32km (20 miles) NE of Puno
Just beyond Puno are mysterious pre-Inca ruins called chullpas (funeral towers). The finest sit on the windswept altiplano on a peninsula in Lake Umayo at Sillustani. The Colla people -- a warrior tribe that spoke Aymara -- buried their elite in giant cylindrical tombs, some as tall as 12m (39 ft.). The stonemasonry is exquisite (many archaeologists and historians find them more complex and superior even to Inca engineering), and the structures form quite an impression on such a harsh landscape.
The Collas dominated the Titicaca region before the arrival of the Incas. After burying their dead along with foodstuffs, jewels, and other possessions, they sealed the towers. The high-altitude altiplano has a reputation as one of the windiest and coldest places in Peru, so dress warmly for your visit here.
Getting There -- By far the best way to visit Sillustani is by guided tour, usually in the afternoon around 2 or 2:30pm. Tours are inexpensive ($12) and very convenient. Going on your own generally isn't worth it because the site is a pain to reach and, once there, you've no guide to explain the significance of the ruins. If you insist, though, catch a "Juliaca" colectivo from downtown Puno and request to be let off after about 20 minutes, at the fork in the road that leads to Sillustani (DESVIO PARA SILLUSTANI). From that point, it's 15km (9 1/3 miles) and a half-hour farther away, but colectivos aren't frequent. To return, you're best off trying to hitch a ride back to Puno.
Chucuito: Fertility Temple
18km (11 miles) S of Puno
On a small promontory on the southern shore of Lake Titicaca, Chucuito, a small Aymara town, is one of the oldest in the altiplano region. The town, capital of the province during colonial times, has a lovely main square and a colonial church, Nuestra Señora de La Asunción (built in 1601). Chucuito was also the primary Inca settlement in the region. Another colonial church, Santo Domino is a most curious -- though many would say dubious -- construction, and the town's main attraction. Said to date to pre-Columbian times, Inca Uyo is composed of dozens of large, mushroom-shaped phallic stones, most a few feet high, which locals claim were erected as part of fertility rituals. The anatomically correct stones, which until a few years ago were kept in a sterile museum, leave little doubt as to what their creators were getting at. Some point up at the sun god, Inti, while others are inserted into the ground, directed at Pachamama, or Mother Earth. At the center of the ring, lording over the temple, is the king phallus. Local guides tell tales of the exact rituals during which virgins purportedly sat for hours atop the phalluses to increase fertility. The stones might predate the Incas, but some contend that they, or at least the manner in which they are displayed, are fake, a hoax perpetrated by locals to rustle up tourist business. Spanish missionaries did everything in their power to destroy all symbols and structures they considered pagan, and it is highly unlikely that they would have constructed two churches nearby but left this temple intact.
If you find yourself drawn to the stones at Inka Uyo and want to spend the night, the best option in town is Las Cabañas, a very smart, comfortable and well-priced inn with pretty gardens, an attractive setting by the lake, and a cute restaurant, at Jr. Tarapacá 538 (tel./fax 051/368-494; www.chucuito.com). Rooms (some of which have chimneys) have private bathrooms and run S/96 double, while cool duplex bungalows, which sleep six and have chimneys and balconies, are S/168.
Getting There -- Acora-bound colectivos leave from Puno's Avenida El Sol. The ride to Chucuito costs S/3 and takes 15 to 20 minutes; tell the driver you want to get off at Chucuito, which lies about halfway between Chimú and Acora.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.