When talking about excursions in Puno, we generally focus on the islands of Lake Titicaca- the Floating Islands of Uros, Amantani Island, and Taquile Island- but there’s even more to see in Puno. If you have an extra day in the city, your first choice should be the pre-Incan Sillustani Chullpas.
These ancient burial towers are located on the top of a windy hilltop which boasts beautiful views overlooking Lake Umayo, whose waters local legend claims are enchanted. The chullpas are stone burial towers, up to 12 meters in height, where mummies were housed to await rebirth. They’re recognizable by their uncommon shape, which is narrower at the base and wider at the top.
The towers each held a family unit, and were probably limited to noble families. Many of the tombs have suffered damage by grave robbers, who used dynamite to open them.
A short distance from the ruins, you’ll find the site museum, which shows pieces unearthed at the site. These date back to the Colla culture, the Tiahuanaco Kingdom, and the Inca Empire. The Incas appropriated, expanded, and continued to use the pre-existing site after conquering the area in the 15th century.
The bodies of the deceased were swathed in fabric and tied into mummy bundles to be buried. They were almost always placed into a fetal position, so they would be ready to be born again. The symbolism didn’t stop there- the opening of the towers face east, where it was believed that the son was reborn by the mother earth each day.
The dry climate and the closed tomb had the unintended effect of mummifying many of these bodies. This, and the plethora of items buried with the deceased, made the area a rich site for archeological discovery in spite of the fact that the site also attracted plenty of thieves over the centuries.
Tours leave Puno daily for the Sillustani Chullpas, generally picking up guests from their hostel at 2pm, which means that it’s an easy excursion to arrange even on the same day you’d like to visit. You’ll be taken in a large van, probably stopping take photos and enjoy the views at Yanamyo Lookout. Once at the foot of the hill where the site is located, you’ll disembark and hike a short while up to the ruins for a guided tour. The site doesn’t just include the towers; there are other stone ruins as well: subterranean tombs, Incan Baths, an Intiwatana (Incan solar clock), and monoliths. However, it really is a little difficult to appreciate what you’re seeing without a guide to explain what it is, its history and significance. Tours will take you back to your hostel as its getting dark in the evening.
If you’d rather go independently, you can take a collective taxi from central Puno for S/. 3.50 Peruvian soles. Just ask your receptionist how to get to the street where these taxis wait. They’ll leave all day long, as soon as they have enough passengers.
Don’t forget to visit the Pirwa hostel in Puno during your trip- we offer comfortable, affordable lodging, travel assistance, and tours.