As a little introduction to Peru and the Incas we thought it’d be a good idea to book a tourist bus from Puno to Cusco which, as the guide explains, goes through a chronological journey starting from Pre-Inca times through the glory of the Inca civilisation and ending with the colonial influence of the Spanish as we neared our final stop in Cusco.
Puno and Sillustani
We hit quite a luck in Puno as we had booked the tour in Copacabana in Bolivia (which is on the other side of Lake Titicaca from Puno) and a representative of the tour company picked us up from the bus station as we arrived in Puno, took us in a cab to the office to confirm our departure for the next day, hooked us up with a nice hostel for the night and picked us up the following morning to take us to the bus station to catch the tour bus. All for nothing!
That afternoon the same guy also arranged for us a quick tour to see the pre-Incan burial towers of the Colla people at Sillustani. The huge towers, or chullpas are perfectly round and some as high as 12m. When the Incas conquered the Collas in the 15th century they left the existing towers in place and used their superior craftsmanship to build even larger, more rounded towers as a tribute to the Colla people and their rituals of burying their dead.
On the way back to Puno that afternoon we were invited to a traditional Andean farm to see how they live and sample some of the foods grown in the region, most of which haven’t changed much in the past 500 years. Surprisingly enough the clay sauce on baby potatoes was quite tasty.
Tourist bus from Puno to Cusco
We woke up early the next day, jumped on the tour bus, looked around and realised we dropped the average age of the group by about 20 years… the bus was super luxurious and just as well as the whole trip takes about 10 hours.
First stop – Pukara
The bus stopped outside a museum in the town of Pucara which is about 1km from the massive archaeological sight of Pukara. We were shuffled into the museum and given a very interesting talk of the history of the Pukara culture, how they lived and were later conquered, and influenced, first by the Tiwanakus and then later the Incas. The quaint little museum housed many artefacts, several of which give strong evidence of how they performed human sacrifices. It was a shame as the museum is very near the base of the ruins but the tour didn’t include some time to see them.
Next stop was over the top of the Raya Pass up at 4335 metres above sea level where we stopped to enjoy the stunning mountain scenery with traditional women and llamas posing for photos. Thereafter we headed down to Sicuani for a surprisingly good buffet lunch where there were traditional Peruvian musicians providing the entertainment.
Raqchi and the Temple of Wiracocha
As with most Incan temples there is a lot of mystery surrounding the ceremonial city of Raqchi. The main attraction of Raqchi is the massive Temple of Wiracocha – Wiracocha being the Inca’s principle God who created the earth, the sun and everything else. The Temple spans over 90m long and 25 wide and is considered to be an architecturally unique structure in the Inca empire as it is the only known Inca structure to have used cylindrical columns. The temple, along with the rows of nobleman’s houses are so perfectly aligned with the sun that every year on the summer solstice the sun rises exactly directed and aligned with the walls of the buildings and the central walkways. It shines directly perpendicular to and overhead these buildings throughout the day and sets at the exact opposite western edge at the end of the city.
Along with this master masonry work there are also several Inca baths next to a large man-made lagoon into which clean icy water flows at a constant rate throughout the year. To this day no-one knows the source of this water. The sheer size and complexity of the city of Raqchi shows that it was an important place for the Incas not only spiritually but also logistically as the complex also has 160 storehouses and is situated along the famous North-South Inca road between the imperial region of Cusco and the large CollaSuyo region around Lake Titicaca. Raqchi is truly a hidden gem that surprisingly isn’t very popular with tourists and we were very glad to have seen it.
San Pedro Apostol de Andahuaylill – The so called “South American Sistine Chapel”
Was built by the Jesuits in the 16th century on top of a sacred place for the Incas in order to convert the indigenous people to Christianity and show them the church rules over all. However before the Spanish priests were to give their church service, someone from the local Andean community would hide a sacred rock behind the altar and tell everyone in their native tongue it was there. So while the priest was thinking that he had successfully converted all the heathens to Christianity they were in fact secretly directing their praise and worship to the rock and through that on to Wiracocha and the their father the Sun. Centuries later the priests discovered this and chose to incorporate the indigenous worship of the Sun into the the church. In the temple you’ll see a large golden symbol of the Sun sitting just above the figure of Jesus Christ. As for the rest of the chapel, it is adorned from floor to ceiling with gold leaf statues, displays, rafters and chandeliers which makes for a very impressive sight. Very beautiful but in my opinion not nearly in the same league as the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.
And finally, just as the sun was setting (the timing couldn’t have been more perfect!) we arrived at the outskirts of Cusco and drove past the great Inca Gate through which the Inca road to the South passed through.