This extensive complex of adobe pyramids, 31 kilometers south of Lima in the Lurín Valley, was the leading pilgrimage center on the central coast and home to the most feared, and respected, oracle in the Andes. The name of Pachacámac in Quechua translates to Lord of the World. Both the Huari and local Inca empires respected the oracle, adding to its prestige with additional buildings and consulting it for important decisions.
During his imprisonment at Cajamarca, Inca Atahualpa complained bitterly because the oracle had falsely predicted he would be victorious against the Spaniards. But Hernando Pizarro was so intrigued by Atahualpa’s reports of gold at the oracle that he and a troop of Spanish soldiers rode here from Cajamarca in three weeks.
Pushing aside the priests, Pizarro strode to the upmost level of the stepped pyramid. He describes a cane-and-mud house at the top, with a door strangely decorated with turquoise, crystals, and corals. Inside the dark space was a roughly shaped wooden idol. “Seeing the filth and mockery of the idol,” Pizarro wrote, “we went out to ask why they thought highly of something so dirty and ugly.”
What can be seen today is the idol itself (probably a replica) in the on-site museum and excavations of the main temples and huge pyramids, which have revealed ramps and entranceways. From the top of the Temple of the Sun there is an impressive view of Lima’s well-organized shantytown, Villa El Salvador, and the Pacific Coast. The Palacio de Las Mamacuña,< the enclosure for holy women built by the Inca, can be seen with a guide only (US$6 for an English-speaking tour of the entire site).
On the way to Pachacámac, you will pass Reserva Pantanos de Villa at Km 18 of the Panamericana Sur. There is a surprisingly good range of ducks and other migratory aquatic birds here, luring bird-watchers.
The easiest way to see Pachacámacand the corresponding museum (http://pachacamac.perucultural.org.pe) is with an agency tour from Lima. Buses marked Pachacámac leave from Montevideo and Ayacucho in central Lima and can be picked up at the Primavera Bridge along the Panamericana Sur (US$ taxi ride to the bridge from Miraflores). Ask to be dropped off at las ruinas, as the town of Pachacámac is farther along.
© Ross Wehner and Renée del Gaudio from Moon Peru, 3rd Edition