As part of our recent trip through Peru, we took in a city better known by its most famous geographical feature: Lake Titicaca. We didn’t stop there, naturally.
Puno holds the world’s highest navigable lake, which also shares a border with Bolivia somewhere in the middle of the lake. That said, the lake, and the roads to the lake, are as touristy as you might expect – plenty of souvenir stores and restaurants happy to overcharge you…
Yep, it’s a lake. To be honest, it’s a nice view, but it’s not what you came to One Weird Globe for.
Enter the Templo de la Fertilidad – a temple of phalluses
Now this is what I like to feature! A weird place, out on its own a little, and… well, penises! 86 of them, to be a bit more precise:
But are they really phallic symbols from centuries ago, though? Are they a modern-day hoax? Who knows? The site is known as Inca Uyo, which can translated to ‘field’ in Aymara, the language spoken by people in the surrounding Chucuito region… or ‘penis’ in Quechua, spoken by ancient Incans and modern-day Peruvians. A 2006 story by the New York Times was one of the first to cast doubt on the claims.
There’s precious little at the site itself explaining the story, a pattern that fits any numbers of sites across Peru that have either not received the funding or interest from the government. Whether it’s real or not, it’s a quirky site that’ll make you giggle…
…and then there are the souvenirs. If you’ve been holding out on picking up souvenirs unless they would make the recipient blush, this is your place to stock up.
Burial chambers, anyone?
Sillustani is the name, and tourists are its game. The stone sidewalks and wooden benches were put into place about 6 years ago, a definite upgrade to the facilities. It’s about 30 kilometers northwest of Puno, and while you may be able to catch a bus to Juliaca and get off along the way, we went with a tour group from Puno. This cost us 30 soles, or a little over $9 USD, for the three-hour tour and pickup from our hostel. The site itself is free, though you’ll need to run the gauntlet of souvenir shops to reach the entrance.
On your way up, you’ll come across a circle of stones next to a curb-like stones with a lip to them. This was the intiwatana / intihuatana, the temple of the sun and ceremonial place where sacrifices of llamas were performed. The lip on the curb helped to contain the llama’s blood and prevent it from spilling everywhere…
Your vocabulary word of the day is chullpas, which refer to these cylindrical, funerary towers that are up to 12 meters tall. Inside would be the bodies of the dead and everything they would need in the next life. The complete family of mummies would be in fetal position in buckets of straw and totora. A tiny gate just big enough to crawl in and out faces east towards the sunrise.
The high point has twin towers – one that’s 75% original but top reconstructed, one original but incomplete. The latter was struck by lightning, and a number of lightning rods have been installed to prevent the towers from receiving further damage.
That’s a lizard, by the way – a little hard to spot on its own, but the tour guide is likely to point it out. You’ll also note the precision of the stones – very precisely cut.
Expect to climb several flights worth of stairs and an incline from the parking lot (the elevation is 3,925 meters at the top). It isn’t strenuous, and is about as easy a hike as you’re going to get. The view isn’t terrible either – the lake here definitely adds to the scenery.
Most tours feature a final stop at a traditional house. The two bulls above the entrance represent good luck and protection. The pots on the roof hold food (usually quinoa), and the occupants inside are more than happy to show off a bit more of the inside. A 5 sole ‘suggested donation’ is in play, and it wouldn’t be a tourist stop without souvenirs…
Overall, Puno is a worthy stop as you’re on your way to Bolivia, or as you’re taking the Peru Hop bus from Lima to Cuzco. It is on the touristy side, but like other parts of Peru, it doesn’t take much to get off the beaten path once you’re here.
Ready to explore more of Peru? Go check out this travel guide to Peru by Surfing the Planet.
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Also published on Medium.