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.
As 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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
The Altiplano’s arid harshness is striking. Whilst you wander amongst the tombs absorbing this piece of ancient history, you just never know who…
…or what, you will meet along this stroll back in time…
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’.