Planning a Trip
By Plane -- Puno does not have an airport; the nearest is Aeropuerto Manco Capac (tel. 051/322-905) in Juliaca, 45km (28 miles) north of Puno. LanPerú (tel. 01/213-8300; www.lanperu.com) flies daily from Lima and Arequipa to Juliaca; flights range from $79 to $110 (£40-£55), one-way. LanPerú flies from Cusco to Juliaca for similar fares. Tourist buses run from the Juliaca airport to Puno (a 1-hr. trip), depositing travelers on Jr. Tacna for S/10 ($3.30/£1.70). Rossy Tours (tel. 051/366-709) runs inexpensive combi taxis to the airport in Juliaca (picking passengers up at their hotels) for just S/10 ($3.30/£1.70) per person.
In Juliaca, Hit the Ground Running -- Juliaca, site of the regional airport, is perhaps the most disgraced city in all of Peru. If you are flying into Juliaca on your way to Puno, don't linger. The town is a chaotic and ugly mess of half-finished houses, potholed dirt roads, and trash-strewn streets clogged with sales carts and ciclotaxis. If that weren't enough, Juliaca is also reputed to be downright dangerous. The only reason it was awarded an airport is that Puno is boxed in by mountains and local politicians had a stranglehold on Lima's purse strings.
By Bus -- Puno has a modern, safe bus station, Terminal Terrestre (tel. 051/364-733), Jr. Primero de Mayo 703, Barrio Magistral. Road service to Puno from Cusco has been greatly improved in recent years, and many more tourists now travel by bus, which is faster and cheaper than the train. The terrific views during the day are pretty much the same. Most buses drop passengers at Melgar, a few short blocks from downtown.
From Cusco, executive-, imperial-, or royal-class buses make the trip in less than 7 hours (though some services, such as Inka Express, make stop-offs at Inca ruins en route, extending the trip a couple of hours, highly recommended if you have the extra time) and range in cost from S/60 to S/90 ($20-$30/£10-£15). Imexso (tel. 084/240-801), Inka Express (tel. 051/365-654), and Cruz del Sur (tel. 051/622-626) operate buses with videos and English-speaking tour guides. Ormeño (tel. 084/227-501) has daily direct departures between Cusco and Puno (6 hr.). Regular buses are as cheap as S/12 ($4/£2.05), but they are uncomfortable, have no restrooms or videos, and are potentially dangerous -- and not recommended.
The trip between Puno and Arequipa by bus is no longer tortuous; the long-awaited highway between the cities, completed in 2002, has dramatically shortened travel time from 12 hours to just 5. Cruz del Sur (tel. 051/622-626) and Ormeño (tel. 051/352-321) make the trip for around S/30 ($10/£5).
By Train -- The Titicaca Route journey from Cusco to Puno, along tracks at an altitude of 3,500m (11,500 ft.), is one of the most scenic in Peru. Though it is slower (10 hr. and prone to late arrivals) and has experienced its share of onboard thievery, it is a favorite of travelers in Peru and preferable to the bus if you've got the time and money. Keep a careful eye on your bags and, if possible, lock backpacks to the luggage rack; keep valuables close to your person. PeruRail trains from Cusco to Puno depart from Estación Huanchaq (tel. 084/238-722), at the end of Av. Sol. Service to Puno is Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday year-round, departing at 8am and arriving at 5:50pm. Andean Explorer (first class) costs $143 (£72) one-way in swank coaches and includes lunch in luxurious dining cars; tourist (Backpacker Sur) class, which is comfortable enough but offers no food or drink, is considerably less expensive, $22 (£11). Only Andean Explorer tickets can be pre-reserved. The Puno train station (tel. 051/351-041) is at Av. La Torre 224. The train station is only a few blocks north of the downtown core. Inexpensive taxis are widely available; hotels along the banks of Lake Titicaca definitely require a taxi, unless you're staying at Casa Andina Private Collection, which has its own train stop.
Train service from Arequipa to Puno is available by charter only; visit www.perurail.com for details.
An iPerú tourist information office is located at the pedestrian-only main drag of Puno, Jr. Lima 549 (tel. 051/365-088, at Jr. Deustua, just off the Plaza de Armas). There you can pick up a map and get a couple of hints on sights in town. However, you're better off going to one of the travel agencies that organizes Lake Titicaca-area trips, such as All Ways Travel or Edgar Adventures, for information on Puno's most important attractions, all of which lie beyond the city.
Take It Easy: You're on Top of the World -- Puno's extreme elevation of 3,830m (12,566 ft.) is even higher than Cusco, so unless you've already spent time in the Andes, you'll almost certainly need to rest for at least a day to acclimatize.
Few visitors spend more than a day or two in Puno (unless lingering at a festival), and the little getting around that needs to be done in town is either on foot or by taxi to your hotel. The small downtown area is pretty easily managed on foot, although several of Puno's nicest hotels lie several kilometers away, on the banks of Lake Titicaca. The port is only about 10 blocks east from the Plaza de Armas in the center of town. The main pedestrian thoroughfare, Jr. Lima, connects the Plaza de Armas to Parque Pino.
Visits to Lake Titicaca and its islands, as well as the ruins on the outskirts of town, are most conveniently done by organized tour.
By Taxi -- Taxis are inexpensive and plentiful, easily hailed on the street, and best used at night and to get back and forth from the hotels on the banks of Lake Titicaca. Most trips in town cost no more than S/3 ($1/50p). Taxis can also be hired for round-trips to nearby ruins or for half- or full days. Call Taxi Milenium (tel. 051/363-134) or Taxi Tour Puno (tel. 051/369-900).
By Foot -- Puno is small enough to get around almost entirely on foot, unless you're staying at one of the upscale hotels on the shores of Lake Titicaca several kilometers from the center of town.
By Boat -- You can independently hire boats at Puno harbor to take you out on Lake Titicaca, but it's simpler to sign up for economical organized tours to the islands.