One of the most famous things about Peru is that it is home to a rich history of more than one ancient empire.
South America, specifically the Amazon River Basin, is like a second cradle of civilization. The indigenous peoples of this area made the dense, biodiverse rainforest jungle their homes. Using the resources found in the jungle, the deserts, and nearby mountains, these people didn’t just start a primitive society. No, they built more than one ancient empire complete with roads, cities, and great structures that lasted through time. While not the oldest, the Inca Empire is the most famous. It is also the civilization that lasted the longest into the modern era and left behind stunning reminders of their greatness. These are the best indigenous historical sites in Peru to visit on your next vacation.
Amazing Indigenous Historical Sites in Peru You Can't Miss
Peru's rich history is vibrantly visible within the culture. These amazing indigenous historical sites in Peru trace their roots back many centuries. Let's explore some of the sites you shouldn't miss.
1. Machu Picchu
This is one of the most famous indigenous historical sites in Peru, mostly because of the tale of its discovery. The locals in the region knew of the ancient ruins housed in the peaks of the Andes Mountains, but the Spanish conquerors never found it. Today, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most interesting places to visit. Inside its walls, you really feel like you are walking around in the past. Of course, it’s not actually a city. While scholars debate the main purpose of the site, it’s believed it was used as an agricultural center and royal estate during the height of the Incan Empire in the 15th Century. In order to preserve these ancient structures, the Peruvian government restricts the number of visitors to 2,500 per day. Even still, plan ahead to be sure you don't miss one of the best indigenous historical sites in Peru.
If you can’t get into see Machu Picchu up close, don’t fret. Choquequirao is the real “Lost City of the Incas,” because it’s a much larger site than Machu Picchu. In fact, only about a third of it has been discovered by archaeologists. Its design is very similar to Machu Picchu, but there’s much more space and far fewer tourists. Of course, that’s probably because you can only reach it after a two-day hike. Nonetheless, it's worth it to see one of the most incredible indigenous historical sites in Peru. If you want to quietly stroll through ancient ruins, this is the place to go. There are around a dozen sectors covering the around seven square miles of the site. Yet, you can see a number of structures as well as more interesting details, like irrigation systems and even local art. However, soon the Peruvian government plans to install a cable car to grant more tourists access to the location.
Ollantaytambo is one of the most incredible indigenous historical sites in Peru because it’s both a historical site and a living town. There are a number of ancient structures, including original large stone walls and the original street grid. In the 15th Century, this town was conquered and then rebuilt by Incan Emperor Pachacuti, for whom Machu Picchu was also built, as his personal estate. While they welcome tourists, the locals still visit and even live near these indigenous historical sites in Peru. They have their own train to the site, and any tourists caught on that train will have to pay a hefty fine. Once there, walking and biking are the best ways to get around. There are a number of incredible sites to see, from the Princess Bath to the Terraces of Pumatallis to three rows of ancient Inca storehouses. It’s a unique experience to visit these ancient cultural sites, and then go dine and walk with the living ancestors of the people who built them.
These indigenous historical sites in Peru are all a tribute to a god that found his way into the Incan pantheon, Pacha Kamaq. Usually portrayed as a trickster or villain, he was this ancient Incan city’s namesake. Pachacamac was discovered by Western explorers in the late 19th Century. The site consists of the remains of three giant pyramids, the Temple of the Sun, a palace, and roads. Archaeologists discovered a series of grave sites in this location, which they suspect date back to various different periods in the city’s history. They were in different locations and different time periods. They also found a grave site for women who were used in human sacrifices. They also found a 1000-year-old tomb with over 80 mummified skeletons, including many infants. They also found offerings and the remains of dogs and guinea pigs. If you are a serious student of Incan history, Pachacamac is one of the must-visit indigenous historical sites in Peru.
5. Norte Chico Pyramids
The Norte Chico Pyramids are the lone indigenous historical sites in Peru we’ve discussed not tied to the Incan Empire. In fact, this civilization dates back thousands of years before the Inca Empire ever existed. The Norte Cinco civilization dates back to the fourth millennia before the common era, about 6,000 years ago. They made textiles from cotton and were believed to be a maritime culture. They were a densely populated area, perhaps the most populous in the world at one time and constructed giant monuments. Of those that remain, are pyramids, altars, and a worn monolith. What’s most striking about this civilization is both the lack of art and lack of evidence of warfare or violence. None of the remains researchers have discovered bear the marks of violence. If you love exploring history and culture, this is among the top indigenous historical sites in Peru.
There are so many amazing indigenous historical sites in Peru to visit, however, to truly preserve these sites we have to observe them from a distance.
Unlike the great monuments left behind by the ancient Egyptians, the indigenous structures, pyramids, and statues of ancient Peru have a much different climate to contend with. Many of these cities were reclaimed by the jungle or destroyed by colonizers. Those that remain are treasured jewels, but these places can be threatened by tourism. Vandals, thieves, and the ignorant have all left their mark on these remnants of great ancient cities. As much as we might want to lay on our hands on the rocks hewn by craftsmen thousands of years ago, we must resist the impulse. It’s wonderful that we get to visit and study these ancient ruins, but we are now also their custodians, from the Peruvians who run the sites to those of us just visiting. So that our children and grandchildren can also see these wonders firsthand, we all have to do our part to protect them.
What do you think? Are there any ancient indigenous historical sites we missed? Tell us, along with your thoughts, reactions, and experiences in the comments below. Don’t forget to share the article on social media if you enjoyed it. That way, your friends can get in on the discussion.
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