Chances are if you’re travelling to Peru you are thinking of visiting Machu Picchu.
These legendary ruins are certainly worth the hike (quite literally if you embark on the Inca Trail), but you may not be familiar with the wealth of other captivating and crowd-free ruins that are littered across this ancient and impressive landscape.
The once capital of the Chimu people (who lived here from AD 850 to around 1470 when the Inca laid waste to their empire), Chan Chan is the largest pre-Colombian city in South America. Covering over 30 square kilometres and with nine-metre high walls (which have some awesome pictures and symbols carved into them), ingenious irrigation and water systems and a wealth of structures to explore, this is one remarkable ancient ruin. But be quick: unfortunately the increasing number of storms (El Nino in action) is causing the city to dissolve back into the desert from which it came.
Huacas de Moche
Built by the Moche people, whose civilisation existed between AD 100 and 800, the two temples of Huacas de Moche are located only five kilometres from Trujillo and are thought to be ancient ceremonial sites. Huaca de la Luna, the smaller of the two, has three levels and is beautiful with its painted murals and intricate friezes. Huaca del Sol can’t currently be visited, but even from a distance its sheer size and crumbling walls and pyramid are impressive.
Chavin de Huantar
More ‘off the tourist trail’ than many of Peru’s ruins (at around 400 km north-east from Lima), Chavin de Huantar is a site located deep in the Peruvian Andes and dates back to a whopping 1550 to 300 BC, when the Chavin civilisation was going strong. The terraces, temples, plazas, monoliths and internal galleries of this World Heritage site are in spectacular shape given their age and the location of this site is particularly beautiful.
Believed to have been built around the same time as Machu Picchu and architecturally similar, Choquequirao is as spectacular as Machu Picchu, if not more so. Currently it’s a tough three to five day hike to get there, and is being touted as the alternative to the vastly more crowded Inca Trail.
It’s not a ruin as such, but the Chauchilla Cemetery is a somewhat freakish archaeological site outside of Nazca and unlike any other you’re likely to see. For centuries, grave robbers plundered the tombs here, leaving well-preserved mummies and skeletons lying in open tombs and on the dry, grey sands. Today you can see these skeletons (bizarrely) propped up in poses – most with hair, clothing and some skin still intact.
Have you ever enjoyed discovering a lesser known sacred site in Peru?
Feature image c/o Natalie Ladbury, Flickr