|| The South
Lake Titicaca (Lago Titikaka)
|According to legend, the first Inca, Manco Capac, emerged from Lake Titicaca and founded the Inca empire. They say that the shape of Lake Titicaca is a giant puma, opening his mouth to eat a rabbit (the rabbit is Puno Bay). Kids will have a great time exploring Lake Titicaca, the world's highest big lake.
|Puno This high altitude city (12, 562 ft.) is the jumping off point for your explorations of Lake Titicaca. Puno is the folklore capital of the altiplano all around town you'll hear music, especially in restaurants. In February, Puno hosts the Feast of the Virgin de la Candelaria, processions with music and fireworks.
|Parque Huajsapata (Huajsapata Park) Assuming you've acclimatized to the high altitude, start your day at Parque Huajsapata. It's a short 10 minute walk up the hill to the park overlooking Puno and Lake Titicaca. A big white statute of Manco Capac majestically stands guard. The best feature of the park are two big slides for kids. The hilltop is also perfect for kite flying you can buy kites (cometas) at the market.
|SS Yavari (Barco Museo Yavari) Down at the old port, tour the steamship Yavari. This steamboat, built in 1862 in England, was sent to Puno in pieces, where it was reassembled. The Yavari was part of a fleet of steamships that chugged around Lake Titicaca. On the Yavari, kids can see the crews' quarters, pilot's cabin, a model of the steamboat, and the engine room (though not the original steam engine that was fuelled with llama dung).
|Bicycle rickshaws Take a ride in the bicycle rickshaws (seats two) around town. A bicycle rickshaw is handy when your legs feel tired from the high altitude.
|Market The market down by the train tracks is colorful and fun. You'll see ladies in traditional dress selling many varieties of potatoes (potatoes came from the Andes), as well as handicrafts, CDs of Andean music and musical instruments.
Floating Islands of the Uros A trip to the floating islands is a "must see." The sensation of stepping onto a man-made "reed island" is extraordinary (it's soft and springy underfoot.) Imagine living in a reed house (solar panels for electricity). Kids can watch the Uros making totora reed boats, some with impressive animal figureheads.
Take a ride in a reed boat. As your boat glides through crystal clear water, you are suspended above "a water garden where the trout graze." Peer over the side to see emerald green plants drifting back and forth on the bottom. The boat is comfortable, and the ride is all too short.
Editor's note: Some guidebooks may pooh-pooh the floating islands, claiming they're too "touristy" (the Uros don't live there full time.) The floating islands are a tourist destination, but for everyone in the family, the wonder of riding in a reed boat won't be forgotten.
Isla Taquile Take a four hour (each way) boat ride to the island of Taquile. A visit to Taquile is to glimpse traditional village life on Lake Titicaca. There are no cars, no bicycles on the island, the people are farmers and weavers. Women dress in bright colored gathered skirts (four of them), and cover their heads with a dark blue wool shawl decorated with pompoms. (These shawls are great to bring back as a souvenir.) Men wear black pants, white shirts, and distinctive red woven hats.
From the boat landing, you hike up stone steps to the village. (If you have a toddler, you might end up carrying your little one; it's a schlepp to the main plaza.) Along the way you'll encounter sheep and cows on the path, men and women drop spinning as they walk, and little kids running out to greet you with herbs and flowers.
|Chullpas of Sillustani The pre-Inca Colla people buried their dead in chullpas, huge round stone towers. You can see chullpas at Sillustani, on the edge of Lake Umayo. The ruins are extensive, dotted with many chullpas some are just piles of stones, others are honeycombed with white plaster, the most impressive are covered with hewn stone. The paths through the site are a good place run around, and the sheep grazing nearby are entertaining (sometimes they wander into the ruins).
If you eat meat, this is a place to sample alpaca for dinner. It's quite good, not at all gamey, like a flavorful cut of steak. In Puno it's often on the menu in restaurants.
If you go to the Floating Islands, be sure to buy miniature reed boats, they are replicas of the real thing. Puno is also a good place to buy musical intruments of the Altiplano pan pipes, small guitars made of armadillo shells (charango), and shell rhythm instruments.