Wondering what to do in Peru besides Machu Picchu?
Machu Picchu is one of the new world wonders and it definitely deserves to be, but Peru has many more pre-Inca and Inca archaeological sites that are just as impressive. We often get the question from travelers which historical sites to visit in Peru besides Machu Picchu so we decided to sum up some of our favorite hidden gems and what to do in Peru off the beaten path.
1. Chan Chan, Trujillo
Chan Chan is the largest earthen architecture city in the world. It was the capital of the Chimú civilization, that stretched along the northern coast for a 1000 kilometers. The city itself was built around 850 AD and lasted until its conquest by the Inca Empire in 1470.
At the height of the Chimú Empire, Chan Chan spread over 20 km2 with a monumental zone of around 6 km2 in the center, and housed an estimated 60,000 inhabitants. The city had 9 large rectangular citadels surrounded by thick earthen walls 30 to 60 feet high. Within these units, were thousands of buildings including temples, residences, storehouses are arranged around open spaces, together with reservoirs, and funeral platforms. The walls of the buildings were often decorated with raised carvings representing abstract motifs and animals.
You might not want to wait too long to visit Chan Chan because it is threatened by torrential rains, which gradually wash away the 9-square-mile ancient city.
More information: http://chanchan.gob.pe/
Chan Chan is included in our 9-day tour Peru Off the Beaten Path.
2. Kuelap, Chachapoyas
Kuelap, a fortified citadel in northern Peru where the Andes meets the Amazon at 3,000 meters above sea level, has been called the ‘new Machu Picchu’. It is one of the largest ancient remains of the Americas: The original fortress covered an impressive 25,000 square miles. It consisted of buildings of civil, religious, and military purposes as well as 420 circular stone dwellings. Kuelap was the political center of the Chachapoya (‘People of the Clouds’) civilization, a pre-Columbian culture that flourished from about 900 to 1400 AD. At its height, the city may have had up to 300,000 inhabitants, mostly warriors, merchants, shamans, and farmers. The Chachapoya civilization collapsed in the mid-16th century due to the Spanish conquest, and Kuelap was abandoned.
Kuelap can most easily be visited from the city of Chachapoyas. Chachapoyas remains fairly isolated from other regions of Peru. This pleasant colonial settlement is now a busy market town and makes an excellent base for exploring the awesome ancient ruins left behind by the fierce civilization of the Chachapoyas as well as for discovering the impressive natural beauty, including cloud forests and lagoons, that this region has to offer.
Chachapoyas can be reached by bus from Lima (22 hours with Moviltours) or you can fly to Chiclayo and take the bus to Chachapoyas from there (9 hours).
3. Ventanillas de Combayo, Cajamarca
There are a few ‘ventanillas’ sites around the city of Cajamarca, such as Ventanillas de Otuzco, which is just a few minutes by bus or taxi ride. Even though it is an excellent example of the ventanillas, it is often very crowded.
To see the best preserved ventanillas and a bit more off the beaten path, you can take a taxi to the Ventanillas de Combayo, 20-23km along the same road, further down the valley and into the mountains. This much larger necropolis with niches carved into the side of a huge cliff resembling windows contains the tombs of the Cajamarca culture dating from around 800 AD. From the road, you’ll have to cross a small strip of land and climb a path up the cliff. In these ventanillas, you can still find small fragments of bone and in many you’ll still see some of the mud and stonewall used to seal the hole.
Cajamarca and the Ventanillas are included in our 9-day tour Peru Off the Beaten Path.
4. Caral, Supe
Caral might be the most undervalued archaeological site of Peru. It is the oldest center of civilization in the Americas, dating back to 2600 BC and has pyramids, contemporary with the Egyptian Pyramid Era. The 626-hectare archaeological site includes 6 large pyramid structures, the largest measuring 154 by 138 m with two sunken plazas at the base and a large plaza connecting all the mounds.
The Caral site is also relatively well preserved, especially considering its age.
Tours of the Caral site are required to be led by one of the local community guides, who only speak Spanish. If you don’t speak Spanish, you can bring your own translator or go on an organized tour. Unlike many of the other archaeological sites in Peru, Caral does have interpretive panels and the main ones have English translations.
It would be hard to visit Caral in one day using public transport. You can take a bus until Supe and then local transport until Caral, but it will take you many hours to arrive. Another option is to arrange a taxi, which should be about 300 soles round trip. The drive is about 3 hours from Lima.
More information: http://www.zonacaral.gob.pe/
5. Sechin, Casma
This is an archaeological complex of ceremonial character and one of the most important archaeological monuments in the country. The Sechin Complex was a vast urban settlement several miles in diameter, centred on the large hill of Sechin Alto. It included the sites of Sechin Bajo, Taukachi-Konkan, and Cerro Sechin. The site is remarkable for its enormous mound, the largest of its time period, measuring some 990 feet long, by 825 feet wide by 145 feet tall. It is built with ninety monolithic blocks, some weighing over 2 tons and engraved with the famous scary Sechin warriors, along with their mutilated sacrificial victims or prisoners of war.
Sechin is close to Casma, which is known as the city of the eternal sun because of its hot and sunny weather almost 365 days per year. Besides various archaeological sites, it also has several beaches. It is 370 km north of Lima. The top of the line direct buses go only to Chimbote and from there you’ll have to go on a local bus to reach Casma. From Casma, you can reach Sechin by mototaxi or by colectivo (shared taxi).
We can organize your trip to these sites or others in a customized tour of Peru. Send us an email for more information on our “5 Historical Sites besides Machu Picchu to Visit in Peru” or for general suggestions on what to visit in Peru: info[at]alternativeperu.org