Seldom Visited Site #2 – Pikillacta

Location #2 in this series of seldom visited sites is Pikillacta, and like our previous site Tipon it is also located in the Southern Valley. Pikillacta is located roughly 32 km from Cusco making it only 6 km further than Tipon, this really makes it surprising to me that more people do not visit, as is is not a difficult site to reach, even by local bus. I would hope that anyone choosing to visit Tipon would take the time to travel just a little further, but for some reason they do not, so 90% of the times that we have visited Pikillacta with our guests, we have been the only ones at the site, so if you really want a break from the crowds, this would be a good site to consider because you will likely be the only people there (unless of course we happen to be visiting with some of our guests at the same time).


One of the things that makes this site stand out from others for me, aside from its emptiness, is the fact that it is a Wari (Huari) site, which makes it pre-Inka and different than 99% of the sites that most everyone sees when visiting the Cusco Region. The Wari culture is believed to have existed from about 500 to 1000 AD, so there is not likely any overlap between the Wari and Inka cultures, but the name of the site “Pikillacta” is actually a Quechua word that translates to “City of fleas” and is believed to be an Inka reference to previous culture being insignificant, like a flea.

While the Inka and Wari did not likely have any direct interactions, the Inka did occasionally make use of pre-Inka structures like those of the Wari civilization, and this is one location where you can see examples of this. Along the main road and just past the entrance to the main site of Pikillacta you will see Rumicolca, this was originally a Wari aqueduct that the Inka were in the process of re-purposing to be one of the control points to the Cusco region from points to the East. The bulk of the structure was Wari and you can see here where the Inka engineers were working to cover, or encase the Wari wall in more refined Inka stone work.


One of the things that I like about Rumicolca is it is a good place to actually see the progression of construction, the higher stones are rougher and more curved, or pillow like in the edges and still contain the protrusions that were used as handles during construction. The lower stoned on the other hand are smoother and more uniformed across the face, so you can see that the finished wall was likely to be a very smooth surface.

Pikillacta is one of the larger Wari sites found and there have been a variety of thoughts as to its purpose, some of the purposes it is believed to have served were a city, a religious center or maybe a government center, but no matter which purpose it actually served, it was likely an important place as they had a series of defensive walls that protected the city. One of my favorite places to walk with guests is through some of the double walled sections that surrounded the center of the complex, and are kind of like a miniature version of the Great Wall of China.


The complex covers over 34 square kilometers, which make it one of the largest sites in the region, covering over twice the area that Machu Picchu does. Because of this it is easy to spend 1-1/2 to 2 hours here exploring the site and its many pathways, buildings, and defensive walls, many of which were 2 or even 3 stories tall. One of my favorite walks is through the walled section that runs along the NE of the site above the large plaza area, you can enter from the plaza then turn either right or left and follow the wall around the city center.

One of the things that I find really interesting is that in the few structures that have been excavated, they have uncovered original Wari plaster on the floors and the walls, which if you consider that this plaster is over 1,000 years old, is really incredible.


Up next in this series, 2 locations in the heavily traveled Sacred Valley that many people pass by, but few people visit.

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Seldom Visited Sites #1 – Tipon:


Are you planning a visit to the Cusco region and don’t want to deal with big crowds the whole time you are here? Good news, there are actually several locations in the region that you could visit and get a break from the large crowds, and many of these are even on well traveled routes. There are locations in particular that I will be covering through a series of 6 posts that will publish about every 2 weeks. One thing to keep in mind when visiting any of the sites in the region though is that weekends are generally family day for the locals, with Sunday being the day that most people have off, because of this any of the sites will tend to be more crowded on Saturday and Sunday.

For my first location I though I would start with Tipon which is located in the Southern Valley, I am not sure how the Southern Valley got this name because it is actually to the East of Cusco, but I suppose it has to be South of something. Many visitors actually travel through the Southern Valley when traveling between Cusco and Puno, but few visitors actually take the time to explore it, likely because it is not well known and because few agencies actually promote it, this of course can be a good thing as it means that these sites are generally empty.


Tipon is probably the most frequented of the sites that I will be covering and has been slowly increasing in popularity since we moved to the region in 2012, but it is still a good place to visit if you want to escape the crowds. The site of Tipon is located on a hill overlooking the city of Tipon and offers an excellent view of the Southern Valley below, it is approximately 26 km East of Cusco and easily reached by public transportation, but I would recommend hiring a car and driver so that you can more easily visit other locations in the valley like Pikillacta.

Based on the tight fitting stonework and the number of water features at this site, Tipon is believed to have once been a site for water worship and ceremonies. The main section of the site which is comprised of large terraces and water features is easily accessible from the parking lot, where a short climb up a series of stairs will take you to the bottom of the complex and provide you with an amazing view of this terraced valley. After the initial climb, you can walk the perimeter of the terraces in relative ease, and even enter some of the larger terraces to relax a bit on the grass if you want, and towards the top of the terraces you will find the principle fountain.


The fountain at the top of the site is interesting as it contains two of the three important numbers for the Inka culture, whit two and four both being represented. The water emerges from the base of the upper terrace and is broken into two separate streams, these form the first fountain and represent duality i.e. Sun and Moon or Male and Female with one fountain having a stronger flow, which would be the male side. After this first fountain the two streams then join and become one again before again being broken in to four separate flows which would represent the four regions (Suyu’s) of the empire, the fore elements, and/or the for main stars in the Southern Cross constellation.

If you are up for a bit more of a climb, I would recommend taking the trail up to the top left of the site, when looking from the parking lot side. At the top of the lower hill on the left you will not only find the remains of a temple structure with a couple of fountains in it, but if you follow the trail that runs up between the temple and the main site (right side) for just about 20 meters, you will find one of the many original Inka Trails that used to crisscross a large portion of South America, connecting all of the ancient Inka sites, and this particular one also happens to have an aqueduct running down its center. You can walk for quite a ways on this Inka trail, I myself have hiked back about 3 to 45 minutes and from whit I have seen, it just continues to go up and up. Off to the side of the trail near the first temple construction you will see the remains of another temple that had a semi-circular wall and several niches.

Inka Trail above Tipon

Inka Trail above Tipon

Tipon is a very interesting site to visit and one I would definitely recommend to anyone that would like to escape the crowds for a while, the town below is also know for its cuy al horno, or oven backed guinea pig, but for a truly unique experience while in the Cusco region, a visit the next site I will be covering is a must, so follow my blog or check back in two weeks for the next installment.


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