Located 18 kilometers south of Puno , Chucuito is one of the oldest towns in the area and is surrounded by farming fields that slope gently down to Lake Titicaca . The town was once the capital of the whole province and has colonial churches on its two main squares. Nuestra Señora de la Asunción has a Renaissance facade from 1601 and sits near the upper Plaza de Armas. The second church, Santo Domingo, is L-shaped with beautifully painted stone arches, a wooden altar carved in pan de oro, and a single ancient stone tower.
Chucuito’s lead attraction, however, is Inca Uyo (7 a.m.–dark, free), a walled enclosure next to Santo Domingo that looks, at first glance, like a garden of giant mushrooms. But upon closer inspection, the mushrooms are carved stone penises, some pointing up at the sky (presumably toward Inti, the Inca sun god) and others rammed into the ground (toward Pachamama, mother earth goddess).
At the center of this obvious fertility temple is the largest phallus of all, placed atop a platform carved with the outlines of a human figure. Village children, who work as the temple’s very charming and dead-serious guides, claim that women still sneak into the temple at night, with coca leaves and chicha, to perform a ceremony designed to help them get pregnant. The essence of the ceremony, they contend, is that the women sit atop the head of the giant phallus for several hours.
The origin of this temple is hotly debated; some say it was built by the Aymaras or the Inca. Others contend that cannot be possible, because the priests, who built the church next door, had a fondness for destroying idols that surely would have included phallus-shaped rocks. Whatever you believe, the site is still interesting.
The best place to stay in town is Albergue Las Cabañas (near Plaza de Armas at Tarapaca 538 or Bolognesi 334 in Puno, tel. 051/35-1276, www.chucuito.com , US$25 s, US$37 d with breakfast). Inside high adobe walls is a charming garden of yellow retama and queñua flowers surrounding bungalows with wood floors, hearths, exposed beams, and new bathrooms. The owner, Juan Palao Berastain, has authored the highly informative pamphlet to the area, Titikaka Lake: Children of the Sacred Lake, on sale at the hotel. Members of Hostelling International receive a discount.
A brand-new lodging option is Titilaka (US tel. 866/628-1777, www.andean-experience.com , rates tailored according to request) is one of a kind accommodation, situated on the shore of Lake Titicaca , on the Chucuito Peninsula. The hotel offers 18 lake-view suites with heated floors and oversize tubs. The hotel also offers a series of half- and full-day excursions to surrounding villages. The best restaurant in town is at Titilaka.
On the lower square, Tío Juan (10 a.m.–4 p.m. Mon.–Sat., US$2) is a locals’ hole-in-the-wall that serves up trout, roasted pork, and chairo, a soup of beef or lamb, potatoes, beans, squash, cabbage, chuño (dried potato), wheat, and chalona (dried mutton).