(Altitude: 3,871 m / 12,697 ft, Population: 1,860, Phone Code: 051)
Chucuito is a small, but charming Aymara town on the shores of Lake Titicaca with a rich cultural history. Originally founded by the Lupaka nation, Chucuito became the primary Inca settlement in this region, and in Spanish times, the capital of the whole province. Today, this unique town surrounded by agricultural fields that descend toward the shores of Lago Titicaca has a number of attractions that are sure to capture any visitor鈥檚 attention.
The central Plaza de Armas has a sun dial that was originally erected in 1561. At this spot, the Spanish occupiers read proclamations, laws and other orders to the public, and punished those who violated them. Surrounding the plaza are several colonial-era buildings that were part of the royal treasury; thus Chucuito鈥檚 nickname: Ciudad de las Cajas Reales (City of the Royal Boxes). These storehouses were burned during the revolt led by T煤pac Amaru and T煤pac Katari in the 1780s. On the west side of the square is the town鈥檚 main temple, Iglesia Nuestra Se帽ora de la Asunci贸n. A Mozarabe-influenced archway surrounds the rough-hewn stone church, which boasts a spectacular Renaissance fa莽ade dating from 1601.
A block south of the plaza is La Glorieta, and oval-shaped arcade viewpoint with tremendous vistas of the farm fields rolling down to the lake and the little-visited Chucuito Peninsula. A path from the mirador leads to Cerro Atoja (4,477 m / 14,685 ft) and the Pukar谩-era archaeological site, Tunihuiri (6 hr walk).
East of the Plaza de Armas is Iglesia Santo Domingo, built in 1560. This church has a single bell tower and a stone arcade. The altar inside is covered with pan de oro. The most curious attraction in Chucuito is, ironically, just next door to Santo Domingo.
Inca Uyo is a walled enclosure that was an important site for both the Lupaka, and Inca (daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Entry: foreigners $2, nationals $0.80). The main building, constructed of large, finished stones, measures 20 meters (66 ft) by 10 meters (34 ft). The precinct is covered with what, from a distance, appears to be a mushroom-filled garden. The exact purpose of the building and the rows of sculptures continues to be an enigma.
Some say these phallic-shaped sculptures were erected as part of an ancient fertility ritual. Some point upwards towards the sun god, Inti, while others are jammed into the ground towards Pachamama, or Mother Earth. Rising from the center of this fertility garden, like a king watching over his subjects, is the largest phallus. Your guides will provide detailed accounts of how virgins sat for atop the phalluses in hopes of increasing their fertility. Even today women are purported to sneak into the garden with coca leaves and chicha to perform a fertility ceremony to help them get pregnant.
Some historians point out that the stones would never have survived the Spanish, who had a penchant for destroying indigenous idols. Archaeologists contend the sculptures were for agricultural fertility rites (and not human) or were posts for holding up the building鈥檚 roof or hitching posts.
Among Chucuito鈥檚 festivals are: Virgen de Candelaria, featuring indigenous dances the first Sunday and folk dances the second Sunday (February); Chucuito鈥檚 founding (April 1); Virgen de la Asunci贸n with huaccha quinoa bread shared with all the public (August 15); and Virgen del Rosario, complete with processions, fireworks and bullfights (October 12).
Services like banking and Internet are virtually nonexistent in Chucuito. The village does have a handful of hotels. Several basic restaurants are around the Plaza de Armas and a row of eatery stalls are near Iglesia Santo Domingo. A useful website is: www.munichucuito.gob.pe.
Getting to Chucuito, located 18 kilometers (11 mi) south of Puno, is easy. Minibuses leave Puno from Jir贸n Banchero, 1 block east of Avenida El Sol (depart when fill 6 a.m.-7 p.m., 20 min, $0.60) In Chucuito, they leave from next to Iglesia Santo Domingo. A taxi from Puno costs $11 round trip.