Andean Explorations – 10: Puno

This post is part of my Peru travel series: Travel stories | Photo gallery

Lazy day
It was great to be in Puno (पुनो) – a small dusty town and very Peruvian. I slept in because the bed was so soft, it was crispy cold outside, I had the whole room to myself and thus I finally recovered my sleep backlog! I woke up and felt a slight buzz in my head. Puno at an altitude of 3860 m (12,420 ft) is located on highlands and altitude sickness is not unknown here. But, there is a miraculous solution – Coca leaves.

Mate de Coca (Coca tea)
Coca tea, also called Mate de Coca (माटे दे कोका) , is a herbal tea made using the leaves of the coca plant (कोका च्या पानांपासुन बनवलेला गवती चहा). The tea originates from the Andes mountain range, particularly Peru. Coca tea consumption is common in many South American countries. Many indigenous tribes of the Andes mountain range also use the tea for medicinal and religious purposes. The consumption of Coca tea, as well as chewing the leaves, increases the absorption of oxygen in blood, which helps combat altitude sickness, and has a marked digestive and carminative action. Owing to the presence of the stimulant alkaloids, the coca tea provides a source of energy similar to coffee!

Note that this is “Coca”, not “Cocoa” (easy to get confused!) 🙂

The hotel I was staying in offered free Coca tea and since फुकट ते पौष्टीक् (Marathi slang that means – “if it’s free, it’s healthy”), I helped myself with generous portions. It was soo good and my headache was gone in no time.

Puno's central square

Fruits in the morning, post-lunchtime breakfast (bread-eggs-bacon-coffee-cheesecake) at a German bakery, then had fried Alpaca (remember the Peruvian lamb?) sandwich with an Israeli guy, and finally at night I had a vegetarian meal at Govinda. It was a nice day.

About Puno

Puno Town. Many houses are left under construction to save tax!

The city was established in 1668 by the Spanish victors. Today, Puno is an important agricultural and livestock region, however, as you can see in the pictures, many home in Puno are half-finished – this is done to save the taxes. The city is close to the Bolivian border and this leads to, as I was told, import of cheap goods from the neighboring country and a black market resulting thereof.

Puno has a couple of hills, and since the last time I hiked a mountain was over 36 hours ago, I was craving for more. Toronto, where I am living since Jan’07, is like a dot at the center of a carom board – there are practically no mountains around and therefore it was natural to die for some action.


The only reason tourists arrive at Puno is to go into the Lake Titicaca and see the strikingly different lifestyle of the locals there. I booked a tour for the next one-night-two-days at the islands. I don’t know if this will be useful for anyone, but do not pay more than S/. 55 for this duration. This includes ferry transport, 2 meals and overnight stay at one of the villages. The agent informed me that for another S/. 30, he could show me to nearby town Chukoito – duration 3 hours.

30 soles? Nah, I decided to go there by myself and indeed it cost me only 2.5 soles.
What’s special about Chucuito? You will be surprised.

This post is part of my Peru travel series: Travel stories | Photo gallery