Peru is a country that boasts a rich tapestry of history, culture, and natural beauty. At the heart of this South American nation lies a treasure trove of spectacularly situated and fascinating ancient ruins, each with its own unique story to tell.
Here, we will take you on a journey through the top ten ancient ruins to visit in Peru.
Majestically perched in the Peruvian Andes at 2,430 meters above sea level, Machu Picchu is the best known and most spectacular of ancient ruins in all Peru, and arguably the world. An amalgamation of spiritual theory, 90 years of hardworking craftsmanship and sacrifice, it is famously (and incorrectly) known as the ‘lost city of the Incas’, and home to such sights as the Temple of the Sun and Intihuatana Stone. Since its rise to international attention ever since its rediscovery by Hiram Bingham in 1911, its popularity has grown year on year and is definitely a site not to be missed.
Tucked away in the Andes Mountains, perched high in the peaks above the Apurimac River in Peru’s Acomayo province, this awe-inspiring archaeological site offers a unique and off-the-beaten-path adventure for travelers seeking to explore the country’s rich cultural heritage. Waqrapukara, which translates to “horn-shaped fortress” in Quechua, remains relatively undiscovered by mass tourism, having only been made a national cultural heritage site as recently as 2017. This hidden gem is not for the faint hearted though, as the site sits above a deep ravine at a whopping 4300 meters above sea level—in comparison Machu Picchu is just 2,430 meters—but visitors are rewarded with incredible views.
Caral-Supe is considered one of the oldest civilizations in the Americas, predating the Incas by more than 1,000 years. This ancient city is home to massive pyramids, plazas, and an advanced irrigation system. Located on the arid Supe River valley on the Peruvian coast, Caral thrived between 2600 and 2000 BCE, emerging roughly around the same time as Egypt and Mesopotamia, demonstrating the sophistication of early Peruvian societies. It’s a fascinating place to learn about the early stages of Peruvian civilization.
Sacsayhuamán in Cusco, Peru should set yet another stop on your South American journey. Built in 1100 AD, it has withstood Incan renovation as well as Spanish conquering, resulting in addition to the World Heritage list centuries years later in 1983. Surprisingly, these ancient ruins remain 3,555 metres above sea level – even higher than Machu Picchu! So whilst you are chewing on coca leaves, take a minute to capture the 200-ton blocks of megalithic rocks; What appear to be sporadically placed, reaching some 15 feet in height and 1000 feet in length, they are actually crafted so finely you could not even slide a piece of paper between the bricks.
Not all Peruvian historical sites require you to battle altitudes and confront your inner hiking persona. Take a look at Chan Chan for example – A site located in La Libertad revealed to be the largest city of the pre-Columbian era, just 5km away from one of Peru’s most inhabited metropolitan areas, Trujillo. Aged Peruvian coastal culture fabricated these ruins as part of the Chimu empire. It gained its Incan correspondence later as a result of defeat by the Incas. Named after its permanently summery climate, ‘Sun Sun’, (Chan Chan) is a beautiful place to visit. As you saunter across this archaeological site in the warm, southern breeze, stop to indulge in the contrastive style of construction.
Nestled amongst the clamor of the Peruvian capital, Lima, you can find ancient ruins that have somehow been preserved for centuries despite incredible urbanization. One such site in Miraflores is the Huaca Pucllana. An absolutely astonishing sight during the day, but even better at night, this 1800 year old adobe pyramid is perhaps best known for the prestigious restaurant that shares its grounds. A great spot for travelers to adore the antiquity of their surroundings whilst luxuriating in classic Peruvian gastronomy.
The ancient ruins of Pachacamac, a 40 km journey south of Lima on the desert coast, is a vast archaeological complex covering nearly 500 hectares. It has a fascinating pre-Hispanic history dating back over a thousand years, that can be best discovered by visiting the modern onsite museum and taking a guided tour of the ruins. The site was considered a place of great spiritual significance and was dedicated to the worship of the deity Pachacamac, believed to be the creator of the world in the Andean cosmology. It was revered by the Moche, Wari, and later the Incas, all of whom left their mark on the site.
Kuélap, often referred to as the “Machu Picchu of the North,” is a colossal fortress that can be found in the remote cloud forests of northern Peru. This pre-Incan archaeological site, built by the Chachapoya people who were known as the “Warriors of the Clouds”, is perched high on a ridge overlooking the Utcubamba Valley, offering a dramatic setting that rivals Machu Picchu. Unlike the more common rectangular or square Inca structures, Kuélap features predominantly circular buildings, meticulously crafted with intricate designs and carvings, showcasing the unique architectural style of the Chachapoya.
Nestled in the rugged mountains of the Andes, Chavín de Huántar is considered one of the oldest major archaeological sites in Peru, with its beginnings dating back to around 1200 BCE. It served as the center of the Chavín culture, a pre-Incan civilization that greatly influenced subsequent Andean cultures. The site boasts a complex of stone buildings, plazas, and underground galleries. The labyrinthine underground galleries are believed to have been used for rituals, including the consumption of hallucinogenic San Pedro cactus, which may have played a role in the spiritual practices of the Chavín people. The “Lanzon,” a massive carved stone pillar featuring anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figures located in the Old Temple, is a highlight.
Nestled in the picturesque Sacred Valley of the Incas, Moray is an archaeological site that offers a unique window into the advanced agricultural techniques of the Inca Empire. This stunning complex of concentric terraces is an architectural and agricultural marvel. The site consists of several terraced circular depressions, each of which acts as a microclimate with its own temperature and growing conditions. The Incas used these terraces to experiment with different crops at various altitudes.
Visiting these ancient ruins in Peru is like stepping into a time machine, allowing you to explore the rich history of this diverse and culturally vibrant nation. Whether you’re an archaeology enthusiast, history buff, or simply a traveler seeking adventure, Peru’s ancient ruins will captivate your imagination and leave you with a deep appreciation for the mysteries of the past.
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