One of the interesting things I find about travel (and life) is that the initial appeal of something (ha – even someone) generally depends on what spin had been put on it. The words used to describe something generally will sway people towards it or away from it.
Take Sillustani for example. If I were to say, “old stone towers located in dusty rural Peru”, how likely are you to go see this place? Even I, one who is known to have once intentionally done a hike to a dry waterfall, may be like, “Eh. Lemme nap instead.”
But if I were to say, “In the rolling Peruvian antiplano, next to a glittering Lago Umayo, there lie eerie funerary towers that once held the mummies of pre-Incan nobles”. It sounds a little more interesting, right?
I bring this up because the only reason why I went to see Sillustani was because of the fascinating descriptions about it on tourist information sources. It sounded cool. I organized my stay in Puno in such a way to have time to visit it. I guess what I’m trying to say is that we all have our reasons for doing or visiting something when travelling. And in the case of Sillustani, I was swayed by words on a tour website, haha.
So, what is Sillustani? Are there dead people?
At about 13,000ft, near Puno (Lake Titicaca), lies Sillustani. It’s a set of tower tombs called chullpas. They were constructed by the Qulla people, part of the Aymara culture that existed before the Inca Empire steamrolled through the region. Once upon a time, these chullpas would have held the bodies of the Qulla noble families.
The chullpas are not only found here, however. They can be found across the whole south Central Andes. People come to Sillustani because it has the best preserved chullpas. Unfortunately, a visit here does not include dead people – there are no longer any mummies in these chullpas.
What should I expect to see at Sillustani?
The towers themselves, of course, are the main attraction. The tallest tower is 12m tall and if you look carefully, you’ll see it has a carving of a lizard on one of its stones. The interesting thing about these towers is that they are wider at the top than at the bottom. And also at the bottom, there is only one opening, which faces the rising sun in the east; the opening is small enough to have allowed a person to crawl through. It was sealed after a burial.
Sillustani is right next to Lake Umayo. The lake is a stunning blue against the dry landscape of the antiplano. The lake is known to have a wide variety of Andean water birds and plants. Apparently, birders tend to come out to this area.
If photography is important to you, the best time to visit is later in the afternoon. Unfortunately, that is when all the tours go out there. Or fortunately, since your only way to get to Sillustani from Puno is via a tour or a slightly pricey cab ride.
The tour we took left Puno about 2:30 p.m. and arrived just after 3 p.m. We had about 90 minutes at the site, and it was enough time to see the chullpas and lake. It would have been nice to have longer so I could have gone for a walk in the antiplano but it wasn’t to be. The area around the chullpas was busy with visitors but not overcrowded.
On our way back to Puno, we stopped at a small community where people lived in houses traditional to the area. After a quick look, I left the group to wander outside by myself. It was obvious that his was a “get tips from the tourists” stop for the families there. Fair enough but by this point in my trip, I was getting tired of tipping for everything. But the other people on the tour seemed to enjoy the stop, even partaking of the snacks sitting out in the sun for who knows how long …
Do I recommend Sillustani?
While it is not a “must see”, it still is a pretty neat place and yet another facet of Peru’s history I didn’t know about previously (i.e. the Incas really were a blip in Andean history). If you find you have extra time while staying in Puno, definitely use it to see Sillustani. But if you are very limited in your time here, you’ll be fine missing it. Though, really, you should try to make the time because Sillustani in the late afternoon sunlight is rather pretty!