The 14,000-foot high road from Cusco to Puno, Peru
The road from Cusco to Puno is a long one requiring about ten hours including stops along the way. Is it worth the long drive? Yes! Will you see amazing sights along the way? Yes! Will this experience last a lifetime? Yes!
Our first stop on the road to Puna was at the La Raya Pass which sits at 4,335 meters of a little more than 14,000 feet (14,222.44 feet to be exact). At the top, there is a scenic place to stop where the locals sell all sorts of colorful products made for the yard of alpaca, and the yard itself for those who love to knit with this wonderfully soft, luxurious material.
The prices are so good that you have to keep telling yourself to buy something or else you will live in regret for not taking advantage of this bargain outlet high in the Peru mountains.
The La Raya mountain range (Spanish for the line, the limits, the border) is situated in the Andes of Peru and after disembarking from your bus, you may first notice how thin the air is. But if you have chewed some coca leaves or taken your high altitude sickness prevention medicine, you will be just fine. We chewed the leaves and took our prescribed medication (Acetazolamide) and we did not once suffer from altitude sickness, even after we climbed 16,500 to the top of the nearby Rainbow Mountains several days earlier.
The mountains here are spectacular, and I almost wished that we had a lengthy stopover here so that we could engage in some Andes Mountains trek. Above, you can smoke from a nearby village that is nestled between the mountains to shelter it against the very cold nights.
More colors than that of a rainbow, perhaps nearly all in the color spectrum, adorn these woven products made and sold by the local inhabitants.
A spectacular backdrop of the highest peak in this region showcases luxurious fabrics from Alpaca and Llama. Soft to the touch and oh so warm!
Above, a friendly dog belonging to one of the local merchants captivates a tourist who would rather engage with man’s best friend than spend time shopping.
Leaving the rest stop at La Raya we catch a rare glimpse of a Vicuna, a wild South American camelid which lives in the high alpine areas of the Andes.
Our bus ride from La Raya enters a long stretch of road where we see flamingos, ibis, and many other Peruvian birds. We marvel at the fortitude of those people who live in such a remote land.
We soon arrive at another rest stop on our travel from Cusco to Puno. The Cafe Uchunari proudly serves some of the world’s most expensive coffee, Uchunari Coffee – Peruvian poop coffee. The Uchunari or Coati is an adorable raccoon-like animal that is prized for its ability to recycle red-ripe coffee beans through its digestive tract where it, in turn, is collected and made into the highly sought after Kopi Luwak coffee. You can see the process in the above sign and the cost of Peru poop coffee versus Indonesian poop coffee.
OK, so sometimes you just have to say to yourself, “I might as well try it because I don’t know if I’ll ever be back here.” And so we splurged a bit and bought both styles, the Americano and the Expresso. It was expensive but we divided our “spoils” among the three of us.
After our coffee break, it was time to head back on the road and continue our travel to Puno. Along the way, we passed the outskirts of Juliaca. However, several miles before we reached this city, our experienced guide asked us to start counting the gas stations that we passed. In a very, very short time, I had counted 26 very large and very modern-looking gas stations, some very close to the other, some three or four in a row. I couldn’t help but notice that virtually all of them had no customers, despite the lights being on. “Ok,” I said to our guide, “What’s with all the empty gas stations?” “Did they run out of gas?” “Oh no, he says, “these are fronts for money laundering!” It seems that the drug cartels have set up dummy gas stations so they can launder their money.
Arrival in Puno in the latter part of the afternoon gave us a glimpse of this wonderful city that lies on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca. Puno was established in 1668 by the Spanish Viceroy Pedro Antonio Fernández de Castro. It is the capital city of the Puno Region and the province. Originally it called San Juan Bautista de Puno and was the capital of the province of Paucarcolla. Later the name was changed to San Carlos de Puno, to honor King Charles II of Spain.
A Spanish senorita may have once graced this balcony as conquistadors conquered the native people who were in awe of the bearded warriors, and thought of them as being gods. They offered little resistance to the brutal Spaniards.
The Inca people in this region built great structures not only for worship but for daily life. When the Spanish arrived with their goal to convert the world to Catholicism, they destroyed all Inca structures and used the rubble for building material to build Catholic churches. Nearly all Spanish-built Catholic churches now sit on what was once ancient Inca religious sites.
There are not too many places that are more colorful than the local markets. Here you can observe the diversity of the land, not just the people but the foods they produce and eat.
In the local markets, you will mostly see fruits and vegetables that you may have never seen anywhere before.
The markets are divided into sections: one section has meat, one has fish, one has vegetables, one has fruit while another section has every day sundry items and clothing.
In the region along the area of Puno and Lake Titicaca, there is archaeological evidence that potatoes were domesticated some 10,000 years ago. There are some 4,000 different varieties that have been grown in these High Andes of southeastern Peru and northwestern Bolivia and have found their way to tables all around the world for centuries.
Above, Peru’s National Flower, the Cantuta, comes in many colors and varieties.
The wharf at Puno sits along the shoreline of Lake Titicaca and is a wonderful place to enjoy some time after strolling through the town The colorful lighthouse and numerous shorebirds make for a delightful day of taking in the unhurried sights of this marvelous city and all that it has to offer.
Several sites along the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world, have been designated as historical or natural preserves. A remarkable site of a nature preserve sits along the shores of Esteves Island along Lake Titicaca just behind the Hotel Libertador where we stayed. We watched birds darting among the reeds, observed guinea pigs as they frolicked along the shoreline, and were rewarded with a glorious sunset over the lake.
Our home base for this leg of our journey through Peru was the Hotel Libertador in Puno which sits on a strategic location atop a hill along the shores of Esteves Island. The hotel has 123 elegant rooms and suites, each room is tastefully appointed, and offers sweeping views of Lake Titicaca or the shimmering lights of Puno as the sun sets over the calm lake. Here was our starting point to visit the inhabitants of the nearby Titicaca village.
Could a beautiful sunset be more mesmerizing? Could a sunset ever be the same? The magic of Mother Nature to display her glory, night after night, day after day, is remarkable.
The shimmering cascade of lights from the city of Puno put on a mesmerizing display of their own as we watched them glisten along the waters of Lake Titicaca from our hotel room.
The Hotel Libertador offers a large variety of dining opinions in several price ranges. Above, the Pisco Sour, arguably the Peruvian national drink. It is made with Pisco, a yellowish-to-amber colored brandy produced in the winemaking regions of Peru, and combined with sour citrus juice and an element of sweetener. It is said that Pisco was developed by 16th-century Spanish settlers as an alternative to Orujo brandy, a high-proof spirit that was being imported from Northern Spain.
Enjoy a local beer and tasty smoked trout over toasted bread at the Hotel Libertador. The price is amazing and the taste is over the top!
Above is the Hacienda Restaurant in central Puno. Our very large group had no problem selecting our meals at this great restaurant. Below you can see some of the variety that we enjoyed during our dining experience.
In Puno, you will find many eating opportunities. The city is safe, the restaurants are clean and inviting and the service is great. But the food is what makes the dining experience. Here you can find cuisine that will satisfy the palates of every food connoisseur from vegan, pescatarian to the discerning meat eater. Above is a delightful plate of fresh trout and locally grown vegetables.
Above, a tasty meal made of perfectly seasoned quinoa, fresh tuna, and local corn.
For the meat-eater, this take on meat-and-potatoes is a delight to the taste buds. Of course, this fare of alpaca steak may not be to everyone’s choosing, however, the flavor is wonderful and should be part of your Peruvian adventure. It is also common to get two starch products of rice and potatoes with a meal.
Above and below, are two of the historical sites that can be seen in Puno. After our splendid dinner, we took a casual stroll along the well-lit streets of central Puno. Be smart, be safe and stay in well-lit areas that cater to tourists, avoid the same places that you would otherwise avoid in your own country.
Our stay in Puno has come to an end and we must depart for Lima, the final destination of our Peruvian adventure. Our breakfast at the Hotel Libertador featured a very unique honey-drip system and a massive variety of Peruvian, European and American style fare.
We have been honored to share this Peruvian adventure with several members of our family, shown above overlooking Lake Titicaca and the city of Puno. Each member had individual tastes in food, culture, activity, and interests. This trip offered a huge variety of all of these so that we could spend time together as well as time alone to explore.
After a relatively short bus ride from Puno to Juliaca, we boarded our plane for a short flight to Lima. Our overall trip to Peru had been an adventure of a lifetime and had been made even more special since we were able to share the experience with our loved ones.
Our tour of Peru had been facilitated by the travel group Gate 1 which did a superb job of coordinating our trip, including hotels, air travel, bus travel, sightseeing, and nearly all meals. With this professional tour group, you see so many things that you would not otherwise see on your own. Yet you have free time to experience many things on your own, yet still, have the group there for the highlights of the trip.
Our tour manager, who was with us during the entire two-week adventure, was beyond anything that I had experienced before in my travels to over 35 different countries. He was not only a wonderful guide but a teacher of the culture that he is so proud of. His warm personality made us feel that his beloved home in Peru is now our home too. As a parting gift, each member of the tour group was given special beaded bracelets that were hand-made by his daughter.
Is taking a trip to visit Peru on your bucket list? Do it soon, it will give you a new perspective on life, religion, and adventure. If not, don’t wait too long to add this great adventure to your list, it will be worth a drop in your bucket!
All photographs are the copyright of Jim Jackson Photography. Please contact me for authorization to use or for signed, high-resolution copies.