One of Puno’s most interesting sights, just outside of town, is the Yavarí, one of the world’s great antique ships. Sent in pieces from England in 1862, the Yavarí took six years to arrive at its destination. First, it was sent around Cape Horn, then carried by porters and mules over the Andes, and finally assembled on Lake Titicaca.
If you have the time and the energy, start your tour three blocks from the Plaza de Armas at Parque Huajsapata, the mirador overlooking Puno with a huge sculpture of Manco Cápac, the first Inca. Take extra precaution here, as there have been recent reports of robbery assaults on single tourists.
In the Plaza de Armas is the city’s Catedral Basílica San Carlos Borromeo (8 a.m.–noon and 3–5 p.m. daily), which was built in the 17th century by Peruvian master stonemason Simon de Asto. The interior is rather spartan in contrast to the carved facade, but contains an interesting silver-plated altar. Next to the cathedral is the 17th-century Casa del Corregidor, built by Father Silvestre de Valdés, who was in charge of the cathedral construction. It has a pleasant courtyard, now occupied by Puno’s most charming café.
At the corner of Conde de Lemos and Deústua is the Balcony of the Conde de Lemos (no tours) which is part of a building where Peru’s viceroy lived when he first stopped in the city. It is now the headquarters of the Cultural Institute of Peru. Across the street from the bacony is the Museo Dreyer Municipal (Conde de Lemos 289, next to Plaza de Armas, 7:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m. Mon.–Fri., US$1), which has a collection of pre-Inca and Inca ceramics, gold, weavings, and stone sculptures, as well as stamps and documents on the history of the Spanish foundation of Puno.
Puno’s pedestrian street, Lima, connects the Plaza de Armas to Parque Pino and has the city’s best restaurants and cafés. The 18th-century church gracing Parque Pino is dedicated to San Juan Bautista and contains the Virgen de Candelaria, Puno’s patroness and center of its most important festival.
Past Parque Pino is the Coca Museum & Customs (Deza 301, 9 a.m.–1 p.m. and 3–8 p.m. daily, US$5). This excellent family-run museum has two parts: Half the exhibits explain the history of the coca plant, and the other half, accompanied by a movie, displays the folkloric costumes used in traditional dances. Silva, the museum coordinator and director, speaks English and reads coca leaves. The street, which switches names to Independencia, leads to Arco Deústua, a huge stone arch dedicated to those killed in the battles for independence in Junín and Ayacucho.
Another option from Parque Pino is to head a few blocks downhill, toward the lake, to Puno’s huge central market, which is especially busy in the mornings. Puno visitors may also want to take a half day and see the ruins of Sillustani.
© Ross Wehner and Renée del Gaudio from Moon Peru, 3rd Edition