Located on the Collao plateau on the shores of Titicaca – the world’s highest navigable lake – Puno combines spectacular scenery and a mix of two indigenous cultures. The city itself is a commercial center founded in 1668 as a mining enclave.
According to a popular legend, the mythical founders of the Inca Empire, Manco Capac and Mama Oclio, emerged from Lake Titicaca. The area also gave rise to Tiahunanaco, one of the great pre-Incan civilizations whose traditions are preserved to the present by proud Aymara Indians.
The inhabitants of the altiplano region, where harsh conditions of cold, wind and altitude seem to suit alpacas and vicuñas more than people, resisted the domination of the Spanish culture more stubbornly than in other areas of Peru.
Lake Titicaca, covering 3,424 square miles (8,560km2), is dotted with dozens of islands. The floating islands of the Uros are made of reeds and have become one of Puno’s most unusual, although commercialized, tourist attractions. In contrast, the real islands of Amantani and Taquile give visitors a genuine taste of pre-conquest Andean Peru.
The region is also home to the ancient tower tombs known locally as chullpas, some of the most spectacular of which are at Sillusani, 20 miles (30km) northwest of Puno. Built more than 500 years ago during the Tiahuanaco civilization, they are set on a small peninsula in Lake Umayo overlooking Titicaca.