Huaca Pucllana, a pre-Inca temple and administrative site in Miraflores, is the most popular of Lima’s archaeological sites.
Also known as Huaca Juliana, the adobe-and-clay pyramid was built by the Lima Culture in 400 A.D. and served as an important ceremonial temple and administrative center for the various cultures which prospered in the Lima region before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors.
The Lima Culture built canals redirecting water from the three main rivers to irrigate the entire valley in order to raise agriculture. This innovation was monumental in Lima’s development, without which it is doubtful the capital of Peru would have been founded on this site. While Lima’s coastline is rich in fish, complementing crops would support thriving civilizations for the next 2,000 years.
The Lima Culture died out around 700 A.D., after which the site was converted into a tomb for the elites of the Ayacucho-based Wari Culture. Several mummies have been unearthed at Huaca Pucllana, including a child in 2013 which archaeologists say suggests human sacrifice. The tombs on top of the pyramid were reserved for nobles, who were buried with small animals and Lima-style clay pottery.
After the Wari Empire disintegrated, the Ichma Culture came to rule the Lima region from around 1100 A.D. until they were conquered by the Incas in 1470.
Visitors take a guided tour, available in English, which explains how pre-Columbian cultures survived in this arid desert.
Above, a mannequin illustrates how the people made bricks out of the sand.
A close-up of an adobe brick wall. Above the wall you can see the roof of a tent decorated in the Lima style with the curvy lines representing waves of the ocean.
This is a topographical map illustrating the buzz of activity that the huaca was in its time.
In this picture you can see a noble being carried on a litter while others work the fields, tend animals or wash clothes.
Beans, quinoa, goldenberries, cotton and other crops grow in a small garden 50 yards from the pyramid.
Beside the garden is a nursery where the natives would have raised llamas, alpacas and guinea pigs for meat.
Guinea pigs. While alpaca and guinea pig were certainly on the menu, fish would have been these cultures’ primary source of protein, which they dried and salted like jerky. In the gift shop you can recognize the Lima Culture art by the presence of fish. If any given artifact does not depict fish, it probably didn’t come from Lima.
Huaca Pucllana offers an interesting contrast of a pre-Columbian archaeological site surrounded by the heights of modernity.
Contrasts aside, the top of the pyramid offers some nice views of Miraflores and San Isidro.
A Wari tomb on top of the pyramid.
An exhibit of an Ichma Culture tribute to the gods. The most prized offering of that culture were frogs, which represented water from the rivers.
The gift shop is filled with items from cultures based outside of Lima, which I attribute to Huaca Pucllana’s popularity with passing tourists who generally prefer things from the Andean cultures. The items native to Lima will almost always depict fish and/or waves which represent the sea. Curvy lines represent the freshwater rivers, and sometimes you will also see beans. Only the items in the lower left of this display come from Lima.
These are items from the Lima Culture, bought at Huaca Pucllana, at my house.
The Huaca Pucllana restaurant is held in high esteem within Lima, serving traditional Peruvian cuisine with a beautiful view of the pyramid.
The intricate brickwork of the pyramid comes alive with tasteful illumination at night. Night tours are available Tuesdays through Sundays from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. There’s also an on-site restaurant which offers diners the chance to look out over the ruins while they eat.
Location and info
Night tours: Wednesday to Sunday, 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Admission: 15 soles ($4)
Huaca Pucllana is located off Calle Ayacucho in the northern part of Miraflores, just a few blocks south of the border with San Isidro.
Huaca Pucllana is the most convenient archaeological activity in Lima given its Miraflores location. But anthropology and archaeology enthusiasts will more interested in Pachacamac, an hour south of central Lima, or Caral-Supe, the oldest city in the Americas five hours north of Lima. For those looking for less than the guided tour, Huaca Huallamarca in San Isidro can be seen in under an hour with no guide. Also known as “Pan de Azucar” (Sugar Loaf).