New York City
Unfortunately we (boyfriend + myself) don't have time to do both on this trip (first time in Peru) as we'll be spending a few days in Lima for a friend's wedding and then hiking the Inca Trail and spending some time in Cusco.
We're seasoned travelers and love nature and the city, so it's difficult to decide between the two. At the moment we're leaning towards Arequipa because it seems more active and picturesque, while Lake Titicaca seems a little less "amazing" in our research and based on what others have told us.
We have 3 days/2 nights total for either destination.
Puno itself is really no great shakes, but that's OK, because it's just a launching pad. What was great—and one of the highlights of our trip to Peru—was taking the trip to stay out on Isla Taquile. The island's residents run a tourism cooperative and take turns hosting the travelers who come to the island. You get on the boat in Puno and when you get to the dock at Taquile, your host is there waiting and they take you to stay in their home. It's not fancy (when we were there it was outhouses, cold showers and pretty meager solar-based electricity), but it's a fantastic experience and a bargain to boot. We got lucky and ended up staying with the mayor, who was incredibly welcoming and gracious. Food is simple (mostly fish, rice, beans and quinoa soup) but good. There aren't tourist attractions, per se—you're here for a cultural experience. You'll see men knitting the distinctive hats that they wear (the ones with the white top indicate that the wearer is single) and you'll see the exceptional weaving that the women do. You can also go for hikes around the island, which provides gorgeous views. I should mention that you need to climb from the dock to the top of the island to get to where you'll stay. It's something like 500 steps, and yes, that is quite a job at 14,000 feet. But go slow and steady like the locals and you'll do fine—we literally saw a guy going up the steps with a full-sized wardrobe strapped to his back. There's another island, Amantaní, right next to Taquile, and I believe you can stay there as well, or at least go and have a look around. Oh, and you can also stop at the floating Uros Islands on your way out or back to Puno. Touristy, yes, especially in comparison to Taquile, but still cool.
There's another little bonus to heading to Titicaca—you'll also have time to go see the chullpas, or funerary towers, at Sillustani. They're an incredible sight to see—perfectly fitted together stones in cylindrical towers. The surrounding landscape is haunting in its austere beauty—there's a lake near the site as well. We were the only ones there when we visited, except for some friendly sheep and llamas. It was eerie and other-worldly and yet another highlight.
When it comes down to it, I think Titicaca-Taquile-Sillustani is the more unique option—there's nothing like it anywhere else.
I hope this is helpful—enjoy your trip!
Mentioned in this answer:
Lake Titicaca is pretty amazing-it is possible to stay with local families and go out to the floating islands. The home stays are basic-no 4 star experience, but if you want to meet real people and experience their way of life, it's great. Their local crafts are interesting-too. All of Peru is pretty amazing-you won't go wrong anywhere you go.
I guess this could be a great decision: Visit Arequipa. You could walk in the Colca Canyon. It is something hard but it becomes unforgettable. Now the nature and mountains are very amazing, also the clouds seem much more interesting doing wonderful contrasts in the lanscape. If you are looking for quiet trekking in the canyon you should do a trekking for 3 days and 2 nights in the canyon. Perhaps, you prefer to do only the traditional Colca Canyon tour just to see the Condor Cross view point ) 2 days and 1 night; in other hand you could enjoy this colonial city. It is very interesting to visit the Iglesia la Compañía, Santa Catalina Monastery, Museo Santuarios Andinos, Carmen Alto view point or Yanahuaraview point. I recomend to you to see the following LINK: www.peruviancolcatrails.com There you may search some itineraries about the trekking in the Canyon. If you prefer to stay in Arequipa, you might do horseback riding, as well the surrounding area is very green now. Usuallly it is very dry in our city.
Well, you are welcome to Arequipa.
Mentioned in this answer:
I went to both, such a hard decision to make! From Arequipa I did an overnight trip to Culca Canyon which was nice. But for the more unique experience I think you have to go with a home stay on an island on Lake Titicaca. If you aren't going to go out on the lake then skip it. You can't go wrong picking either place though!
I went to visit both. I am more nature-oriented but I really liked Arequipa as well. Arequipa has a really nice vibe and main square (though it is not as great as on the pictures as there is a lot of traffic) but at the end it is only another crowded city. If I would have to make a decision which place to visit again I would go for Lake Titicaca. It can be tourist-oriented (as everything else) but you will not see a place and people like this anywhere else in the world.