Unearth the enigmatic ruins of Tiwanaku, a mighty pre-Columbian city near Lake Titicaca whose colossal relics defy logic.
An awe-inspiring UNESCO archaeological site, Tiwanaku will leave you pondering the extraordinary achievements of man over the millennia. Set against a striking mountainous backdrop, the mammoth stone monoliths, arches, pyramids, temples, palaces and stone carvings are a powerful reminder of a civilisation that once held sway over much of the southern Andes. History buffs will be in their element but even the amateur won’t fail to be impressed by the sheer scale of the structures excavated here.
Within striking distance of La Paz, the mysterious ruins of Tiwanaku sit between Lake Titicaca and the arid altiplano. In 400AD, this was a prime position for agriculture that saw the city rise in prominence from a lowly farming settlement to a formidable empire and sacred centre. Around 800AD, the civilisation of Tiwanaku dominated from northern Argentina and Chile, through Bolivia to southern Peru before its decline and the rise of the Inca Empire.
The city was discovered by a Spanish conquistador in 1549. Much of the site remains unexcavated but the vast structures that have been uncovered in the ceremonial centre show that this was a society advanced beyond its time, constructing everything from sunken courts and a complex irrigation system to towering pyramids, ritual platforms and enormous monoliths. Archaeologists continue to wonder at the dimensions of these constructions and puzzle over how such enormous stones were moved, cut and erected. Wander amid these ruins for an ethereal experience of how life might have been on these now silent plains, overlooked by the distant mountains of the Andes.
Pyramid of Akapana
The most notable structure at Tiwanaku, this was possibly a ceremonial temple that comprised seven platforms, reaching up to an impressive height of 18 metres. Only the lower levels are visible today but you can still get an idea of the massive scale of this structure.
Temple of Kalasasaya
This immense platform is constructed with huge red stone and andesite blocks, while flights of stairs lead up to several imposing entrances. Make sure to pass through the Gate of the Sun; cut from one single block of stone, it is adorned with interesting low relief carvings.
Visit the two site museums
The Museo Lítico Monumental houses one of the largest of the monoliths, rescued from a semi-subterranean temple. The second museum displays a collection of ceramics found on site.