The scenery and views around Pitumarka in Ayapata District blew me away. Travelling from Macusani, Rocío and I accompanied guide Ulices and our Hilux 4WD driver for the first of two amazing day trips.
Seeing the glaciers, mountains, waterfalls, lakes, Andean geese, flamingos and other birds on the way to Taype was a great start. At Taype we turned off the main Ayapata unsealed road and drove past Lake Taype surrounded by mountains and potato fields.
Lake Taype with potato fields in the foreground and mountains behind
After the lake we stopped at a small but beautiful waterfall surrounded by moss and other vegetation including catuta, sacred to the Incas and Peru’s national flower.
Moss and red-flowering Cantuta growing adjacent a waterfall
The road terminated at Ccochauma and we waited for the rain to clear before beginning our hike to Pitumarka (also spelt Pitumarca). Although reaching almost 4,000 metres high, the elevation was still a relief from Macusani’s 4,315 metres.
Signs announcing Ccochauma’s 3,720 metre elevation and the construction of a 16.9 kilometre path through the mountains to Ollachea
The hike started a with tough uphill section, rewarded by views of the valley below. Our path featured occasional pre-Inca stone roads. The region’s rocky terrain provided plentiful material for such construction.
A view back towards Ccochauma and Lake Taype
While Rocío and I wore rain jackets, guide Ulices shielded himself from the intermittent precipitation with a blue plastic tarp.
A stream coming down from the rugged mountains
Rounding a corner, we saw our first glimpse of Lake Qañuqota and within it, the island of the same name.
With the patchy weather and occasional tough terrain Rocío regretted bringing her tablet to take photos.
Rocío standing on a stepping stone holding her tablet under her jacket while ahead is Ulices on the left and a llama on the right
Unexpectedly, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, we encountered a woman and man sitting against a rock wall smoking cigarettes. They appeared joyful and when the man shook my hand he commented how crazy I was to not wear gloves. Rocío later often recalled fondly the manner and content of his comment.
The couple sitting down against a dry stone wall with Qañuqota Lake and Island in the background
Nearing the main Pitumarka archaeological site, we saw two ancient huts, one without its thatched roof. Ulices pointed out they were pre-Inca because of their stone lintels whereas Incas used timber.
Hardy locals still lived near Pitumarka and the mummies in Taype were seized from this area.
Rocío standing the other side of a pre-Inca hut window using a stone lintel
Further on, we came to a third, higher lake. This one fed into Lake Qañuqota which in turn drained into Lake Taype.
The higher lake with old rock walls in the foreground
The pre-eminent Pitumarka archaeological site is a former pre-Inca settlement located on a strategic rocky outcrop. Easily defensible, the site contained separate and singular entries and exits. Nearly there, our hopes of reaching the site were almost dashed. No, the original inhabitants hadn’t returned. Instead, their patch was being ruled by semi-wild cattle. With trepidation, patience, raised arms and stone-holding hands, we dispersed our potential attackers. Victory!
Semi-wild cattle (bottom-left) block the path up and around past the waterfall to Pitumarka’s single entry point
Bromeliads, moss and grasses line this small waterfall near the primary Pitumarka ruins
Cattle passed, only one barrier to site entry remained – a challenging stream crossing just above a waterfall. Over that and we had made it.
The modern Pitumarka is a collection of ruins. Buildings lay either side of a central avenue dividing the compact site. Ulices’ interpretation gave insight into the village’s appearance and function during its heyday several centuries ago.
Pitumarka ruins with a waterfall in the distance
The strategic outcrop provided magnificent views of the surrounding countryside including the amazing spitting-llama-shaped Qañuqota Island.
A view from the Pitumarka site with stone corrals to the left of Lake Qañuqota
In pre-Columbian times a shaman or traditional doctor lived on Qañuqota Island. Locals with health issues would go by boat across to the island and pay for treatment. The island still has mummies in situ and visits are possible if arranged in advance.
Qañuqota Island resembles a llama spitting with smaller islands being the saliva ejected; Lake Taype is in the distance
After soaking in the history, views and serenity as the sole visitors, we began hiking back to Ccochauma.
Adjacent Piturmarka ruins, Ulices waiting for Rocío on the return stream crossing
Qañuqota Lake and Island with snow-covered mountains in the distance
Little did we know, but the tour highlight was still to come. Hiking back to Ccochauma, we witnessed an awe-inspiring and extremely rare event – an Andean condor dive-bombing after first hovering and flying. Wow. Footage and photos of this powerful experience are in a separate blog post.
Meeting our driver back at Ccochauma, we stopped at Ayapata before driving through a snow storm back to Macusani.
What an epic day.