Pre-Colombian cultures lived in Peru long before the arrival of the Inca. When they did arrive, they built mountain retreats, extensive road systems, and formed an empire that stretched far past the boundaries of the modern-day country. Keep reading for a guide to some of the most important ancient ruins in Peru.
Qoricancha in Cusco was a complex of temples built during the Inca rule that displayed the wealth and royalty of the empire. A series of temples were dedicated to the different deities-the sun, the moon, Venus, and the stars.
Elaborate gold reliefs on the walls, statues in the gardens, and a huge gold astrological disk that reflected a golden light to the enclave where the Inca chieftain sat were just the beginning. The Spanish raided the temple and built a church on its foundations. After an earthquake, the Inca stonework was uncovered as well as a network of chambers that shed light on one of the jewels in the Inca Empire.
A twelve square miles fortress on a hill overlooking Cusco, Sacsayhuaman was built by the Inca emperor Pachacútec. Pachacútec expanded the reach of the empire and built Machu Picchu. The fortress has three tiers of defensive walls built with stones that weigh as much as 360 tons, fit together without mortar and still standing today.
At the onset of the Sacred Valley is Pisac a small town where a weekly market is held and a great place to see the life of the people of the region. It is also the doorway to the Pisac ruins, a complex high in the mountains that was a city, a fortress, a temple, and an agricultural center. Terraced farmland, intricate stonework and stunning views of the valley below are worth the hike up.
For some, the city of Ollantaytambo is a whistle-stop destination on the way to Machu Picchu, but spending some time exploring the ruins here gives a glimpse into the foresight of the Inca when planning cities.
The well-preserved ruins of the ancient town, the temple hill, a ceremonial area, and the agricultural sector are worth taking time in the early morning or late afternoon to explore before or after the crowds arrive.
The top of the list for many who venture to Peru in search of cultural adventure, Machu Picchu timelessly stands guard over the valleys seen from every angle. Trains from Ollantaytambo leave you at the entrance where guides walk you through the different sections of the citadel including homes, palaces, temples, and palaces.
More than 700 landscaped terraces blend the complex into the surrounding mountainside. The stonework and the intricate detail of the buildings are some of the best examples of the Inca craftsmanship in the region. The true reason for the enclave is still up for debate. Some say it was a mountain retreat for royalty while others think it had a larger military purpose.
Many think Choquequirao was the lost city that Hiram Bingham was looking for when he stumbled upon Machu Picchu. First discovered in the 1970s, the jungle had reclaimed the site and today only one third has been excavated. Rows of terraces, temples and water shrines lead some to think that it was dedicated to the goddess of the sea. Others have found evidence that it was the last stronghold of Manco Capac when he fled the Spanish after their arrival.
Amantani Island on Lake Titicaca has two temples on the peaks of the island’s mountains. The temple of Pachamama and the temple of Pachatata date back 4000 years to the Aymara culture who were conquered by the Inca. Pachamama is dedicated to Mother Earth and Pachatata was built in honor of Father Earth.
Chan Chan on the coast between Trujillo and Huanchaco is a sprawling complex from the Chimú Empire and the largest city of its kind in South America. It was the capital of the empire with nine royal palaces and was once home to 60,000 people. Exploring the palaces and streets of the city takes a step back to the civilizations that came before the Inca, who conquered the city in the 15th century.