The Sanctuary on Isla del Sol, Part II: Chincana and Nearby Sites

Eleventh in a series about Bolivia

View of the Sanctuary taken from the beginning of the trail (really an Incan road) to Yumani. The trail from Challapampa enters the picture frame at lower right and continues to the Chincana site at upper left. At center is an Incan wall located west of the Sacred Rock. The Sacred Rock is at center right and there is a modern ceremonial table at left (with people gathered around). At upper left, Tikani Ridge, where two towers stood. During the winter solstice, sunset was between the two towers as seen from the front of the Sacred Rock.  Lowell Silverman photography, 2015

Last article covered the heart of the Sanctuary on Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun), the Sacred Rock Titikala.  There’s more to the site than just the rock, however.  In their book Ritual and Pilgrimage in the Ancient Andes: The Islands of the Sun and the Moon, Brian S. Bauer and Charles Stanish write that in Inca times, the area surrounding the Sacred Rock was “one of the most important shrine complexes of the Andean world”.  They describe the area as follows:

“The Sanctuary area that surrounds the Sacred Rock (or Titikala) is still readily identifiable […] Within the Sanctuary area are two separate sets of Inca buildings (the sites of Mama Ojlia and the Chincana) as well as a well-defined plaza near the Sacred Rock.”

I would like to say this article covers the sites near the Sacred Rock thoroughly, but our visit was somewhat rushed.  At the very least illustrations are sparse as a result.  Our local guide, Juan promised that his tour would arrive at and cover the archaeological sites in 50 minutes.  In fact, he took two hours, leaving us with very little time at the site if we still wanted to hike across the island to Yumani.

Mama Ojlia

First, let me cover a site for which I have no illustration, but which must be mentioned if for no other reason than its cool name.  The trail from Challapampa crosses the Mama Ojlia site, located just east of the Sacred Rock.  Bauer and Stanish describe the site as “the remains of three small structures, several low terrace walls, and a seasonal spring”.

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t even notice Mama Ojlia as I passed through.  Apparently I wasn’t the only one, as Bauer and Stanish write that “Mama Ojlia appears to be the only site in the Sanctuary area that is not extensively looted.”  They quote 17th century Spanish writer Bernabé Cobo as stating the buildings “were lodgings for the attendants and servants of the temple.”

Ceremonial Table

Though the stones surrounding it are historic (and must have been quarried somewhere other than on Isla del Sol), the so-called “ceremonial table” is a modern creation

The “ceremonial table” made of carved stones, which Juan said visitors leave offerings at.  Based on what I’ve found online, some tour guides claim human sacrifice was performed on the table as well.  Unfortunately, the table is not original, at least not in its present form.  Bauer and Stanish write that the blocks (if not the tabletop) were recorded in the Sanctuary by 1877 and 1910 expeditions, but 19th century photos show they were not arranged as a table:

“A group of andesite blocks has been placed together, along with a large slab of white sandstone […] Although this cluster of carved stones attracts the attention of tourists and serves as the source of imaginative tales by guides, old photographs of the plaza indicate that it is a recent arrangement. Nevertheless, the presence of cut blocks in the plaza area suggests that an elaborate construction, perhaps an altar or a building, once stood in or near it.”

The table always seemed to have plenty of tourists crowded around.  After learning that it’s a modern creation, I felt a bit cheated to have taken three pictures of it while totally missing the Mama Ojlia site!


Panorama of the Chincana

The tour ended at the Incan ruin known as the Chincana.  This is not the original name, but it is what locals have called it for nearly four centuries (at least), as recorded by Alonso Ramos Gavilán in 1621.  It means “place where one gets lost” or labyrinth.  The name is a reference to its appearance and should not be taken to mean that this was the complex’s function in Incan times.  The site was already in decay by the time Ramos Gavilán visited in the early 17th century, but it is still arguably the most impressive ruin on Isla del Sol today.

The stone of the Chincana was “once covered with plaster and painted red and yellow”

Bauer and Stanish describe the site as follows:

“The Chincana is composed of rectangular rooms, plazas, and passageways of varying dimensions. Numerous doorways, niches, stairs, and other interior features of visible.  Vestigages of doorways can be seen in the uppermost tiers of a few walls, indicating that some of the buildings once had second stories.  The walls are constructed with fieldstones and earth mortar and were once covered with plaster and painted red and yellow (Bandelier 1910:222). Overall, the construction is similar to that of the site of Pilco Kayma, on the other end of the island.”

Natural beauty visible from the Chincana

The Chincana’s hillside location offers a picturesque view of nearby Tikani Ridge, a beautiful deserted bay, and Isla Chuyu offshore.  We were frustrated and disappointed that such a long tour had only covered its most spectacular spot so briefly at the end.  If we were going to do our planned hike across the island, there wasn’t time to spend more than five minutes at the Chincana.

That brings up a point for prospective visitors to Isla del Sol: If at all possible, plan an overnight visit there.  With local boats puttering along from Copacabana at maybe 7 knots, a day trip leaves you spending at least 3.5 hours on the boat and leaves precious little time to spend adequate time at all the sites.

Doorway at the Chincana site in HDR

Some interesting aspects about the Chincana that Bauer and Stanish mention which unfortunately we didn’t have a chance to see:

  • There’s a spring within the ruins
  • In addition to the rooms, the site also has passageways
  • There are “two architecturally different sectors” with the west side being “more open”


The function of the Chincana is somewhat mysterious.  Bauer and Stanish concede that “our excavations within the separate rooms and plazas of the Chincana did not yield enough cultural materials to speculate on their functions.”  For that reason, they look to the writings of the 17th century Spanish writers for clues.  Ramos Gavilán referred to the site as “a storehouse of the Sun”.  Cobo describes a Temple of the Sun which Bauer and Stanish suggest might refer to the western sector.  According to Cobo, the Chincana may have housed some of the Sanctuary’s attendants as well.

Series on Bolivia

Obtaining a Bolivian Tourist Visa

Planning a Trip to Bolivia and Peru (introduction)

La Paz, Bolivia: Basílica de San Francisco

Mi Teleférico: La Paz, Bolivia’s Aerial Cable Car Network

Stuck in the Snow en Route to Chacaltaya, Bolivia

Valley of the Moon (Valle de la Luna), Bolivia

Across the Altiplano to Lake Titicaca: La Paz to Copacabana, Bolivia by Bus

Introduction to Copacabana, Bolivia

Ascending Cerro El Calvario (Calvary Hill)

Copacabana to Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) by Boat

Hiking from Challapampa to the Sanctuary on Isla del Sol

The Sanctuary on Isla del Sol, Part I: The Sacred Rock, Titikala

The Sanctuary on Isla del Sol, Part II: Chincana and Nearby Sites

Hiking from the Sacred Rock to Yumani on Isla del Sol, Bolivia

Scenic Tour of Lake Titicaca: Copacabana, Bolivia to Puno, Peru by Bus


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