The Pachacamac archaeological sanctuary (pictured above) is located 31.5km (19.5 miles) south of Lima, the capital of Peru. Image source: Museo Pachacamac / Ministry of Culture of Peru.
The Pachacamac Museum is probably my favourite museum in Peru, and it’s not just because I work there. I really, really mean it. The original museum was founded by Arturo Jiménez Borja in 1965 as a “site museum,” as part of a larger movement in the 60s which encouraged the construction of small buildings aimed at presenting and interpreting information at archaeological sites. Since Pachacamac is one of the most visited archaeological sites in Peru, the museum was rebuilt in 2016 in order to modernise the space and improve the services offered.
The archaeological site is a very large area of monumental pre-Hispanic architecture spanning 1200 years. Most of it has not been excavated yet. It was the site of the Pachacamac oracle, a main god associated with earthquakes and the creation of the world. Thousands of pilgrims would come to Pachacamac to leave offerings and ask questions of the oracle. It is said that when the Inca Atahualpa offered a large ransom of gold for the Spanish conquistadores to free him, he told them to go to Pachacamac to retrieve some of the promised gold, as it was an important site that received taxes and offerings from the surrounding valleys. Check out the Pachacamac visit guide for more information on this.
One of the things I really like about Pachacamac is that it’s not all about the Incas. Yes, the Incas are world renowned, but they get a lot of attention in comparison to the dozens of other groups who came before. It takes an average of two hours for visitors to walk around and see the site, which includes architectural remains for four main cultures: Lima (200-600 AD), Wari (600-1100 AD), Ychma (1100-1470 AD) and Inca (1470-1533 AD).
The great thing about Pachacamac if you are a foreign tourist with not a lot of time is that it’s the largest archaeological site in the central coast of Peru, and it’s less than an hour away by car from Lima. You can visit it in a day and come back right on time for your connection flight down to Cusco. This is one of the most visited museums and archaeological sites in Peru, so you really can’t miss it!
If you’re into architecture news, the new museum building has been recognised at both a regional and global scale. The museum doesn’t only get lots of visitors interested in the history of the site, but it also gets a lot of architecture students who come to look at the new building.
A very modern architectural project by students at Pachacamac was featured in Dezeen architecture magazine. You can read the article here. They built a reed structure where archaeologists can clean material, run workshops for children and interact with the public.
Did I mention that there are also llamas and Peruvian orchid dogs and guinea pigs? Yes, believe it or not, all archaeological sites in Peru are expected by Ministerial decree to have at least one Peruvian orchid dog, because they are considered part of the cultural heritage of the nation (Law 27537).
There is also a small community pre-Hispanic Garden where the museum organises school visits to learn about indigenous plants. The children get to plant, weed, and sow plants like sweet potatoes, avocadoes, chilis and passion fruits.
I also absolutely must mention the museum shop, not because it’s the shop, but because it’s a very special shop. The archaeological site is surrounded by a large and relatively new urban community with many economic problems. In the past, it has been common for urban encroachment to invade archaeological sites as people look for space to build their homes. As part of the museum’s mission to support the community and prevent invasions, it has developed a very involved community development program which has been going on for over a decade. As a result, and thanks to the support of NGO ESCALA, KANI company for sustainable artisan work and NGO Turismo Cuida for responsible tourism, a group of empowered, entrepreneur women arose from the local community with the help of the museum and have now formally become an association. They call themselves “Sisan,” which means “to flower” in Quechua. The members were trained on various handcrafting techniques, Pachacamac iconography and were taught how to run a small business. They are now a thriving organisation making beautiful handmade products with Peruvian and Pachacamac iconography. If you want to learn more about them, you can follow them on their Facebook page. The museum shop is almost exclusively run by and for them.
Another project being run with youths from the community is called BiciTour. With the help from The National Geographic Society and the NGO ESCALA, the museum bought 12 bicycles and gave first aid and bicycle maintenance training to some young men and women from the local community to accompany visitors around the archaeological site on a bike. This project has been impacted by COVID, but hopefully, it will continue to grow giving these young men and women opportunities to derive an extra income.
I hope you visit the Pachacamac museum if you ever find yourself in Lima. You will absolutely love it.
Virtual tour: http://bit.ly/MSPAC_VisitaVirtual (It’s in Spanish, but you get to look around)
Address: Carretera Antigua Panamericana Sur Km. 31.5 Lurín, Lima, Peru
You can get to the museum by bus or car. Tours are recommended right now because there are no guides available at the museum. The museum has a Facebook album with photos of all the buses that stop at the door. Free car park inside. There are a couple wheelchairs available should you need them.
COVID visit rules: You must have a reservation which you can fill out here. Double masks are mandatory in public spaces in Peru. Face shields recommended but not mandatory at the museum. Face shields mandatory on all public transport.
Current opening hours are only Tue, Thu and Sat from 10:00 a.m. to 3 p.m.
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Angélica Isa is a Peruvian museum conservator with an MA degree from University of Durham (UK). She has been working at Pachacamac since 2016. The views expressed in this article are her own and do not imply endorsement by her employer. She is interested in sharing information about museum conservation with the public and runs a small website with blog articles and other interesting information. She also recently co-founded Altminster where she hopes to help scholars and students connect with each other. Follow Angélica on Twitter @Conservallama and/or @Altminster.