5 Peru ruins you didn’t know you should visit

Chan Chan historic site in Peru South America

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.

Chan Chan

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.

Chauchilla Cemetery

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?

Photo of Chan Chan by Natalie Ladbury.

About the author

Jacqueline Donaldson - Melbourne-based former nomad, Jacqueline has been writing and travelling for more years than she cares to admit. With over 45 countries under her belt and a weird penchant for never fully unpacking, she works as an editor and copywriter for Intrepid – the one company she knows of that accepts (if not encourages) her quirks and wanderlust.

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I visited Kuelap, near Chachapoyas northeast of Lima. Loved the high-walled circular structures, multi-level rooms with llamas wandering around the 3000m peak. So different than anything I’d seen before. Majestic in its isolation too.


Oh, and if you liked the cemetary, you might find Guanajuato in Mexico worth a visit. Awesome city, creepy and awesome past and geograpgy .


Sechin is nice. Especially if you like ancient wall carvings of people being decapitated, disembowelled, getting their eyes poked out etc. All there carved into the temple walls.


If only these places were all included in my recent ( awesome ) tour of Peru! Although we did visit the Chauchilla Cemetery which was fascinating, but slightly surreal.


Thanks for the information, would always just assume to go to Machu Picchu if visiting Peru, but sometimes it’s nicer to go somewhere that isn’t so well known!

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