Lake Titicaca

Sitting on rolling hills on the Lago Umayo peninsula, the chullpas (funerary towers) of Sillustani stand out for miles against a desolate altiplano landscape. The ancient Colla people who once dominated the Lake Titicaca area were a warlike, Aymara-speaking tribe, who later became the southeastern group of the Incas. They buried their nobility in these towers, which can be seen scattered widely around the hilltops of the region.

The most impressive towers are at Sillustani, where the tallest reaches a height of 12m. The cylindrical structures housed the remains of complete family groups, along with plenty of food and belongings for their journey into the next world. Their only opening was a small hole facing east, just large enough for a person to crawl through, which would be sealed immediately after a burial. Nowadays, nothing remains of the burials, but the chullpas are well preserved. The afternoon light is the best for photography, though the site can get busy at this time.

The walls of the towers are made from massive coursed blocks reminiscent of Inca stonework, but are considered to be even more complicated. Carved but unplaced blocks, and a ramp used to raise them, are among the site’s points of interest, and you can also see the makeshift quarry. A few of the blocks are decorated, including a well-known carving of a lizard on one of the chullpas closest to the parking lot.

Sillustani is partially encircled by the sparkling Lago Umayo (3890m), which is home to a wide variety of plants and Andean water birds, plus a small island with vicuñas (threatened, wild relatives of alpacas). Birders take note: this is one of the best sites in the area.

Tours to Sillustani leave Puno at around 2:30pm daily and cost from S30. The round-trip takes about 3½ hours and allows you about 1½ hours at the ruins. If you’d prefer more time at the site, rent a private taxi for S80 with a one-hour waiting time. To save money, catch any bus to Juliaca and ask to be let off where the road splits (S3.50, 25 minutes). From there, taxis (S10) or occasional combis (S3, 20 minutes) go to the ruins.

Atuncolla offers stays with a host family, helping with farming and hiking to lesser-known sites.

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