The quintessential South American country, Peru, fires the imagination like few other places. Often, the country conjures up images of rainforests or thespan cloud-impacted mystical “Lost City of the Incas”, Machu Picchu. For most travelers, Machu Picchu is their primary goal. Others who are lucky, will often venture to the famous Lake Titicaca we learned about in grade school; others may venture to the upper Amazon Basin Rainforest.
Another mystical site
On my recent trip to Peru, I was fortunate to not only see these sites, but also to venture off the beaten “gringo” path, to observe other sites as mystical and awe inspiring. One such site was Pachacamac.
After a few days in the capitol city of Lima enjoying the sounds and history of the “Centro District”, dotted with its many magnificent cathedrals, catacombs, and government buildings, I decided to take a day trip south of the city. Lima hustles and bustles with nearly 7.8 million people; typical of most Latin American capitols.
Heading south out of downtown Lima, I passed Miraflores and Barranco; both upscale suburbs of Lima. Past Barranco I entered the village of Chorillos, filled with open air markets, dirt roads. It appeared to be the “end of the city”.
Lima and its surroundings are filled with edifices, trees, parks and breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. Leaving Chorillos, I was astounded to find myself in the midst of a desert that rivaled the sand dunes of the Sahara – where the Pacific Ocean met land, a vast desert spread out before me dotted by poverty. I headed south on the Pan-American Highway for 25 miles. In the midst of the desert were small villages, children playing soccer on a sandy field, homes without roofs and shantytowns.
This was Pachacamac – a stark contrast from Lima. Pachacamac roughly translates into “he who animated the world”, in the Quechua language. Not only is this a great day trip from Lima, but it also prepared me historically, culturally, and spiritually for my future adventures to the Nazca Lines and the Mysteries of the Andes. Most travelers are curious and fascinated by the famous Inca culture. The ruins of Pachacamac cover the Inca Empire and are also predated by the Wari Culture many centuries before the arrival of the Incas. Pachacamac is noted for its great temples, for the remains of frescoes adorning its adobe walls. Culturally and chronologically, it’s related to the Cuismancu Empire, including the Wari. The site was once considered one of the most important religious centers of the indigenous people of the central Andes.
The fist occupation of Pachacamac began around 200 AD. With the arrival of the Wari culture in 650 AD, Pachacamac’s influence extended to other zones of the central and coastal Andes. It was after the collapse of the Wari Culture around 800 AD that the majority of the current architectural compounds and pyramids were constructed. Arriving last, the Incas occupied the site from 1450-1532; they adapted the preexisting temples and structures to their culture and added the Temple of the Sun and the Palace of Taurichumbi. As is the case with most ancient civilizations, the site was conquered by explorers and fell into disarray.
I wandered around the site, which takes about three to four hours. The vastness, the starkness and the beauty overwhelmed me. Perhaps, the highlight of this place is hiking the long dusty road to the Templo Del Sol (Temple of the Sun) on top of one of the pyramids. Climbing to the apex of this ruin through a labyrinth of terraces, I could still see scrapings of the original red and yellow paint that at one time completely covered the walls. Atop the Templo Del Sol, I was greeted by a breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean, dotted by coastal islands and rock formations.
The other highlight is found within the small and modest museum that contains the original Idol of Pachacamac. Pachacamac is the mythological God of “fire and earthquakes” that controlled the balance of the world. It was believed that if Pachacamac was angered, he would send fires and earthquakes to the people. The Idol, carved of wood, depicts a human figure with felines and serpent features in the Wari style. There is a small café and visitor's center. Pachacamac can be reached by taxi, car, or bus. Some bike the 25 miles out of Lima. Guided tours are offered, or one can wander along the ruins alone with a small map. The entrance fee is one dollar and fifty cents, or five soles.
As I headed back to the bustling city of Lima, again passing the squalor of the shanty towns and the vastness of the desert, I had not realized how prepared I would be for the more famous sites of Nazca, Lake Titicaca, and Cuzco. Aside from the site of Pachacamac, the road to Pachacamac can be enlightening with its drastic contrast to the city of Lima. I realized that hopes, dreams and survival transcend all people, all times.