Photo Tour: Around Puno

In southeastern Peru, near the border with Bolivia, is the city of Puno (POO-noe). It's a gritty place: probably not a city you'd want to come to for a vacation. But it's the place you probably will come if you want to see the fantastic ruins in the area -- or see the northern half of Lake Titicaca, which is just east of Puno.

Here's a look at the trip from Cusco (north of here) to Puno... a bit of Puno... the pre-Inca and Inca-era burial towers at Sillustani... some way-too-cute llamas or alpacas or... and the "Fertility Temple" at Chucuito. (I'll get to Lake Titicaca on the next page.)

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There are two ways to get from Cusco to Puno: train and bus. Guidebooks used to recommend the train because the highway was bad and a bus would take forever. Now the highway is paved, and a bus is twice as fast as the train. The bus and the train both follow almost the same route. So I took the bus.

Most of the ride is through magnificent and desolate parts of the altiplano (the high plateau that runs the length of the Andes, with higher peaks on both sides). Here are some Altiplano views through the (amazingly clean) bus windows. The left photo shows the contrast between the valley floor (at about 4000 meters) altitude and the top of the mountains (usually over 6000, I think). The right-hand photo shows some of the terracing that you see on hillsides almost everywhere. Both of them show the dramatic skies, full of clouds, with the sun being hidden and then coming out -- which makes this time of the year (the "rainy season", starting in November or December) a great time to visit:
Snowcapped peak and lone cottage
Buildings and terraced hillside

Here are two views of Puno. On the left, the city from the highway between Cusco and Bolivia. At the right is a street in the center. You'll see bicycle and motorcycle taxis like these in a lot of Peruvian cities:
Puno from the highway
In Puno

About an hour northwest of Puno are the ruins of Sillustani. It's high on a hill with a lake and wetlands around it (both of which used to be part of Lake Titicaca before its water level dropped). This is one of the best places to see the chullpas, stone towers around Lake Titicaca where the Colla tribe buried their dead.

The Colla, who dominated the area before the Inca came, had three kinds of towers. The biggest were for the most important people, leaders; the mid-size for people like priests; and the simplest for others. When the Inca came, people kept building towers; the quality of the stonework shows the influence of the Inca. Compare the older towers in the first two pictures to the excellent stonework of the Inca-type towers shown next:
Ruined chullpa
Older towers and lake
Ruined Inca-style tower at Sillustani
Closeup of Inca-style tower

On a hill above the parking area for Sillustani was this furry family of alpaca. The baby is called a "cria". (Thanks to Mervi Leppäkorpi and JQ Jacobs for helping me know that these are alpaca, not llamas.)
Family? of three

South of Puno, along Lake Titicaca, is the village of Chucuito. I rode one of the shared vans that run between just about every Peruvian city and town: packed with people, they're interesting and cheap. There's a great view of the lake from here:
Riding to Chicuito
Lake Titicaca from Chicuito

Chucuito's main attraction is a block off the road, behind a hotel: the Templo de Fertilidad, the Fertility Temple. It's row after row of stone phalluses -- something I wouldn't expect to see in strongly Catholic Peru (or in the US, where I live). The temple has supposedly been there for hundreds of years, so I was surprised that it hasn't been knocked down by religious zealots. But I've read recent stories that the "temple" is a hoax and that it was built during the 1990s by villagers who wanted tourist dollars. Still -- whether local women who are having trouble getting pregnant come to the temple to pray for help, or not -- it's quite a sight:
Outside Templo de Fertilidad
Inside Templo de Fertilidad

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(These photographs are Copyright © 2004 by Jerry Peek. Much higher-resolution versions of most images, and many other images too, are available at Jerry Peek Photography. Photos are available at reduced prices, or free, for non-commercial use.)

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