Peru: Exploring the Intriguing Sillustani Tombs from Puno

August, 2011

What better way to spend time whilst in Peru, than on a half-day tour from Puno to the intriguing Sillustani pre-Inca and Inca funerary megalith tombs. This is what you can expect on a tour…

Overlooking the glistening shores of Lake Umayo near Lake Titicaca, Sillustani stone towers cast dancing shadows on the parched windswept landscape, drenched by centuries of bitter cold.

Sillustani Tombs, Lake Umayo, Peru, South America

Getting there

Sillustani, Puno, Peru, South AmericaAs the burial site is just under forty kilometres from Puno, it’s easy enough to catch a taxi to this site. Taxis are used to waiting until you finish sight-seeing at Sillustani, for the return journey to Puno.

Public buses are scarce and drop you off around fourteen kilometres from the Juliaca highway, so it’s a long walk to the tombs. And, I’m not sure about return buses to Puno.

You can also organise a half-day tour to Sillustani from many travel agents in Puno. The tour typically leaves mid-afternoon and returns at sunset.

We opted to book the small minibus tour with our hostel the Inka’s Rest, as Alfredo the manager, is most accommodating and sincere.

A little background on the Sillustani Tombs

As with many conflicting stories in South America that evolve through the ages, some say that Sillustani is the “ancient Peruvian graveyard of wizards”.

Sillustani Tombs, Lake Umayo, Peru, South America

I can’t confirm this mythical description. And, archaeologists have no real concrete explanation for the reason of why these massive stone towers were built.

Due to the very small opening at the bottom of the tower and tapering wide top, another theory is that some of the towers may have been used as grain silos at some point.

Sillustani Tombs, Lake Umayo, Peru, South America

Although, it is known that the tombs contain ashes of the “Qulla people – indigenous people of western Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina” that live in the Salta and Jujuy Provinces.

Sillustani Tombs, Lake Umayo, Peru, South America
Tombs from the Tiwanaku era – now a tourist trap with a Cholita and Llama

During pre-Inca civilisation, the ancient Aymara – Altiplano people – built these mysterious perfectly cylindrical towers Chullpas, as burial for the elite such as kings, high priests, noblemen, and their extended families.

Sillustani Tombs, Lake Umayo, Peru, South America
Wider at the top and tapering like a funnel to a narrower diameter at the bottom

Some historians believe that between 1,200 and 1,400 AD, the Colla people built the cruder and smaller Chullpas. During the 15th century, the Incas conquered the Colla, and this is when the Incas built the more precise and larger Chullpas. Both of these civilisations followed the Tiwanaku civilisation.

Whilst travelling in Bolivia and if you find yourself in La Paz, which everyone does at some point, a visit to the impressive Tiwanaku Temple of the Sun archaeological site is a must.

The Sillustani towers, which stand from two metres to almost twelve metres in height, are both imposing and mesmerising. Taller towers represent a woman’s uterus, in which the deceased was placed in the foetal position.

Although not intentionally mummified, due to the dry environment in the closed tombs, corpses survived for centuries. From the discovered bundles of mummies, the conclusion is that burial did occur in a foetal position.

Sillustani Tombs, Lake Umayo, Peru, South America

Sadly, many chambers have succumbed to looting through the ages, as grave robbers thought the tombs contained gold buried with their owners. Many tombs were also left unfinished whilst others have been dynamited by grave robbers over time.

Intricate carvings, which include differing animal shapes such as pumas and lizards, adorn some of the carefully carved stones.

Tomb openings face east – a belief that each day the sun was reborn by Mother Earth (Pachamama).

Sillustani Tombs, Lake Umayo, Peru, South America
Not too many tourists about today

I’m always amazed that visitors to these incredibly important sites are allowed to walk anywhere, over, or touch almost any artefact. Apart from a little string of yellow tape for safety around some of the more crumbling tombs, no other barriers exist to protect these ancient treasures.

Lake Umayo

Worth a mention is the picturesque Lake Umayo – home to Sillustani.

The lake stretches about 8 kilometres (5 miles) long and 3 kilometres (1.9 miles) wide. At a height of 3,844 metres (12,612ft), scrambling around this site at this altitude may be challenging for some. The air is thin.

Sillustani Tombs, Lake Umayo, Peru, South America
Stunning view for an eternal resting place

More of a lagoon than a lake and said to be once a part of Lake Titicaca, enjoy the tranquil surrounding vistas, whilst exploring Sillustani’s windy and barren burial site.

Sillustani Tombs, Lake Umayo, Peru, South America
Solitary glimpse

The Altiplano’s arid harshness is striking. Whilst you wander amongst the tombs absorbing this piece of ancient history, you just never know who…

Sillustani Tombs, Lake Umayo, Peru, South America
Locals pop out from anywhere

…or what, you will meet along this stroll back in time…

Sillustani Tombs, Lake Umayo, Peru, South America
Too shy for a photo

Is Sillustani worth visiting?

Absolutely. Especially, if you find yourself in Puno with half a day to spare, then I would highly recommend visiting this archaeological site.

The craftsmanship of the perfectly-cylindrical burial towers such as the ones in Sillustani, cannot be found anywhere else in South America, and hailed as the ‘finest constructions of ancient Peru’.

Visit Nilla’s Photography for more images. More posts on Peru at Image Earth Travel.

A very brief video of the tombs for you by Brien FoersterHidden Inca Tours.


24 thoughts on “Peru: Exploring the Intriguing Sillustani Tombs from Puno

Add yours

  1. One of my oldest memories, around five years old, is visiting the chullpas of Sillustani. That time it was empty, the last time five years ago I went with one of my brothers and we saw other local persons walking casually around those works made by our ancient engineers and nobility as if they were just mundane things. Some say those places should have a free admission for us Peruvians but I am afraid we just would destroy the ruins even more. Also the persons that stole the remains… as you are a foreigner you could think that is a harsh environment but is the opposite. Actually is quite rich. If it looks dry is because we are so high beyond the line were trees are able to grow and our grass has a natural yellow color and seems dry. If people steal is because they are bad persons (in our culture robbery is a higher offense even than adultery) that they just grab what is not cared. Fortunately I think there are no news as used to be decades ago of robberies of ourselves of our own heritage to sell to private collectors around the world.

    And well, is fascinating to read you and see your photography, Nilla; the blue and yellow is sweet in the way you portrayed them . Wishing you a beautiful 2019. Kind regards ^_^

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi Francis – hope 2019 is a wonderful year for you and look forward to reading more of your posts! 🙂

      I always love reading your comment/feedback and appreciate the time you take to write such in-depth responses. Not only that, it gives an outsider like me a better perspective and hopefully a little more understanding of the situation in your country.

      Not knowing a language when travelling is a hindrance, even though I had a few Spanish words and some Italian in Peru – then I’m sure there are also diverse dialects. As a traveller and not knowing the language, I can’t fully understand a country’s climate unless I meet someone like you that’s willing to take the time to explain situations, so that I can learn. I always say that it would be wonderful having that chip to slot in your head so that you instantly know the language for a country in which you travel – imagine how much richer the experience would be…won’t happen in my lifetime.

      Sadly, the pilfering of precious tombs is not only confined to Peru – take Egypt as only one example. It’s also tragic that ancient monuments in countries were dismantled to use the stones for different building materials elsewhere.

      Again as a traveller, we make up our own minds of what we see – where I see a barren wasteland, a local sees this same space as rich and diverse, as you mention.

      Thanks again for the lesson on Peru!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes! I find that even ridiculous to a frustrating point, how tourist are allowed to come so close to artefacts. Same as the coral riffs, people just standing on them..terrible!
    Anyways, beautiful travel report again dear Nilla. XxX

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Thank you Patty. I try not to touch anything when I’m visiting any site, as it doesn’t feel right at all…

      Please don’t get me started on coral reefs. I lived next to the Great Barrier Reef for a few years and did a lot of diving. I felt like strangling visitors that don’t respect our reef – no comprehension of how to dive/snorkel without trampling/destroying coral. x

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the great feedback Rebecca. Ha, ha, I always use ‘whilst’ a legacy of the Brits in Australia I suspect.

      I had never thought of creating a calendar with my photos only prints, canvasses, etc. I can look into this for you if you like? I haven’t finished writing about South America yet so have many more photos to share that you may like. Or, check out Nilla’s Photography. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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