What if I told you that I had been inside a fantastic tunnel system that runs beneath the continent of South America? Would you think me a liar? Or worse yet, insane? Though I admit it is a story that seems difficult to believe, I am telling the truth. Read on, dear reader, and decide if I am mad or lying.
Although it seems incredible, there is a great deal of evidence to show that a network of ancient tunnels exists throughout much of South America. Legends abound on this tunnel system, and I can state that I have even been inside some of the tunnels on this strangest of continents.
The Gold of the Incas
Legends of tunnels in South America surfaced almost immediately after the conquest when the Spaniards discovered that the Incas had hidden much of their treasure-sacred relics of pure gold either beneath the Inca capital of Cuzco or in a secret city known as Paititi. Either way, legend had it that a tunnel system was used.
The history of the conquest of the Inca Empire by the Spanish is one of the most bizarre and incredible stories of history. That Francisco Pizarro with only 183 men could conquer a sophisticated empire of several million people is a feat that has never been equaled, and probably never will be!
Pizarro made his first expedition down the Pacific Coast from Panama in 1527, attracted by rumors of gold and other treasure. A Greek of his company went alone from the ship into an Inca village on the coast, and was taken to be a returning god by the natives. They brought him to a temple filled with more gold than he had seen in his life. Returning to the ship, he told Pizarro about the fabulous wealth he had seen. Satisfied that the rumors were true, Pizarro returned to Panama and then to Spain to prepare another expedition.
He set out again in 1531, landed on a lonely beach in Ecuador and began marching inland. He was entering the newly united Inca empire, which had just recovered from a civil war. The people of Peru, Bolivia, and rest of the Inca empire were not all true Incas, but largely Quechua and Aymara Indians. Incas were the ruling elite, of a different race, who believed themselves descended from “Manco Capac,” a red-haired, bearded messenger from God.
After taking the town of Tumbes and putting quite of few of the people to death, the Spanish conquistadors continued their march south. At Cajamarca, they were received by Inca royalty with great pomp, splendor, and gifts. The ruler of the Incas (or more correctly, “the Inca”) Atahualpa was impressed by their beards and white skin, believing them to fulfill a prophecy about the return of Viracocha, the legendary bearded prophet from a far away land who had visited the South American peoples many hundreds of years before.
American Indians have no facial hair, though the first Incas are said to have had reddish-brown hair and beards, like Viracocha. Therefore, Atahualpa believed that the Spanish were Incas themselves, Sons of the Sun, gods in their own right, just as he, the Inca, was a god.
The conquistadors remained in Cajamarca for a time, while the Inca showered them with gifts. In fact, the Incas believed that the horses ridden by the Spaniards were also men, and assumed by the way the horses constantly chewed on their bits that these were the horses’ fodder. The Incas would put bars of gold and silver in the horses’ feeding troughs, saying, “Eat this, it is much better than iron.” The Spaniards found this quite amusing, and encouraged the Indians to keep bringing gold and silver for the horses to eat!
Finally, Atahualpa himself came to the Spaniards from his nearby palace. During this audience inside the walls of Cajamarca, Atahualpa had with him no less than 30,000 men, all under strict command not to harm the Spaniards, even if they themselves were attacked. This prohibition proved to be their downfall. The conquistadors kept many of their men in hiding, ready to attack, as Pizarro and his generals with the Dominican friar Vincente de Valverde had their audience with Atahualpa in the townsquare.
The Inca welcomed them as Viracocha Incas and fellow Sons of the Sun. Then the friar Valverde addressed the Inca, telling him about the one true faith, and the most powerful men on earth, the Pope and King Charles of Spain. After a long speech translated by the Indian Felipe, the Inca asked the source of the friar’s material, who responded by handing the Inca a Bible. The Inca placed it to his ear. Hearing nothing, he threw it to the ground.
This rather un-pious gesture from Atahualpa was just what the conquistadors were waiting for. The Spaniards attacked in full force, many from hiding, and began a slaughter of the Incas. They killed literally thousands, many of whom were trying to escape. Not one conquistador was hurt, with the exception of Francisco Pizarro himself, who was wounded by one of his own men as he reached for Atahualpa.
And so was Atahualpa kidnapped by a mere 160 gold-crazed conquistadors (some of the original 183 had died of disease and in earlier battles). To secure his freedom, Atahualpa offered to give the Spaniards gold in exchange for his release. Sensing that they still did not realize the fabulous wealth at his command, Atahualpa stood up in the room in which he was imprisoned and reached as high as he could; he offered to fill the room with gold to that height in return for his release. The Spaniards agreed.
Complicating the story at this point were several intrigues. First, there was a great rivalry between Francisco Pizarro, his brother Ferdinand, and Don Diego de Almagro. Indeed, Francisco Pizarro and de Almagro were bitter enemies. Second, Atahualpa was still at odds with his brother Huascar, who by many accounts was the legitimate heir to the Inca throne. It had been the civil war between the two brothers that had weakened the Inca Empire just prior to the arrival of the Spanish. While he was still in captivity, Atahualpa ordered Huascar arrested, believing him to be plotting a takeover of the Empire. Both Atahualpa and Huascar now took a rather fatalistic attitude to the events taking place, as their father had predicted such a conflict before his death.
Third, most of the subjects of the Inca Empire were not Incas, but common Indians of entirely different races and cultural heritages. Few were loyal to the Incas, and many of them eventually sided with the Spanish. Finally, again from captivity, Atahualpa ordered his brother Huascar killed, thinking this would save the empire from him, believing that the Spaniards may not release him even after the ransom was paid. All of these factors together set the stage for the fall of the greatest civilization extant in the Western Hemisphere at the time.
It took some time for the gold to reach Cajamarca, as it had to be brought from Quito, Cuzco, and other cities that were hundreds of miles away. While the ransom was being gathered, Pizarro sent some of the conquistadors as emissaries to Quito and Cuzco to ensure that Atahualpa had not ordered an assault on Cajamarca. When they returned, they reported that fabulous wealth was to be found in these cities.
The Incas did not use gold, silver, and precious stones for currency as Europeans and other cultures did. Instead, they were valued for decoration, and used extensively for religious objects, furnishings, and even utensils. Many buildings had interior gold-lined walls, and exterior gold rain gutters and plumbing. Therefore, when the Inca was ransomed for a room full of gold, to the Incas it was as if they were paying with pots and pans, old plumbing, and rain gutters!
These were sent gladly, though religious objects and those with esthetic value were not. The ransom paid has been estimated to have been 600-650 tons of gold and jewels and 384 million “pesos de oro,” the equivalent of $500,000,000 in 1940. Given the rise in the price of gold since then, today that ransom would be worth almost five billion dollars.
Not surprisingly, once the ransom was paid, Atahualpa was not released. The Indian interpreter, Felipe, had fallen in love with one of Atahualpa’s wives, and he was keen to see that the Inca did not survive. He spread the rumor that Atahualpa was raising an army to storm Cajamarca. This being the only excuse the Spaniards needed to execute the Inca, he was condemned to death. Spaniards who had befriended Atahualpa advised him to convert to Christianity before his execution, which would allow the Dominical fathers to strangle him as a Christian rather than burn him at the stake as a heretic. He complied, was baptized, then strangled. This was done even though more gold was on its way, as part of a second ransom, worth much more than the first.
Meanwhile, three Spanish emissaries came back from Cuzco, the Inca capital, with even more treasure, looted from the Sun Temple. They brought an immense cargo of gold and silver vessels loaded on the backs of 200 staggering, sweating Indians. And the second ransom train of 11,000 llamas was on its way to Pizarro’s camp. Loaded with gold, it had been sent by Atahualpa’s queen from Cuzco. But when they heard of the Inca’s assassination, the Indians drove the llamas off the road and buried the 100 pounds of gold that each animal carried.
Sir Clements Markham, who had a particularly keen knowledge of Peru, believed that the gold was hidden in the mountains behind Azangaro. The Cordillera de Azangaro is a wild sierra little known to foreigners, the name in Quechua meaning, “place farthest away.” It is believed that this was the easternmost point in the Andean cordilleras which the old Inca empire dominated. However, other versions of this story say that the treasure was hidden in a system of tunnels that goes through the Andes.
One fantastic treasure story involves “The Garden of the Sun.” Sarmiento, a Spanish historian (1532-1589), wrote that this subterranean garden was located near the Temple of the Sun.
“They had a garden in which the lumps of earth were pieces of fine gold. These were cleverly sown with maize the stalks, leaves and ears of which were all of gold. They were so well planted that nothing would disturb them. Besides all this, they had more than twenty sheep with their young. The shepherds who guarded the sheep were armed with slings and staves made of gold. There were large numbers of jars of gold and silver pots, vases, and every kind of vessel.”
Shortly after the conquest of Peru, Cieza de Leon, part Inca and part Spanish, wrote,
“If all the gold that is buried in Peru … were collected, it would be impossible to coin it, so great the quantity; and yet the Spaniards of the conquest got very little, compared with what remains. The Indians said, ’The treasure is so concealed that even we, ourselves, know not the hiding place!’
“If, when the Spaniards entered Cuzco they had not committed other tricks, and had not so soon executed their cruelty in putting Atahualpa to death, I know not how many great ships would have been required to bring such treasures to old Spain as is now lost in the bowels of the earth and will remain so because those who buried it are now dead.”
What Cieza de Leon did not say was that, although the Indians as a whole did not know where this treasure lay, there were a few among them who did know and closely guarded the secret.
After seeing the fineness of the treasures in Atahualpa’s first ransom, Pizarro had demanded that he be shown the source of this fabulous wealth before he would release the Inca. He had heard that the Incas possessed a secret and inexhaustible mine or depository, which lay in a vast, subterranean tunnel running many miles underground. Here was supposedly kept the accumulated riches of the country.
However, legend has it that Atahualpa’s queen consulted the Black Mirror at the Temple of the Sun, a sort of magic mirror similar to that in the story of Snow White. In it she saw the fate of her husband, whether she paid the ransom or not. She realized that her husband and the empire were doomed and that she must certainly not reveal the secret of the tunnels or wealth to the gold crazed conquistadors.
The horrified queen ordered that the entrance to the great tunnel be closed under the direction of the priests and magicians. A large door into a rocky wall of a cliff gorge near Cuzco, it was sealed by filling its depths with huge masses of rock. Then the disguised entrance was hidden under green grass and bushes, so that not the slightest sign of any fissure was perceptible to the eye.
Conquistadors, adventurers, treasure hunters, and historians have all wondered about and pursued this legend. What incredible treasure did the Incas seal into these tunnels? And as to the tunnels themselves, when and how were they made, and where do they go?
Researchers like Harold Wilkins believed that the tunnels run from the central Andes around Cuzco for hundreds of miles north and south through the mountains, as far as Chile and Ecuador. Wilkins believed that there were other spurs of these tunnels that ran to the east, coming out at the lost city of Paititi in the high jungle somewhere. Another spur was said to run to the west, down to the coastal desert of Peru.
This spur of the tunnel system could have come out near Lima, the area of the ancient Inca city of Pachacamac, or near Pisac and the Candlestick of the Andes, which is further south along the coast.
Wilkins believed, as did apparently Madame Blavatsky (a well known psychic and founder of The Theosophical Society), that a spur of the ancient tunnel system came out in the Atacama Desert near to Arica and the current border between Chile and Peru, which is further south still. Madame Blavatsky related the story, retold by Wilkins, of the ancient treasure and tunnel system.
Sometime around the year 1844, a Catholic priest was called to absolve a dying Quechua Indian. Whispering quietly to the priest, the old Indian told an amazing story about a labyrinth and a series of tunnels built far before the days of the Inca emperors of the Sun. It was told under the inviolable seal of the confessional, and could not be divulged by the priest under pain of death. This story would probably never have been told, except that the priest, while traveling to Lima, met with a “sinister Italian.” The priest let out a hint of great treasure, and was later supposedly hypnotized by the Italian to get him tell the story!
“I will reveal to thee what no White man, be he Spaniard, or American, or English, knows,” the dying Indian had said to the priest.
He then told of the queen’s closing of the tunnels when the Inca Atahualpa was being held captive by Pizarro. The priest added under hypnosis that the Peruvian government, in about 1830, had heard rumors of these tunnels and sent an expedition out to find and explore them. They were unsuccessful.
In another similar story, the Father Pedro del Sancho tells in his Relacion that in the early period of the conquest of Peru, another dying Indian made a confession. Father del Sancho wrote,
“…my informant was a subject of the Incan Emperor. He was held in high esteem by those in power at Cuzco. He had been a chieftain of his tribe and made a yearly pilgrimage to Cuzco to worship his idolistic gods. It was a custom of the Incas to conquer a tribe or nation and take their idols to Cuzco. Those who wished to worship their ancient idols were forced to travel to the Incan capital. They brought gifts to their heathen idols. They were also expected to pay homage to the Incan emperor during these journeys.”
Del Sancho continues,
“These treasures were placed in ancient tunnels that were in the land when the Incas arrived. Also placed in these subterranean repositories were artifacts and statues deemed sacred to the Incas. When the hoard had been placed in the tunnels, there was a ceremony conducted by the high priest. Following these rites, the entrance to the tunnels was sealed in such a manner that one could walk within a few feet and never be aware of the entrance.
“…My informant said that the entrance lay in his land, the territory which he ruled. It was under his direction and by his subjects that the openings were sealed. All who were in attendance were sworn to silence under the penalty of death. Although I requested more information on the exact location of the entrance, my informant refused to divulge more than what has been written down here.”
Another interesting story of the tunnels around Cuzco and the incredible treasure they contain involves Carlos Inca, a descendant of an Inca emperor, who had married a Spanish lady, Dona Maria Esquivel. His Castilian wife thought that he was not ambitious enough, and that he did not keep her in the style she deemed befitting her rank, or his descent.
Poor Carlos was plagued night and day by his wife’s nagging, until late one night, he blindfolded her and led her out into the patio of the hacienda. Under the cold light of the stars, when all around were asleep and no unseen eye was on the watch, he began to lead her by the shoulders. Although he was exposing himself to many risks including torture and death at the hands of the Quechuas, he proceeded to reveal his secret.
He twirled her around three times, then, assuming her disoriented, led her down some steps into a concealed vault in or under Sacsayhuaman Fortress. When he removed her blinds, her tongue was finally silenced. She stood on the dusty, stone floor of an ancient vault, cluttered with gold and silver ingots, exquisite jewelry, and temple ornaments. Around the walls, ranged in fine gold, were life-size statues of long dead Inca kings. Only the golden Disk of the Sun, which the old Incas treasured most, was missing.
Carlos Inca was supposedly one of the custodians of the secret hiding place of Inca treasure that eluded the Spanish and other treasure seekers for centuries. The U.S. Commissioner to Peru in 1870 commented on this episode:
“All I can say is if that secret chamber which she had entered has not been found and despoiled, it has not been for want of digging …Three-hundred years have not sufficed to eradicate the notion that enormous treasures are concealed within the fortress of Cuzco. Nor have three-hundred years of excavation, more or less constant, entirely discouraged the searchers for tapadas, or treasure mounds.”
There certainly appears to be some repetition and borrowing between some of these stories. Yet most historians and archaeologists believe that they are based on some fact. That tunnels and lost treasure exist, there seems to be no doubt. But the real questions are, where are they? And, who made them?
The treasure of the Incas is believed to still be hidden in the tunnels that run under Cuzco and the ruins of the megalithic fortress mentioned above called Sacsayhuaman.
The Fortress of Sacsayhuaman
The stories of a subterranean world fascinated me and I decided that South America was a good place to investigate whatever reality there might be in the many legends. Lost treasure has its appeal as well, and many tunnels would probably never be explored if it were not for some promised treasure at the end.
I began my search in Peru where I visited Ica, Pisco and Nazca to look at the mummies, geoglyphs and catacombs. I then continued on to Cuzco to look into the tunnels that were rumored to be in the vicinity.
During this visit I went to Sacsayhuaman. The road leads up from the Plaza de Armas to a hill on the north side of Cuzco. At a leveling off of the hill, looking over the Cuzco Valley, is the colossal fortress, one of the most imposing edifices ever constructed. Walking around, we could hardly believe our eyes! Here was a stone structure that covered the entire hill; it appeared almost unworldly. It contains tunnel entrances that are sealed. The visitor can walk a short distance inside some of the tunnels, but they are ultimately blocked after 20 or 30 feet.
All over Sacsayhuaman gigantic blocks of stone, some weighing more than 200 tons (400 thousand pounds) are fitted together perfectly. The enormous stone blocks are cut, faced, and fitted so well that even today one cannot slip the blade of a knife, or even a piece of paper between them. No mortar is used, and no two blocks are alike. Yet they fit perfectly, and it has been said by some engineers that no modern builder with the aid of tools of the finest steel could produce results more accurate.
Each individual stone had to have been planned well in advance; a 20-tonstone, let alone one weighing 80 to 200 tons, cannot just be dropped casually into position with any hope of attaining that kind of accuracy! The stones are locked and dovetailed into position, making them earthquake-proof. Indeed, after many devastating earthquakes in the Andes over the last few hundred years, the blocks are still perfectly fitted, while the Spanish Cathedral in Cuzco has been leveled twice.
Though this fantastic fortress was supposedly built just a few hundred years ago by the Incas, they leave no record of having built it, nor does it figure in any of their legends. How is it that the Incas, who reportedly had no knowledge of higher mathematics, no written language, no iron tools, and did not even use the wheel, are credited with having built this cyclopean complex of walls and buildings? Frankly, one must literally grope for an explanation, and it is not an easy one.
When the Spaniards first arrived in Cuzco and saw these structures, they thought that they had been built by the devil himself, because of their enormity. Indeed, nowhere else can you see such large blocks placed together so perfectly. I have traveled all over the world searching for ancient mysteries and lost cities, but I had never in my life seen anything like this!
The builders of the stoneworks were not merely good stone masons- they were excellent! Similar stoneworks can be seen throughout the Cuzco Valley. These are usually made up of finely cut, rectangular blocks of stone weighing up to perhaps a ton. A group of strong people could lift a block and put it in place; this is undoubtedly how some of the smaller structures were put together. But in Sacsayhuaman, Cuzco, and other ancient Inca cities, one can see gigantic blocks cut with 30 or more angles each.
At the time of the Spanish conquest, Cuzco was at its peak, with perhaps 100,000 Inca subjects living in the ancient city. The fortress of Sacsayhuaman could hold the entire population within its walls in case of war or natural catastrophe. Some historians have stated that the fortress was built a few years before the Spanish invasion, and that the Incas take credit for the structure. But, the Incas could not recall exactly how or when it was built!
The Spanish dismantled as much of Sacsayhuaman as they could. When Cuzco was first conquered, Sacsayhuaman had three round towers at the top of the fortress, behind three concentric megalithic walls. These were taken apart stone by stone, and the stones used to build new structures for the Spanish.
Sacsayhuaman was also equipped with a subterranean network of aqueducts. Water was brought down from the mountains into a valley, then had to ascend a hill before reaching Sacsayhuaman. This indicates that the engineers who built the intricate system knew that water rises to its own level.
Garcilaso de la Vega, who wrote just after the conquest, said this about the tunnels beneath Sacsayhuaman:
“An underground network of passages, which was as vast as the towers themselves, connected them with one another. This was composed of a quantity of streets and alleyways which ran in every direction, and so many doors, all of them identical, that the most experienced men dared not venture into this labyrinth without a guide, consisting of a long thread tied to the first door, which unwound as they advanced.
I often went up to the fortress with boys of my own age, when I was a child, and we did not dare to go farther than the sunlight itself, we were so afraid of getting lost, after all that the Indians had told us on the subject … the roofs of these underground passages were composed of large flat stones resting on rafters jutting out from the walls.”
There are indeed tunnels that one may enter at Sacsayhuaman and nearby Qenqo. If one walks behind the Inca’s stone seat inside the fortress toward Qenqo, one will find all sorts of bizarre stone cuttings, upside-down staircases, and seemingly senseless rock carving on a grand scale. There are also tunnel entrances in this area. Various rock-cut tunnels lead down into the earth and at least one goes to another part of the mountain area of Qenqo. All of these tunnels are blocked at some point and this area of Sacsayhuaman is still being excavated by Peruvian archaeologists.
The area is quite fascinating, but it seems quite clear that one cannot penetrate into the tunnels beneath Cuzco from these now-blocked tunnel entrances.
The old chroniclers say the tunnels were connected with the Coricancha, a name given to the Sun Temple and its surrounds in old Cuzco.
The Coricancha was originally larger than it is today and contained many ancient temples, including the Temples of the Sun and the Moon, and all of these buildings were believed to be connected with Sacsayhuaman by underground tunnels. The place where these tunnels started was known as the Chincana, or “the place where one gets lost.”
This entrance was known up until the mid-1800s, when it was walled up.
In his book “Jungle Paths and Inca Ruins“, Dr.William Montgomery McGovern states:
“Near this fortress [Sacsayhuaman] are several strange caverns reaching far into the earth. Here altars to the Gods of the Deep were carved out of the living rock, and the many bones scattered about tell of the sacrifices which were offered up here. The end of one of these caverns, Chincana, has never been found. It is supposed to communicate by a long underground passage with the Temple of the Sun in the heart of Cuzco. In this cavern is supposed, and with good reason, to be hidden a large part of the golden treasure of the Inca Emperors which was stored away lest it fall into the hands of the Spaniards. But the cavern is so huge, so complicated, and its passages are so manifold, that its secret has never been discovered.”
“One man, indeed, is said to have found his way underground to the Sun Temple, and when he emerged, to have had two golden bars in his hand. But his mind had been affected by days of blind wandering in the subterranean caves, and he died almost immediately afterwards. Since that time many have gone into the cavern-never to return again. Only a month or two before my arrival the disappearance of three prominent people in this Inca cave caused the Prefect of the Province of Cuzco to wall in the mouth of the cavern, so that the secret and the treasures of the Incas seem likely to remain forever undiscovered.”
Another story, which may well be derived from the same source, tells of a treasure hunter who went into the tunnels and wandered through the maze for several days.
One morning, about a week after the adventurer had vanished, a priest was conducting mass in the church of Santo Domingo. The priest and his congregation were astonished to hear sudden, sharp rappings from beneath the church’s stone floor. Several worshipers crossed themselves and murmured about the devil. The priest quieted his congregation, then directed the removal of a large stone slab from the floor (this was the converted Temple of the Sun!). The group was surprised to see the treasure hunter emerge with a bar of gold in each hand.
Even the Peruvian government got into the act of exploring these Cuzco tunnels, ostensibly for scientific purposes. The Peruvian Serial Documental del Peru describes an expedition undertaken by staff from Lima University in 1923. Accompanied by experienced speleologists, the party penetrated the trapezoid-shaped tunnels starting from an entrance at Cuzco.
They took measurements of the subterranean aperture and advanced in the direction of the coast. After a few days, members of the expedition at the entrance of the tunnel lost contact with the explorers inside, and no communication came for twelve days. Then a solitary explorer returned to the entrance, starving. His reports of an underground labyrinth of tunnels and deadly obstacles would make an Indiana Jones movie seem tame by comparison. His tale was so incredible that his colleagues declared him mad. To prevent further loss of life in the tunnels, the police dynamited the entrance.
More recently, the big Lima earthquake of 1972 brought to light a tunnel system beneath that coastal city. During salvage operations, workers found long passages no one had ever known existed. The following systematic examination of Lima’s foundations led to the astonishing discovery that large parts of the city were undercut by tunnels, all leading into the mountains. But their terminal points could no longer be ascertained because they had collapsed during the course of the centuries. Did the Cuzco tunnels explored in 1923 lead to Lima?
As far back as the 1940s, Harold Wilkins, in his books (“Mysteries of Ancient South America” and “Secret Cities of Old South America“) wrote that they did.
Tunnels to the Hidden City of Paititi?
In my quest for the lost treasure of the Incas and the tunnel systems associated with it, I joined up in the search for Paititi, the ultimate lost city of the Incas according to Cuzco legends.
While the Incas placed some of their hoard in the Cuzco tunnel system to hide it from the conquering Spanish, other treasure (including 14 gold-clad mummies of the former Inca emperors removed from the Sun Temple) was sent by llama caravan into the Antisuyo region of South America, the mountain jungle area east of Cuzco. The caravan’s destination was a mountain-jungle city called “Paikikin” in Quechua which is supposed to mean “like the other.” The Spanish called this city El Gran Paititi.
It is well known that the Incan Empire at its height stretched from north of Quito in Ecuador, south along the Andes and west to the coast, all the way down into central Chile. What is not generally known is just how far east the Incas had set up their roads, trade routes and cities. The Incas did have a trade network that stretched eastward deep into the jungles on the east side of the Andes. Salt was frequently carried across the mountains in exchange for gold and feathers.
According to Jorge Arellano, director of the Institute of Archaeology in La Paz, Bolivia, Inca ruins have been found in the Bolivian state of Beni, which is several hundred miles east of the Andes and in dense jungle. He says that a series of small fortresses in the jungle form a line in an easterly direction. He believes that the Incas used these fortresses as stop overs on their migration from the Madre de Dios area of Peru, believed by some to be the site of Paititi.
Though there is little doubt that Paititi did exist, there is a great deal of myth surrounding this lost city. Harold Wilkins believes that the Incas escaped from the Spanish after the battle of Ollantaytambo by fleeing through a branch of the tunnel system discussed earlier, heading east toward Paititi. This may well be true, though it was hardly necessary for the Incas to have fled through a tunnel. They could have left by canoe, then crossed the mountains using the excellent Inca roads.
Assuming this tunnel did exist, Wilkins thinks it went due east from Cuzco, through the jungles, to the empire of Paititi. He indicates that Paititi was a separate kingdom, ruled by mysterious white men whose king was known as the “Tiger King.” According to Wilkins, Paititi means “jaguar.” The Tiger King, or Jaguar King, lived in a white house by a great lake.
In 1681, a Jesuit missionary named Fray Lucero wrote of information given to him by Indians in the Rio Huallaga area of northeastern Peru. They told him that the lost city of Gran Paititi lay behind the forests and mountains east of Cuzco.
The Jesuit wrote,
“This empire of Gran Paytite has bearded, white Indians. The nation called Curveros, these Indians told me, dwell in a place called Yurachuasi or the ’white house.’ For king, they have a descendant of the Inca Tupac Amaru, who with 40,000 Peruvians, fled far away into the forests, before the face of the conquistadors of Francisco Pizarro’s day in AD 1533.
He took with him a rich treasure, and the Castilians who pursued him fought each other in the forests, leaving the savage Chuncho Indios, who watched their internecine struggles, to kill off the wounded and shoot the survivors with arrows. I myself have been shown plates of gold and half-moons and ear-rings of gold that have come from this mysterious nation.”
This story is independently documented in the book “Amazonas y El Maranon” by Fray Manuel Rodriguez, published in 1684, according to Wilkins.
Many people seem to confuse Gran Paititi and El Dorado, though the legends locate them thousands of miles apart. El Dorado is often believed to be in the vicinity of the Orinoco River near the borders of Columbia, Venezuela and Brazil. In early 1559, the Viceroy of Peru wanted to rid his country of unemployed soldiers and troublesome Spanish adventurers, so he sent a party of 370 Spaniards and thousands of Andean Indians on an expedition down the Amazon in search of a legendary city of gold.
This expedition was an utter failure, during which the men mutinied, and a psychopathic soldier, Lopez de Aguirre, killed the leader Pedro de Ursua. Taking over the expedition, he abandoned the search for “El Dorado,” vowing to return and conquer Peru itself. This wild and incredible adventure, during which the women warriors known as Amazons were first reported, and the Amazon River was first navigated, was made into a German movie called, Aguirre: The Wrath of God.
This disastrous expedition was the beginning of the confusion between El Dorado and Paititi, the real city of gold. It searched in an area far removed from where Paititi appears to be located, and this is why most adventurers after “El Dorado” searched in the vicinity of Columbia and Venezuela instead of Peru, where the legends actually originated.
One adventurer who searched for Paititi was Pedro Bohorques, a penniless soldier who pretended to be a nobleman. In 1659, after serving in Chile, Bohorques became a wanderer. Calling himself Don Pedro el Inca, he swore that royal Inca blood flowed through his veins. Bohorques set himself up as emperor of an Indian kingdom at the headwaters of the Huallaga River south of Cuzco. He converted almost 10,000 Pelados Indians into his service, and declared all Spaniards fair game. He also sent some of his followers on a search for Paititi, hoping to find the treasure.
When these men did not come back with gold, Bohorques left his empire and went to Lima. Unfortunately, the Spaniards had heard of his decree against them, threw him in prison, and sentenced him to death. He pled for his life, promising to reveal the location of the Kingdom of Gran Paititi if he was released. The judges refused his offer, but many gold hunters visited him in prison, begging him to share his secret with them. He refused, and went to the gallows in 1667, much to the chagrin of the treasure hunters of Lima.
Actually, it is not likely that Bohorques knew the location of Paititi (since his adventurers returned without gold), though he was in the correct area, and may have learned the general location. Also, Paititi was probably still a living city at this time, so it would have been difficult for Bohorques or anyone else to enter.
Of course, the search for Gran Paititi still continues, and many explorers feel that they are getting close. Today, many feel that Paititi is somewhere in the Paucartambo area of Peru, east of Cuzco toward the Madre de Dios River.
This is the same area in which Fray Lucero indicated that Gran Paititi could be found. Some expeditions, however, because they either found the city or disturbed the Indians too much in their search, end up dead. Boston anthropologist Gregory Deyermenjian and British photographer Michael Mirecki mounted their own expedition into this area in 1984. Their goal was a jungle mountain in eastern Peru called Apucatinti. I accompanied Deyermenjian.
According to many sources, the mountain on which Paititi is located is called Apucatinti, though exactly which mountain is really Apucatinti is open for debate. The word means “Lord of the Sun” in Quechua, and any mountain with this name (there are several) is a good candidate for having Paititi on it.
As noted above, Paititi comes from the Quechua word “Paikikin” which means “the same as the other” which has also been translated as “the same as Cuzco.” What could it mean, “The same as Cuzco?” Deyermenjian thinks that this indicates Paititi is another stone city, similar in its construction to that found at Cuzco and Sacsayhuaman; a megalithic city like Machu Picchu. On the other hand, it may mean that Paititi is like Cuzco in the sense that it is the abode of the Inca kings, as Cuzco once was. If Paititi was built from scratch by the retreating Inca royal fringe, then the ruins are more likely to be similar to those found at Espiritu Pampa: small and unimpressive. Machu Picchu also has part of a tunnel that can be found off the trail on the northern part of the city.
Historically, Gran Paititi was not reported as being located on top of a mountain, but rather by a lake. If these older reports are correct, Paititi may be further into the jungles to the east or south. Some researchers even believe that it may still be a living city, where the Inca tradition is still carried on. Many areas, particularly to the east, could have remained under Inca control for quite some time after the Spanish conquest.
Then again, Apucatinti may well be the site of a long-dead Paititi. Demoralized and cut off from their former empire, the surviving Incas could have existed on top of this remote mountain in a self-sufficient city much like Machu Picchu, until they died out. Deyermenjian backs this theory, and thinks that the city effectively died about the year 1600, a mere 30 or 40 years after the Incas escaped to their refuge there.
In June of 1986, I accompanied Greg Deyermenjian and a party of Peruvians to scale the Apucatinti in Mameria. It took one week by horseback to the edge of the jungle, and a further two weeks of living with Machiguenga Indians in effort to scale the peak. We discovered Inca buildings, ovens, tombs and coca plantations, as well as the first-ever structures in the Madre de Dios district of Peru, but the ascent to the top of the mountain was extremely difficult. The mountain has no fresh water, and is covered in thick, almost impenetrable jungle.
We ascended the mountain for five days from the base, with Machiguenga Indians leading the way. However, after running out of food and water, we had to return to the Indian village.
In August of 1986, Deyermenjian returned to Mameria by himself, and made it to the summit of Apucatinti with his Indian guides. To their disappointment, neither Paititi nor any other structures were at the summit of the mountain. It had been a false lead, but it had looked like a good prospect. Deyermenjian continued to search for Paititi, focusing on a nearby area that was even more remote than Mameria and Apucatinti.
It urned my attentions to Bolivia.
A Tunnel in Eastern Bolivia
With several old friends from the World Explorers Club, including Carl Hart, Steve Yenouskas, and Raul Fernandez, I journeyed to Peru and Bolivia to discover what we could of the tunnels in South America. After a week in Peru, we set off one day from Cuzco for Tiahuanaco and then to eastern Bolivia to the strange hilltop city of Samaipata. I had visited Samaipata by myself in the mid-80s, and wrote about the strange “fort” in my book “Lost Cities & Ancient Mysteries of South America”.
At the time, I was the 153rd person to visit the site since it had been opened to the public in 1974.
Erich von Daniken had visited the site in the early 70s and had described it as a “rocket launching pad” for his alien visitors. The site itself was bizarre enough: high on the summit of mountain was a large outcrop of rock that had been cut into various rooms, channels, pools, chairs, petroglyphs and odd, crisscross grooves.
The whole place was extremely ancient and worn, and apparently there had once been walls and buildings that were now long gone. A large jaguar was carved into the solid at the western end of the “fort.” Was Samaipata a cult center for the jaguar? Was it a mining city? Or possibly a remote fort on the eastern edge of the mountain highlands, watching over the lower valleys to the east? No archaeologist has so far come up with an answer to Samaipata, including who built the “city” and when. On a National Geographic map of archaeological sites in South America that I carried with me, Samaipata was not even listed.
The strangest part of Samaipata was a feature that was hidden in the jungle about a 100 meters south of the main fort, a tunnel into the ground that was called by the locals the Camino de la Chinchana, or the “Path of the Subterranean.”
The Camino de la Chinchana was a tunnel that began as a two-meter opening to a pit that went straight down for about 6 meters. Once one had made the first descent down to the floor of the pit, something that would take a rope or a ladder, then one would find himself standing in a tunnel that was high enough and wide enough for a man to stand without stooping. This tunnel then descended downhill from the fort, apparently going in a northwest direction.
According to the caretaker of Samaipata, the tunnel had been explored once by Bolivian archaeologists who had entered the pit with a rope and had advanced some 100 meters or more into the tunnel. The air became stale and a small cave-in had blocked a portion of the tunnel.
Without proper breathing gear, the team was unable to advance any farther into the earth.
The tunnel was clearly man-made, and at least around the entrance, it was dug out of dirt, rather than cut out of solid rock. I asked the caretaker of Samaipata where this tunnel was supposed to go. He pointed to the north, across the valley, to a mountain about 15 kilometers away. This mountain looked something like the back molar in a row of teeth.
“There”, he said, pointing to the mountain, “there to La Muela del Diablo, is where the archaeologists say that the tunnel goes. On that mountain is supposed to be another city, just as here.”
Using my dictionary, I translated La Muela del Diablo as “The Devil’s Dimple.” This tunnel was said to run from the top of the mountain of Samaipata down to the valley, beneath a river, and then up to a mountain on the other side.
Carl, Steve, Raul and I made a brief search of the area around the Devil’s Dimple but could not find evidence of any lost city or of a tunnel entrance. It was a cursory exploration that proved or disproved little. Still the fact remained that the entrance to a bizarre man-made tunnel, one that was apparently thousands of years old, existed at the weird ruins of Samaipata.
Was it the entrance to a lost mine used thousands of years ago? Was it a spur of the legendary tunnels near Cuzco? The thought that one might be able to enter into a vast labyrinth of tunnels beneath the Andes by entering the Camino tic la Chinchana was an exciting thought. The entrance still exists at Samaipata, waiting for a bold adventurer with the right equipment to discover its secrets.
But for myself and Carl, we were to continue on to Brazil and the even more intriguing tunnel entrance at Sao Tome das Letras near Sao Paulo.
The Tunnel Beneath Sao Tome das Letras
Our WEX team had to split up, with Steve and Raul returning to Peru and the U.S. while Carl and I headed down to Corumba, the Bolivian bordertown with Brazil. From there we took a bus through the Matto Grosso to Sao Paulo, the largest city in South America.
In Sao Paulo Carl and I visited my Brazilian publisher and various Brazilian friends. I had received a letter from a Brazilian woman who had read the Portuguese version of my book Lost Cities & Ancient Mysteries of South America and had written me a letter concerning the opening to a tunnel system at the resort mountain town of Sao Tome das Letras. Her name was Marli and she worked at one of the many banks in Sao Paulo.
Carl and I met with Marli one night for dinner and she told us about the town and the tunnel entrance. Sao Tome das Letras is Portuguese for “Saint Thomas of the Letters” and is the rather long name of a small town north of Sao Paulo that, like Samaipata in Bolivia, is on the top of a mountain.
Sao Tome das Letras is in fact a well-known tourist town in Sao Paulo state, though I had never heard of it. Being on top of a mountain, it had good views, was cooler than Sao Paulo, and offered hiking trails, good restaurants and an artist colony for atmosphere. It also had the entrance to a man-made tunnel system, a feature well known to visitors of the small town.
Carl and I suggested to Marli that the three of us take a trip to Sao Tome das Letras and see the entrance to the tunnel system. She agreed to accompany the two of us as our guide and interpreter. We left the next day, taking a bus for some four or five hours out of Sao Paulo, heading on a major highway toward the city of Belo Horizonte in the state of Minas Gerais.
Soon the bus turned off the main road and headed up a narrow paved road for some distant, low mountains. Eventually the road wound its way to the top of one of the mountains and we found ourselves in Sao Tome das Letras.
Carl, Marli and I grabbed our luggage from beneath the bus and stood on the cobblestone street at the lower edge of town. There were many quaint houses, all made of well carved stone with tile roofs and small windows. I noticed that stonework and even stacks of stone slate, was everywhere. Sao Tome das Letras was not only a tourist town, it was also a mountaintop quarry.
We walked up the main street and found a small hotel to spend the night, leaving our packs and other luggage in the hotel. By now it was late afternoon and we had only time to walk about town and familiarize ourselves with this pleasant area.
Later, Marli took us to a local restaurant where a crowd of young people had gathered to hear the local restaurant owner talk about the mysteries of Sao Tome das Letras. He was a large man, in his 50s, who spoke in Portuguese to the 20 or so people gathered in his restaurant.
The crowd listened intently as the man spoke and occasionally I asked Marli what he was saying.
“He is talking about the tunnel that is at the northern edge of town,” said Marli, whispering to me. “He says that the tunnel is open as far as anyone has ever walked through it. At no place is the tunnel blocked. The tunnel is man-made, but no one knows who built it or where it goes.”
“The Brazilian army went into the tunnel one time to find out where it ends. After travelling for four days through the tunnel the team of Army explorers eventually came to a large room deep underground. This room had four openings to four tunnels, each going in a different direction. They had arrived in the room by one of the tunnels.”
“They stayed in the room for sometime, using it as their base and attempted to explore each of the other three tunnels, but after following each for some time, turned back to the large room. Eventually they returned to the surface, here at Sao Tome das Letras.”
The man continued talking about the tunnel.
Apparently he gave this lecture every night at his restaurant.
“Now he is saying,” continued Marli, “that there is a man here in town who claims to know the tunnel and claims that he has been many weeks inside the tunnel. This man claims that the tunnel goes all the way to Peru, to Machu Picchu in the Andes. This man claims that he went completely under South America, across Brazil and to Machu Picchu. Isn’t that amazing!”
I raised an eyebrow and looked at Carl. He nodded to me at the fantastic nature of the story.
“Does this restaurant owner say that he has been through the tunnel to Peru?” asked Carl.
“No,” said Marli, “it is not this man, it is another man. I don’t know who this other man is. But now he is telling another story, this time it is about himself. He says that he was walking early in the morning on the north side of town, near to the tunnel entrance. On this morning, he suddenly met a strange man walking in the area of the tunnel. This man was very tall, about seven feet, and dressed strangely, like the Indians of the Andes in Peru and Bolivia. The man did not talk to him, but walked away. Later, the restaurant owner tried to find this man, but no one knew about him or knew who he was . The restaurant owner thinks that he came from the tunnel!”
As we left the restaurant, Carl, Marli and I were quite stunned. It all seemed so incredible.
“Well, Marli,” I said, “tomorrow we must see this tunnel and explore it!”
The next morning after breakfast, we checked our flashlights, put water and snacks into our daypacks, and set off up the cobblestone streets of Sao Tome das Letras to the north side of town.
It didn’t take long to find the tunnel entrance; already four or five young people were gathered around the entrance looking into the wide cavern.
The entrance was quite large. It was a wide mouth of a cave with a mound of dirt creating a small hill over the entrance. The cavern entrance faced to the west and immediately began running down hill, into the earth. The tunnel/ cavern would have to go downhill, as we were essentially on top of a mountain.
With our flashlights in hand, we entered the cavern. Within a few meters, the cavern entrance narrowed into a tunnel which was about three meters (9 feet) high and two meters wide. The tunnel was dug out of dirt, and was not cut out of solid rock, as some tunnels are.
The tunnel headed down ward at a steady slope, but it was not too steep. As mall channel, made by running water moving through this part of the tunnel (and perhaps by the visitors walking through it) was in the middle of the floor, sort of a small “trail” worn into the floor. At no point was it ever necessary to duck, stoop or crawl in this tunnel. Quite the opposite, it was quite wide and high, even for the tallest man to walk through, even someone who was, say, seven feet tall!
I was amazed at this ancient feat of engineering. We were descending down into the earth in a wide, gradually slopping tunnel that was dug into a red, clay-type dirt. It was not the smooth, laser-cut rock walls that Erich von Daniken had claimed to have seen in Ecuador in his book Gold of the Gods, but it was just as incredible.
It wouldn’t have taken some space-age device to make this tunnel, just simple tools; yet, it was clearly a colossal undertaking. Why would anyone build such a tunnel? Was it an ancient mine that went deep into the earth, searching for an elusive vein of gold or merely red clay for the long gone ceramic kilns? Was it an elaborate escape tunnel used in the horrific wars that were said to have been fought in South America-and around the world-in the distant past? Or was it some bizarre subterranean road that linked up with other tunnels in the Andes and ultimately could be used to journey safely to such places as Machu Picchu, Cuzco or the Atacama Desert?
Maybe a combination of all three.
Marli, Carl and I continued walking through the tunnel for a kilometer or so. Other visitors to Sao Tome das Letras followed us into the subterranean system. The tunnel was not perfectly straight, but wound left and right and occasionally dropped down a few feet and continued on. It was perfectly dry and the air was fresh and quite breathable.
Eventually, after an hour or so, we came to a spot in the tunnel where it suddenly dropped down about a meter and a half. It was not a great obstacle and we could see the tunnel continuing downward, but it was a convenient place to stop. We had a candy bar and a drink from our daypacks and rested at this spot and then decided to go back to the surface. We had no intention of continuing for several days to the fabled room of four doors deep beneath Brazil. We simply weren’t prepared for such an expedition.
Back on the surface, we had lunch in one of the restaurants and prepared to get a bus back to Sao Paulo. We talked about the bizarre tunnel. It was real, there was no doubt about that. It was man-made as well, as the tunnel was perfectly uniform and contained no fissures or faults of any kind.
Did it really go to Machu Picchu and the Andes? It seemed incredible, but we could not discount this story. Not yet anyway. Perhaps in the future we would return to Sao Tome das Letras, and find the secret of the room with four doors.
The Lost Pyramid in the Valley of the Blue Moon.
Back at the World Explorers Club, I began investigating other tales of tunnels and lost cities in Peru. My search eventually led me to the strange story of the Valley of the Blue Moon and a secret monastery of the Andes.
This monastery is the subject of a book, “Secret of the Andes”, by George Hunt Williamson, written under the pen name Brother Philip. Williamson was also the author of a number of other books, including “The Saucers Speak” (1954), “Other Tongues, Other Flesh” (1957), “Secret Places of the Lion” (1958) and “Road in the Sky” (1959).
He was an adventurer and anthropologist, and a believer in lost continents. Williamson was no doubt a fascinating person (he died in 1986), however it is clear that he fabricated much of the “true” information in his books and even used material typed directly from Richard Shaver’s book “I Remember Lemuria!” as his own past life “memories.”
But George Hunt Williamson cannot be dismissed too easily. He must be given credit for bringing some of the popular mysteries of South Americain to the forefront. Williamson had made expeditions into the Madre de Dios jungles of Peru in search of Paititi in the early 1950s, as many British explorers were attempting to do.
In his various books, he talked about many of the mysteries of Peru including Paititi, tunnel systems, the weird stone formations on the Marcahuasi Plateau near Lima, and the Nazca Lines along the southern coast. Undoubtedly, later writers such as Erich von Daniken, Charles Berlitz and Robert Charroux used his writings as early guidebooks to the mysteries of Peru.
While at times the fact and fancy in the pages of Secret of the Andes seem to merge, the first part of the book makes good reading. According to Williamson, a “Lord Muru” arrived at Lake Titicaca at some time in the remote past, when the Andes Mountains were first uplifted in a cataclysmic event that also sank the Pacific continent of Mu. Lord Muru set up the “Monastery of the Brotherhood of the Seven Rays,” which was to keep the secrets and treasures of his race in its archives.
Among these treasures was the Golden Sun Disc of Mu. Williamson maintains that this Sun Disc was later given to the Incas, when they had advanced enough spiritually to appreciate it. But when the Spaniards conquered Peru, the Sun Disc was removed from the Sun Temple at Cuzco, and placed back in safekeeping at the monastery.
There is still some indication that a tunnel system, and perhaps a hidden “monastery” does exist in South America. The legend of the Valley of the Blue Moon is one that has a life beyond Brother Philip and George Hunt Williamson.
One story told to me by a friend from Indianapolis, Bryan Strohm, also tends to confirm that there is a secret, underground, “city” in the Andes east of Lake Titicaca.
Bryan came to visit me at the World Explorers Club in Kempton while I was researching the tunnels and told me of his quest for the Valley of the Blue Moon some years before. Bryan arrived in Lima and flew to Cuzco to take the train to Puno. From Puno he took a truck to San Juan del Oro, in the rugged mountains northeast of Lake Titicaca.
He continued past San Juan del Oro by truck to another small village where he met a school teacher who told him an interesting story of a local Quechua Indian who had wandered over a high altitude ridge in the mountains where he saw a small mountain lake with grassy fields leading down to it. It was a small, hidden valley in the Andes.
The Indian was camping beside this lake when late at night he heard the sound of chanting. He hid behind a bush, and soon saw a group of men dressed in white robes. These men came walking down a trail to the lake, chanting and carrying some kind of lights with them.
Terrified, the man hid behind the bush and then watched as the men in white robes began to chant around the lake. The water in the small mountain lake then levitated out of the lake. Astonished, the man then saw steps that were cut in the solid rock, going down to a pedestals and a platform made out of stone. There may have been some sort of door going into the earth among these stone structures. The men in white robes then performed some unknown ceremony.
The man watched for some time until suddenly he was seen by the central figure on the pedestal who turned to the hiding man and suddenly raised his arms into the air and created a storm. A cloud immediately appeared and began to hail on the man. A bolt of lightning struck nearby.
The Quechua Indian ran from the bushes and, with the hail and lightning following him, went back down the mountains the way he had come. When he returned to the villages below he told the strange story to others, and it was now well known.
Bryan also mentioned that the Valley of the Blue Moon, which appears to be in a different location from the lake, was said to have a huge pyramid at the end of it. Bryan spent two weeks hiking on the trails around San Juan del Oro and eventually came to large but hidden valley which had a gigantic pyramid-shaped mountain at the end of it.
The pyramid-mountain was distant and obscured by clouds. They thought that they might reach the area of the pyramid with only a day’s walk after glimpsing the pyramid, but two and a half days later they had still not reached it. Clouds obscured their view most of time, but occasionally they would clear for a short time and reveal the pyramid-mountain to them. This pyramid-mountain, he believed, was the true location of the secret brotherhood which George Hunt Williamson had described in his books.
Storms and lack of food eventually drove their party back to a small village near San Juan del Oro. They didn’t reach their destination, but Bryan said that they were all convinced that they had found the Valley of the Blue Moon and that there was something unusual about it.
There are plenty of people who feel that something unusual is going on underground, not only in South America, but in North America, Europe, Asia, Africa and around the world. A huge underground tunnel systemconnecting distant points on earth is a fascinating possibility. Does it exist? Who will find it? How far back was it built?
Time, shall we say, will tell.