Peru’s Pre-Columbian Past
Peru is the New World’s cradle of civilization and has enough archaeological sites for a lifetime of study. From the birth of Peru’s first city states five millennia ago to the spectacular conquest of the Inca five centuries ago, Peru’s history is well-documented via a series of ruins, artifacts, legends, and written chronicles.
Nearly all visitors to Peru see Machu Picchu and Cusco, but here are some history and archaeology suggestions, broken down by region, for those who want to explore farther afield. Specialty operators like Far Horizons Archaeological & Cultural Trips arrange tours to all these places with archaeologist guides and a series of exclusive lectures.
In Ollantaytambo, visit the Temple of the Sun or take the daylong hike to the Inti Punku, or Sun Gate. This sacred stone portal features spectacular views of the Sacred Valley and its snow-covered peaks.
Once at Machu Picchu, hike farther afield to the Inca bridge, on the edge of the Machu Picchu complex, and the Temple of the Moon, a beautifully sculpted cave. Note that Temple of the Moon is done together with an ascent of Huayna Picchu, the peak above Machu Picchu. Arrive early to visit these sites, which close after the daily quota of visitors is reached.
In the Cusco area, do not miss the spectacular hike from Q’enqo to the fortress of Sacsayhuamán. We also recommend a half-day tour from Cusco to see pre-Inca ruins at Pikillacta, the Inca ruins at Tipón, and the magnificent Spanish colonial church at Andahuaylillas.
For an introduction to Peru’s archaeology, visit the Museo Nacional de Arqueología. Pachacámac, an adobe ceremonial center 31 kilometers south of Lima, functioned as a temple and oracle for at least a thousand years before it was desecrated by the Spanish.
Chiclayo and the North Coast
Peru’s pre-Inca cultures included the Moche, Chimú, and Sicán, which all flourished in the coastal valleys of Peru’s north coast. These cultures built giant adobe pyramids, which today are vast, eroding mud hills. They also left behind a variety of artifacts and gold treasures.
In and around Chiclayo, visit the Moche site of El Brujo, the impressive gold- and silverwork in the Lords of Sipán exhibit at the Museo Tumbas Reales de Sipán, the Sicán pyramids of Batán Grande, and the new multimedia Museo Sicán.
© Ross Wehner and Renée del Gaudio from Moon Peru, 3rd Edition