire, they use these rocks and stones to cook fish, chicken and veggies underground with the heat from the previous fire. They served us some soup, the Pachamanca food as well as some warm tea.
After lunch, we left by boat again and rode until one of the typical floating islands. These islands have been man-made according to ancient tradition, where a few families lived on these islands on the lake. Nowadays, the families living there use the money from tourism to improve their living conditions and heading to town more frequently, sending their kids to the local school, etc. It is a bit unclear if they actually do live there or if this is staged for tourism, however the community was really welcoming and I had the chance to have a great discussion in Spanish with some of the local couples who showed me their house and toured us on their “love boats”. They use old plastic bottles and plants to build these traditional boats that are use to fish and go around the islands, although today they also have small motor boats for fishing and transportation. You can also buy hand-made local crafts made by the families in the island. You can find most of these items in local markets around Peru, but when I have a chance, I would rather spend that 20$ by giving it to the local artist versus the huge touristy market downtown Cusco!
After the floating island visit, we rode back to Puno Port and were dropped off at our hostel. We had time to relax and shower before dinner, and prepared for our night bus to Cusco.
A lot of travelers we met decided to skip Puno or head to Copacabana in Bolivia, on the other side of Lake Titicaca. I heard that the Isla del Sol from Copacabana is really beautiful as well. I am glad we decided to spend the day on the lake and did the kayak tour. You can also opt for some overnight stays on the islands if you would like. I think it’s worth the stop, but you can make your own research and decide which activity is more meaningful for you. Our full day tour, including lunch, pick up and drop off, boat ride and kayaking with private guide cost us 109US (which was one of the most expensive day of our trip).
Our next stop was Machu Picchu! Stay tuned for the details coming up soon!