Most people, when they visit Peru, focus on Lima, Cusco, and the Inca Trail. All great places but if you’re interested in seeing another side of Peru or want to dig further than the ubiquitous colonial and Incan histories, you will have to head towards the less obvious. A great area in which to do that is Peru’s hilly north. It takes forever to get anywhere but when you finally do reach the small tucked away towns and villages, hopefully you’ll think the effort to get here was worth it. As I glimpsed lives completely different from mine and as I admired the beautiful passing landscape, I thought it was definitely was. Still, you must be wondering why anyone would want to come to this out of the way part of Peru. Well, simply put, it’s an opportunity to check out the dead.
What Is Revash?
At Revash, there are a set of tombs set high up along the face of a cliff. The tombs look like mini stone houses. They are plastered and are decorated with various designs in shades of red and white. Inside the tombs, there would have been skeletons (12 were found in the 1980s) and various items from a long ago life. There are about 18 other similar sites in the region but from what I understand, Revash is the largest.
Can You Go Inside?
Not anymore. It is now prohibited from climbing up to the tombs. Why? Well, someone died doing that. Apparently, a tourist slipped and fell to his death. Seeing the place in person, that did not surprise me at all. But while it would have been amazing to see the tombs up close, I did get a good view of them from below, standing on a viewing platform. Besides, seeing them in their cliff-face setting really gave it an atmospheric feeling, especially when I turned to take in the expansive valleys all around me.
What Was it Like to Visit Revash?
From our lodgings near Gocta Falls, Revash was about a 2.5 hour drive. The last 45 minutes or so was along a bumpy road that led deeper and deeper into the mountains. It was damp when we arrived, the skies threatening rain. The town in which we started the walk to Revash was called San Bartolemo. It was quiet, the kind of place foreigners never see unless there for a specific reason.
Our guide was Señor Diaz, a rather affable man who didn’t speak English. Not necessarily a bad thing as it gave me an opportunity to practice my limited Spanish. Señor Diaz said that about 100 people live in San Bartolemo and many of them work toward developing Revash as a ‘proper’ tourist site. On the way to the site, he pointed out various plants along the stone path and explained their medicinal purposes. At least that is what I think he was saying! My attention was split between attempting to understand the Spanish and trying to not slip on the slick stone. Or step in horse poop – we were in the countryside, after all.
Eventually, the path gave way to dirt; it also moved closer and closer to the edge of the bushy cliff. The views were phenomenal, the wide green valleys stretching out as far as one could see. I was torn between soaking in the view and watching where I placed my feet. There were points where one wrong step, I could have fallen down a lot farther than I’d want. Eventually, we reached a manmade dirt platform. Señor Diaz directed me to look up – and there they were. The tombs of Revash.
I also saw a path that went up to them and that was when I learned why we couldn’t take it. As tempting as it was to go up anyway, I was able to imagine the tourist’s fall from the dirt path a little too easily for me to risk it…especially considering all the recent rain the area had gotten. Señor Diaz also explained that there are plans to continue improving the site of Revash to make it safer and more tourist friendly. Also, apparently, there are more ruins further up the cliff and there are plans to have a path extend to those as well.
If these unique tombs don’t entice you to make the effort to come all this way, perhaps the (relatively) nearby museum of Leymebama would. The museum was built to showcase archaeological finds recovered in 1997 from the nearby Laguna de los Cóndores. It is a well-appointed place, boasting only four rooms. The highlight of this museum is its amazing mummies – it holds about 240 in total! It was absolutely fascinating to see and so so strange to think that these were living breathing people once. The mummies were of animals, adults, children, and even babies. With some, their faces were visible, displaying grotesquely grinning mouths. Others had their hands covering the lower half of their face, eyes peering right at you over their fingers. And yet still others totally hid their faces behind their hands, looking like their last moments were spent rocking in the corner of a cave.
Unfortunately, photographs not allowed. Sigh.