In a world that boasts some very strange things, it seems that Peru has more than it’s fair share. Located on the pacific side of Central America, Peru is the most extreme country in the world. It boasts the world’s highest tropical mountains, the world’s driest desert, the world’s most biologically diverse rain forest, the world’s richest fishery, and the world’s most extraordinary cultural and archaeological diversity.
In a part of the world with such rich archaeological bounty, containing much Mayan, Aztec and Incan legacy, Peru boasts some of the world’s most interesting heritage sites; from Machu Picchu to the Nazca Lines, from Ollantaytambo to Lake Titicaca and the Amaru Maru “star gate”.
Below is a list of some of Peru’s most amazing archaeological tourist attractions (in no particular order):
Huacachina is a small oasis village in Ica Peru. With a year-round population of around 115 people, it is a tourist hot spot known for it’s desert sporting potential. Built around a small natural lake called the “oasis of America”, the big draw is the sports of sand-boarding and taking dune buggy rides on sand dunes that stretch several hundred feet high.
The largest lake in South America and with an altitude of 12,500 feet above sea level, Lake Titicaca is the highest lake on the planet. It is located on the Peru/Bolivia border and boasts a large number of island villages that are open to tourism. Located near Lake Titicaca is Amaru Maru, or the “star gate”. Carved into a large sandstone boulder in the Hayua Marca mountain region is a “doorway” that is believed to be a literal star gate, through which a shaman was said to have disappeared for several minutes only to return with stories of other dimensions. It is thought by some theorists that the door is a gateway used by ancient Incas to travel to otherworldly destinations, though mainstream science remains sceptical.
Ollantaytambo is a town and an Inca archaeological site in southern Peru some 60 kilometres northwest of the city of Cusco. It is located at an altitude of 2,792 meters (9,160 feet) above sea level in the district of Ollantaytambo, province of Urubamba, Cusco region. Possibly the greatest example of ancient Inca architecture in Peru, Ollantaytambo boasts some of the most bafflingly huge stones used in the construction of the ceremonial buildings and terraces. These stones, some weighing in excess of 100 tonnes, have been placed with an accuracy of a few millimetres. No one has been able to explain how these stones were moved and manipulated, but there are those who say that the Inca had otherworldly help.
As I’ve written about before, Nazca is home to the famed Nazca Lines, a series of shallow lines drawn in the sand of the Nazca desert, depicting animals, human figures and geometric shapes. It is less a tourist destination than it is a site to pass over via airplane, as the lines are best seen from above. Modern science is at a loss to explain the purpose of the lines, and some theorists are adamant that they were designed as a method of communicating with ancient aliens.
Ranked as the top tourist destination along the Inca Trail, Machu Picchu is possibly the hardest-to-get-to site in Peru. Seated at an elevation of 7,970 feet above sea level it was built around 1450ad. It is situated on a mountain ridge above the Urubamba Valley in Peru, which is 80 kilometres northwest of Cusco and through which the Urubamba River flows. Although known locally, it was unknown to the outside world before being brought to international attention in 1911 by the American historian Hiram Bingham. Most of the outlying buildings have been reconstructed in order to give tourists a better idea of what the structures originally looked like. By 1976, thirty percent of Machu Picchu had been restored. The restoration work continues to this day.
The largest Pre-Columbian city in South America, Chan Chan is an archaeological site located in the Peruvian region of La Libertad, five km west of Trujillo. Chan Chan covers an area of approximately 20 square kilometres and had a dense urban center of about six square kilometres. The vast adobe city of Chan Chan was built by the Chimu around AD 850 and lasted until its conquest by the Inca Empire in AD 1470. Present-day visitors to Chan Chan can enter the Tschudi Complex, believed to be one of the later citadels built in the city.
A walled complex built on the outskirts of the city of Cuzco, Sacsayhuamán was the former capital of the Incan Empire. The best-known zone of Sacsayhuamán includes its great plaza and its adjacent three massive terrace walls. The stones used in the construction of these terraces are among the largest used in any building in prehispanic America and display a precision of fitting that is unmatched in the Americas. Much like Ollantaytambo, modern science is at a loss to explain how these stones were moved and placed with such precision.