Puno, Peru, and Lake Titicaca with its artificial floating islands are a “must-see” for many families visiting Peru. Here’s everything you need to know including where to stay, what to do, and where to eat in Puno to make the most of your visit to Puno with kids.
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Where is Puno, Peru?
Puno is a city in southeastern Peru, on the shores of Lake Titicaca, which straddles Peru and Bolivia. It is the capital of the Puno Region and the seat of the Puno province. The city has a population of around 120,000 people.
Puno is about a 12-hour bus ride from Lima or a one-hour flight to the Juliaca Airport. From the airport, it is a one-hour drive to the center of Puno.
What is Puno Known For?
Puno is known for being the major access point to Lake Titicaca. Lake Titicaca is huge- more than 120 miles long and more than 50 miles wide. It is the highest navigable lake in the world, it is 60% in Peru, and 40% in Bolivia.
Puno has three official languages- Spanish, Quechua, and Aymara. All three groups live in Puno, and in the islands on the lake itself.
How Do I Get to Puno, Peru?
There are three ways to get to Puno. You can fly to the Juliaca Airport, which is approximately a one-hour drive from Puno. You can take the overnight bus from Cusco which leaves at 10 pm and arrives at 6 am.
You can also take a tourist bus, which does the drive from Cusco in the daylight, stopping at several tourist attractions and sites along the way. Stops include Andahuaylillas Church, Raqchi, La Raya, and Pukara. There are separate admission charges at each of these sites, so make sure to bring cash. A lunch stop at Sicuani is included.
We chose the tourist bus, preferring to avoid an overnight bus with young kids. We figured even if they slept well, we probably wouldn’t!
However, there was a protest and strike the day of our bus ride, so instead of leaving at 6:30 am, and arriving in Puno around 5 pm, we left a 2 pm, and spend several hours sitting on the road while police attempted to clean up tires and other debris that was blocking the road.
In the end, we only visited the Andahuaylillas Church before darkness fell. We arrived in Puno at 12:30 in the morning, then grabbed a taxi to our hotel and had to wake someone up to let us in.
What Altitude is Puno?
Puno sits at 12,500 feet (3810 meters), well above Cusco’s 11,000 feet. Even if you have spent a few days in Cusco prior to arriving in Puno, you may feel the effects of the altitude. Take it slow, and rest for your first day.
What Are the Symptoms of Altitude Sickness?
Mild symptoms of altitude sickness include shortness of breath, headaches, and stomach aches. More moderate symptoms may include vomiting.
To minimize altitude sickness, rest and go slowly the first day, and drink lots of water. Listen to your body and do not ignore symptoms. For more severe symptoms, you’ll need to move to a lower altitude for your body to adjust.
What is the Town of Puno Like?
Because many tourists come through here quickly and in large groups, there is not a lot of tourist infrastructure built up in Puno.
The main Plaza Mayor is a lovely place to sit in the sun, with the Puno Cathedral on the west side of the square. Running north to south along the bottom of the square is a pedestrian walkway. This is where many of the shops and restaurants are found.
Puno seems to have a lot of ice cream shops, and a lot of eyeglass shops!
What to Do in Puno with Kids
The main activities in Puno revolve around Lake Titicaca, which is a twenty-minute walk down Calle Titikaka from the main square. Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world!
Most tourists visit the Floating Islands of Uros and the Island of Taquile on a one-day tour. If you want to add in a second day, you can do a homestay on the island of Amantani. Because conditions are basic, this is only recommended for older kids.
Check Prices: Day Tour of Lake Titicaca
Visit the Floating Islands of Uros
The first stop for most tours is the floating islands of Uros. There are over 150 artificial islands made of reeds in the closest part of Lake Titicaca in the Bahía de Puno. Only a 20-minute boat ride from Puno harbor, you can visit these islands on a half or full-day tour of the lake.
Each day, the tour companies rotate which island they visit to spread the tourist money throughout the communities. The small island we visited was home to 4 families, and about 20 people.
The Uros islands are today inhabited by the Aymara people, though the concept of the islands is thought to have originated with the Uros people.
The guide will give you a presentation that explains how the islands are built and maintained, before giving you a chance to buy artisan handicrafts from the local families. We were a little hesitant about this part of the tour as we had read reviews of several tours where tourists felt pressured to buy things they didn’t want. We did not have this experience at all.
Ride in a Traditional Reed Boat
From here, you will have the option to take a ride on a traditional reed boat (an additional cost of 10 soles). These boats are beautifully made, often with two levels, and reed cat heads in the front of the boat.
Traditionally these are piloted via oar. We saw many versions of the boats on the water, ranging from the traditional two oars to smaller versions with one oar at the back serving as a sort of rudder. Our boat looked traditional, but the villagers roped a small motorboat to the side to push the boat rather than row it.
The reed boat will dock on a second small reed island- your larger tour boat will meed you there. This island has a coffee show and a bathroom (very basic, 1 sol). This island was packed with tourists, as every group seems to stop there.
Transition to Modernity
These islands seem to be undergoing a difficult transition- once dependent on farming and fishing for their livelihood, they are now dependent on tourism.
The “Traditional Lifestyle” is what tourists come to see, and what makes these islands unique. However, many islands now have solar panels for electricity, wires, and light bulbs. Many are no longer cooking with the traditional clay overs warmed by burning reeds but now have propane.
As we sailed through the islands, you could see metal sheeting or blue plastic tarps peeking from underneath the “traditional” reed walls and roofs of the homes.
Our guide also explained that the population of the islands is shrinking. There are two public and one private (7th Day Adventist) grammar schools on the islands. The kids then go to Puno for secondary school, and many have no interest in returning to live on the islands.
To add to the difficulties on the islands, pollution from Puno is making the water unsafe to drink, causing parasite problems among the population.
Visit Taquile Island
For the second part of your tour, you will sail out of the reed-filled inner part of the lake, and out to the wider lake to the island of Taquile. This journey takes about 1 ½ – 2 hours, depending on your boat.
As you approach Taquile, you will see the snow-capped, craggy peaks of mountains in Bolivia ahead of you, rising out of the lake.
Different tour groups will land at different ports on the island of Taquile. On the tour we recommend, you will land at the port of Huayllano, and have a short, but steep, uphill hike to the small market that has been created for tourists.
The Market and Dance
At this market you will learn about the island- with a population of around 2,000 Quechua people, it has a mix of traditional and more modern homes. In the middle of the market, villagers dressed in traditional garb will do a dance as they play the drums and flute.
Visitors are welcome to join in the simple dance, and then will be invited to take pictures with the villagers afterward. Please make sure to leave a tip in one of the jars, as these villagers are clearly putting on a show to try to earn some money from the tourists.
The traditional clothes are beautiful- keep an eye out for the strip of long, thin braids many of the men tie on before placing their large feathered hats on their heads.
Hike and Lunch
From here, your group will take a 40-minute walk across the island to your lunch location. This walk cuts across to the other side of the island, so you’ll get wonderful views of the lake as well as of local flowers and gardens. This walk is mostly flat, with a few slight uphills, and a large downhill right before the restaurant.
The food was quite good, everyone had fried bread and quinoa soup then had a choice of local trout or a vegetarian omelet.
After lunch, you will walk to the small sandy beach below the restaurant, and board your boat for the 1 ½ hour trip back to Puno.
Overall Day Trip Review
Altogether, we all enjoyed our day trip and learned a lot about this unique environment. Because tourism is rather limited right now, our tour was in both English and Spanish. This meant that the guide was continually moving back and forth between the two languages during the informational portions of the trip.
While this was kind of fun for the adults trying to work on their Spanish, it made it hard for the kids to focus on what the guide was saying. They kept tuning out during the Spanish portion, and not realizing when the guide switched back to English. Hopefully, when there are more groups visiting, the tour will be in one language each.
Check Prices: Day Tour of Lake Titicaca
Walk around Town
The Plaza Mayor is a lovely green space with a fountain in the middle. At night the fountain lights up and changes colors. To one side of the plaza is the Cathedral de Puno, which is worth a peek inside.
Follow the pedestrian walkway of Calle Lima north, then check out Parque Pino. We stumbled upon a parade with traditional characters and a ceremony while we were exploring this part of town.
Just east of there you’ll find the Mercado Central de Puno.
Hike to Mirador Kuntur Wasi
This hike to the Condor Viewpoint would normally be easy but add in the 13,000 feet of elevation at the condor statue, and you should plan to take your time.
It took us just under an hour to walk from Plaza Mayor and up the many stairs to this viewpoint. Once you are at the top, there is a fun spiral staircase inside the pedestal of the condor to get up even higher. You’ll be rewarded with great views of the town and Lake Titicaca below.
There are blue signs on the roads which mark the way for cars to drive up, follow google maps to find the wide set of stairs to follow up to the statue.
Where to Eat in Puno with Kids
We found very few recommendations for where to eat in Puno, so had to try a few places to find ones we would recommend.
There are quite a few meat-heavy restaurants that cater to locals, and a series of “Menu Turisticas” for tourists that are often hard to tell apart.
Here are a few of the places to eat in Puno with kids that we heartily recommend.
This café has a bakery and sweet shop downstairs, and a lovely café upstairs. The Caprese sandwich and the chicken soup were delicious. Don’t skip on dessert- their Lúcuma Tarte was exceptional. They also have good espresso and coffee if you are recovering from a long bus ride!
I’m always skeptical when a restaurant is too well placed, but this spot right on the main square has delicious meals for a reasonable price. We tried the shrimp and trout, pasta, and steak dishes here, and all of them were of good quality. We didn’t have dessert here, but we saw a few plates being served and they looked delicious.
Casa del Corregidor
This bright yellow building on the north side of the Puno Cathedral pops up on every “Where to eat in Puno” list, and for good reason. It has a lovely courtyard with tables, and an interior room decorated with vintage record jackets. Their menu varies from very affordable sandwiches to Tex-Mex and pasta dishes for a more hearty meal.
We had delicious coffees and tried a variety of sandwiches and soups. There are several games available- our kids loved playing checkers while we sipped a craft beer. This is the kind of place you don’t feel rushed and are welcome to sit awhile with either a game or a laptop.
We almost gave up on this restaurant when we couldn’t find it where google maps had it located. You’ll find this place on the main strip (calle Lima), around no. 371.
The food here is traditional Peruvian, plus some Chifa (a culinary tradition based on Chinese Cantonese elements fused with Peruvian ingredients). We had the trout ceviche, the arroz chaufa pollo (Chifa fried rice with egg and chicken), and the ají de gallina. All the dishes were tasty, and the bill was surprisingly low.
How Long Should I Stay in Puno with Kids?
We recommend staying in Puno for three nights. We arrived very late at night and were very glad to have a quiet recovery day the following day. Even if we had arrived as planned, it’s better to have time to acclimate to the altitude before hiking around the islands.
The second night allows you to spend a full day on Lake Titicaca, and then head out the next day. We stayed four nights so that we could rest after our long day on the lake, and check out the mirador as well.
While we were glad to have a day to recover from the long day trip on the lake, we found that we were all affected by the altitude the most on the fourth day, perhaps just from fatigue.
There You Have It
Puno, Peru, is a well-established tourist destination with its beautiful Lake Titicaca and the fascinating artificial floating islands. Here’s everything you need to know to make the most of your visit to Puno with kids, including where to stay, what to do, and where to eat.