Our meander through Peru has taken us in a giant 3,000-mile loop. Along the way we have come across many examples of the ancient history of this area and have become quite the armchair archeologists. We have had a good time visiting many ancient sites and ruins in Peru. Of course the most famous stop we made was Machu Picchu but that was so “all-that” that we will give that visit its very own post. Below are the other UNESCO World Heritage sites (that aren’t Machu Picchu) we visited in Peru. Each stop was fascinating in its own right. We left every site in wonder and we were always glad we made the effort to visit.
In Northern Peru we visited the ancient fortress of Kuelap. The ruined citadel city is in the mountains southwest of Chachapoyas and receives very few visitors. We arrived on the harrowing 25-mile dirt road that snaked through steep mountains. Rain in the form of a fine mist turned parts of the track into a slippery mud that definitely kept us on our toes. Kuelap was constructed between AD 500 and 1493 and was rediscovered in 1843. It is a 700-meter long oval fortress that is surrounded by an imposing wall that is on average 20-meters high.
Full motorcycle riding gear is a strange choice of attire for armchair archeologists but it was cold and we weren’t done riding for the day (kill two birds with one stone, right?). By the time we walked the two kilometers to the site we were sweaty messes. The fortress wall was an imposing greeter to let us know we had arrived at Kuelap.
The stonework at Kuelap has withstood the test of time and is in surprisingly good condition considering the earthquakes and bad weather common to this area.
The bad weather was more than made up for by the complete absence of tourists at this site.
From outside the citadel wall you can see the great lengths Peruvian farmers will go to plant crops and graze their livestock on the surrounding mountainsides.
One of only 3 access points that lead up into the citadel through the wall. We knew this one was closed but went closer for a peek. We were instantly whistled at by a park ranger that must have popped out of a trap door in the grass. Earthquakes and normal settling have made this narrow passageway unsafe.
A passage way for llamas, livestock as well as people. You could see the wear marks in the stones from centuries of foot traffic.
Once inside the Kuelap Ruins the view was unsurpassed in every direction.
Kuelap builders are known for their round structures throughout the citadel.
The cloud forest environment at Kuelap creates a diverse botanical wonderland. This tree is hosting countless other species of plants in its branches.
A highly defendable hilltop fortress with adequate rainfall and good agricultural lands all around. Smart folks to build here.
Chan Chan Ruins
Along the Pacific Coast, in one of the driest deserts in the world, we visited the sprawling complex of Chan Chan. Chan Chan was built around AD 1300 and covers a massive 20 square kilometers. This is the largest pre-Colombian city in the Americas and the largest adobe city in the world. Since adobe does not weather the centuries as well as stone Chan Chan may not have the intricate construction of more famous sites in Peru but makes up for this in sheer size and scale.
The adobe city of Chan Chan. A completely different look and feel here in the coastal desert. Gone is the lush green of the Andes. The ubiquitous coastal fog obscured the mountains to the east but it cleared enough for us to get some sun at Chan Chan.
Chan Chan may not have the eye popping wonder of a city made of stone but makes up for it by its sheer size and scale.
Intricate details have been restored throughout the adobe walls. The fish motif is seen throughout, and it is no wonder, the surf of the Pacific Ocean can be seen from the West wall.
Chan Chan vouge.
Sacred City of Caral
Further south along the Pacific Coast we went in search of the Sacred City of Caral. We were fortunate to be able to camp along with the archeologists at their home base near the site. Caral is in the fertile Supe valley that has been in constant agricultural production since Caral was a living city. The valley is filled with all types of crops, but as soon as the irrigation canals end the valley shows its true colors as a harsh desert with inhospitable mountains of rock and sand without a wisp of green or moisture. Caral culture arose 4500-5000 years ago, which makes it one of the world’s earliest large cities and definitely the oldest major city in both North and South America. The Caral architects had a unique process for building the foundations that made the structures exceptionally durable during earthquakes.
Driving to the Sacred City of Caral we were surrounded by mountains of rock, sand, and arid desert.
The smaller pile in front of the mountain is one of the pyramids at the Sacred City of Caral.
The Sacred City of Caral is a very active archeologist dig with dozens of people working throughout the site.
Sacred City of Caral is situated on a very fertile river valley.
We couldn’t figure out why there were blue flags and our Spanish wasn’t good enough to get an answer from the our guide. Sacred City of Caral.
Sacred City of Caral and a mouth breathing neanderthal.
Ancient stone sundial. Sacred City of Caral.
Chavin de Huantar Ruins
Away from the dry coast and back into the Andes Mountains we visited the ancient city of Chavin de Huantar. The Chavin period (1200-500 BC) is considered one of the oldest major cultural periods in Peru. Along with the above ground temples there are labyrinthine of underground passageways. This underground complex makes Chavin quite unique. It is believed that priests used special acoustics purposely built into the tunnels, along with administering powerful hallucinogens, to instill fear and awe and thus solidify their power. They also used active water channels and highly polished mineral mirrors to reflect light deep underground. Along with the well-placed ventilation shafts this underground “fun-house” was absolutely fascinating.
Next stop on the tour of ancient civilizations is Chavin de Huantar. This is as close as we could get to this ceremonial entrance. The round columns were covered in glyphs and carved symbols.
Impressive walls at Chavin de Huantar.
This carved monolith is the first thing you see upon entering the site at Chavin de Huantar.
Chavin de Huantar.
One of the subterranean entrances to the extensive underground complex at Chavin de Huantar.
Wandering the underground labyrinths. The stone work was amazing and the size of stones holding the ceiling were incredible. Chavin de Huantar.
Chavin de Huantar.
This underground carved stone was spellbinding and very big. To protect this relic we were not allowed to get close and had to take this photo from a distance through a passageway.