I'm not going to talk about each stop on this bus tour because not all of them are worth discussing, but if you are thinking about taking a tour this bus service was comfortable and easy: Turismo Mer- Sun's Route.
The bus left around 7am and I got to my hotel in Puno around 4:30pm. It was quite a long day but the bus itself was pretty comfortable and there were no white knuckle moments like on the bus to Machu Picchu (thank goodness!!). Before starting this tour I know absolutely nothing about any of the stops. I didn't know there was a Sistine Chapel of South America (there is!!), I had never heard of Raqchi or Pukara. Here are my thoughts:
1. ANDAHUAYLILLAS CHURCH- This is the Sistine Chapel of South America. It is in the middle of nowhere, and the church itself is not very big, but OMG. There is enough gold leaf and paintings from Europe to outfit a church 3x's it's size. Some of the artwork in the church included Inca symbols, which essentially was the Catholic church's version of selling timeshares. As in "Hey natives, come to the new church we built! Look at all these Inca symbols you recognize are are comfortable with. See, we want to work with you! Now just sit here and enjoy the art while we crack you over the head with these Bibles." Despite the rather tricky premise, it is really interesting to see how the Inca symbols are blended with the traditional Catholic ones. I also found it interesting that the locals still use the church for regular mass services. They don't allow you to take photos inside (click the link in the name to see inside), but believe me when I say it is a sight to behold. Imagine if you took the decorations from every church in Italy, covered them in gold leaf, and then stuffed them all inside a 20ft x 20ft room. That's what it feels like. I'm not sure if I would go out of my way to see it again, but if you are in the area it is absolutely worth a stop!
This fuzzy guy was sitting outside the church. You can also see how detailed the stonework is out front.
2. RAQCHI- Raqchi's spelling gets me every time. I want to spell it Racqui! Ah well, you didn't come here to read about how I can't spell. Raqchi was super interesting to me because it is one of the few archaeological sites that I have visited that is still being actively used by the local people. There are crops planted, there are sheep and cows on the grounds. It felt very much like the buildings became less important over time but the land stayed useful. The grounds are pretty big and there is a nice path that is pointed out by white arrows that will lead you to different places of interest on the grounds. One thing to be aware of is that there is virtually no shade, so a hat/sunscreen/protective clothes are a must. I was at Raqchi for about 45 min but you could definitely spend a few hours walking around and exploring. I say go if you get the chance.
Can you spot the cow?
3. PUCARA- Apparently there is an archaeological site in Pucara but the bus does not take you there. Instead it takes you to a tiny museum that house pre-Inca stone work. The actual stone pieces are interesting, but the museum itself is not well done. There were several tour groups there at once and you couldn't go into a room when a group was there. So my group got to go into whatever rooms were not already full and didn't get to see everything. Maybe it would be better on a different day, but honestly you can probably skip the museum. What caught my attention was the town square and the church located right next to the museum. There was a band playing in front of the church (it was about 2pm on a Wed.) and lots of local people dancing and chanting. My guide couldn't explain what the gathering was for, but it looked like a great time! Getting to see locals enjoying the plaza without any regards to tourists was a really nice change of pace after a week of only doing/seeing things specifically made for tourists.
Have you been to any of these places? What was your favorite spot?