Discover Inca Ruins near Lake Titicaca

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By Marisol Grau, El Comercio
Adapted from Spanish by Diana Schwalb

The chullpas, an Andean mausoleum, stand out in the horizon at the archaeological site of Sillustani. These funerary constructions constantly remind visitors of the respect that the leaders of the ancient Andean civilizations awoke.

The ruins of Sillustani are on lake Umayo near Puno. (Photo: Richard Hirano/El Comercio)

This cemetery in the Highlands not only contrasts the world of the living with the world of the dead, but it also is a tribute that revives the hegemonic class of cultures like Pucara, Colla, Tiahuanaco and Inca from centuries ago.

Lake Umayo adorns the entrance to the archaeological site. While walking along the path that leads to Sillustani, you will notice the importance of water within the pre-Hispanic cultural activities.

The cultivating system organized in successive plots of land and water (the latter of about 25 to 30 centimeters deep) is worth noting.

You can also see small handmade stone channels of stone, which go from the shore of the lake to the top of the mountain where the cemetery is located. Know that these aqueducts had basically two functions: preventing stagnation of water in the upper parts to prevent damage to the shrines of the leaders and also serving as a channel for the blood of the sacrifices to reach the Umayo Lake.

Higher up it is possible to see what remains of a ceremonial spot in Sillustani. It consists of two circles: the larger one represents the sun and the smaller one, the moon. The solstices, for example, were ideal dates, due to their energy, to make payments to Earth.

An icon that goes unnoticed along the way are some standing stones about 1.70 meters tall, rectangular and about 35 centimeters thick. According to Julio Suaña, Titilaka hotel guide, “these had the religious significance that has the cross in Catholicism has today.”

The Towers
When traveling Sillustani several questions arise: did those that lie within the highest and most imposing chullpas occupy the most important posts? Not necessarily.

As Suaña says, the whole place is sacred because it is occupied by the nobility of several pre-Inca and Inca cultures. Whether the stone tower that served as the tombstone was located higher or lower was not a significant factor, because what was important was that they were facing the sun and the lake.

However, the so-called Twin Towers prove that there was some hierarchy. In both cases, the stones that were placed at the entrance of the chullpa have twelve angles, which, according to Suaña, “represent the twelve months of the year and the number of important families in the area.”

Another one of the chullpas that is most recognized is that of the lizard, which is twelve meters high. It is named like that due to the reptile image that is engraved on the top.

Also pay attention to the rocks with small circular excavations in the interior. These highlight the gear method used by the Incas to build the most modern chullpas (smooth texture on the outside) in Sillustani.

Once on top, do not miss the breathtaking view of the Hualloc Plateau, surrounded by the Umayo and the typical landscapes of the Altiplano.

At the exit you should pay attention to the puma-shaped rocks that guard either side of the stairs to the cemetery (that used to be the entrance).

After the tour take the opportunity to buy souvenirs such as Andean knit hats or sweaters in the various crafts stands, visit the site museum or have something hot in the simple little café, located just outside the archaeological center.

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