Archaeological Sites | Peru Unbound


The Nazca Lines are located between the towns of Nazca and Palpa along the northern Pacific coast. Created between 200 BC and 700 AD the figures range from simple lines to stylized spiders, monkeys, fish, llamas, lizards and human figures. The lines were created on such a large scale that it wasn’t until the 1920s, when Peruvian airlines started to fly from Lima to Arequipa, that they were recognized as figures. Hotels and tour agents in Nazca offer round flights in a Cessna to view the lines. There is also an observation tower along the Pan-American highway with a view of three of the figures.

Visit the most iconic Peruvian arcaeological sites on our Nazca Lines Tour.



The Inca Trail is one of the most famous hikes in the world, running 42 km (26 miles) through the Andes Mountains to connect the small town of Aguas Caliente and Machu Picchu. The trail also goes through cloud forests, jungles and Inca ruins. This is a high-altitude trek; hikers may experience altitude sickness. May to September are the best months to make the multi-day hike. Hikers should be prepared for cold nights on the trail.

Machu Picchu


One of the most beautiful and impressive ancient sites in the world is Machu Picchu. It is the among the top tourist attractions in Peru. The “Lost City of the Incas” is invisible from the Urubamba Valley below. It is completely self-contained, surrounded by agricultural terraces and watered by natural spring.

Machu Picchu was no doubt known by locals for years, but it remained undiscovered to the outside world until 1911 when historian Hiram Bingham discovered it. Judging from the remains found in the Inca city, the population numbered several thousand inhabitants. Machu Picchu possessed an acllawasi or house of the chosen maidens. There were many females remains found which indicated this was the Inca’s harem who were considered to be “brides of the Sun”. There was also a sundial found which showed the seasons of the year, barracks for the warriors, and bath houses and aqueducts as well as large terraced areas for crop growing.

Machu Picchu owes most of its beauty and charm to its gorgeous natural setting. Mountain woods blend with the historical sanctuary’s rich flora and fauna.

How the Incas were able to carry the huge blocks of stone to the top of the mountain and build such a spectacular exponent of their wisdom and culture remains a mystery to this day. 

It is evident that Machu Picchu was a carefully planned construction, meticulously designed to match the natural environment. It is the result of a mixture of unique experiences, where the work of human beings marvelously blends with the work of nature. The uneven topography was cleverly transformed into terraces with agricultural and urban functions. The landscape embraces at least two dozen rocky outcrops, forming a big "mock-up", representing the surrounding landscape. 

All existing research states that the city must have been inhabited from the end of the 15th till the middle of the 16th century. Some historians believe the place was part of the Inca Pachacútec's country abode and that several palaces from which some carved stones still remain must have been destined as his court. 

It is also assumed that the Incas built the fortress to protect themselves from the Spaniards, and it was a "barracks" used by Manco Capac II. Others explain its function as a city of vestal virgins, since most of the human remains found were female. Whatever the explanation, there must have been some good reason to justify such a laborious construction, involving the transporting of huge blocks of stone up the mountain, as well as a good reason for its sudden desertion. 
the Three Windows, the Main Temple and the so-called Cóndor Sector.




Sacsayhuaman is an ancient walled complex overlooking Cusco. The Incas built Cusco in the shape of a puma, which was one of their symbols, with Sacsayhuaman as its head. Sacsayhuaman is considered one of man’s greatest building feats. The fortress walls were built with huge boulders that dwarf humans; pieces were cut to fit so mortar wasn’t needed. The foundations can be seen today.

Its Quechua name means "satisfied falcon", it was the falcon that guarded the capital of the empire, since it was possible to overlook Cusco from the hill in where it was erected. If, as it is known, Cusco was designed with the shape of a lying puma, Sacsayhuamán would be its head, and the Coricancha would correspond to the feline's genitalia. 

It is said that the work was started by Pachacútec and continued by Túpac Yupanqui, even though some chroniclers state that it was Huayna Cápac who gave it the final touch. Inca Garcilaso de la Vega says that Apu Huallpa Rimachi was the main architect, and that Inca Maricanhi, Acahuana Inca and Calla Cunchuy successively took control of the works. 

Its construction took over seven decades and required the work of 20,000 men approximately, both for the foundations and hewn stone works, the transportation of materials, carving and stones setting. Hewn stones could have been located at Muina, Huacoto and Rumicolca, 20 kilometers away from Cusco, and at closer places such as Sallu, Rumi, Chita, Curovilca and Viracocha. Some of its external walls exceed the 9 meters of height and 350 tons of weight. 

A spectacular fortress built with huge carved rocks jointed with absolute accuracy, this astounding sample of the Incan military architecture is, undoubtedly, the greatest architectonic work of the Tahuantinsuyo. But, in addition, it proves the undeniable firmness of the great administrative capacity of the empire and its powerful logistic system capable of mobilizing and organizing such a work. 

It is located 2 km away from the city of Cusco, that is, 10 minutes by car. From Sacsayhuamán, it is possible to obtain a spectacular view of the Sacred City and its surroundings. Besides, you will be able to distinguish summits such as those from the Ausangate, the Pachatusán and the Cinca, places that are believed to be inhabited by apus or powerful spirits that govern the mountains. 




The archaeological site of Tambomachay is located 15 minutes to the northeast of Cusco by car. It rests at a foothill near the main road to the Antisuyo, over the Tambomachay River. It is also known as Tambo de la Caverna (Cave Roadside Hostelry) and occupies an area of 437 square meters, located at 3,700 meters of altitude. 

It is thought that this was one of the favorite resting-places of the Incas. They used it for water and rest and it was one of the pillars of the defense system of the Valley of Cusco. 

Its name derives from two Quechua words: Tampu, which means collective lodging; and Mach'ay, which means resting-place. However, according to other references, the word "machay" means "caves", which would describe the particular environment of the place in where it is possible to appreciate these natural rocky formations that, according to the indigenous tradition, were object of worship or magical customs. 

It is composed of a set of stone structures finely carved, aqueducts and water falls originating from near springs and thermal sources; that is why people think it was related to the worship of water, one of the pillars of the Andean conception of the world. It is considered one of the Indian temples of the first Antisuyo ceque. 

According to the chronicles, it was the game preserve of Inca Yupanqui, which makes us think that it was an area rich in animal species. 

It also known as "Baño de la Ñusta" (Bath of the Ñusta) or "Balneario Inca" (Incan Watering Place). The monument is remarkable due to its architectonic excellence. We can appreciate four walls or graded terraces embedded to the hill, made of irregular carved-stone polyhedrons, brilliantly assembled, and which make up three parallel cultivation terraces. A thick wall (15 meters long and 4 meters high) decorated with four niches erects on the last polyhedron. The stones had been perfectly adjusted. It has four large trapezoidal niches of 2 meters on average. In front of the building there was a circular large fortified tower that must have had defense and communication aims. 




Of the myriad of archaeological ruins near Tarma, best known is Tarmatambo, 6km south. Former capital of the Taruma culture and later a major Inca administrative center, the fairly extensive remains include storehouses, palaces and an impressive, still-used aqueduct system. It is highly recommended that you have an experienced guide as going solo these ruins are difficult to find. Independent travelers: take a Jauja-bound bus to Tarmatambo village, on the main road below the ruins.

From Tarmatambo, a rarely-used Camino del Inca forges over the hills down to Jauja: there's basic accommodations in Tarmatambo but it's then a strenuous (but beautiful) all-day hike to Jauja (40km).

The town’s cathedral is modern (1965), and it contains the remains of Tarma’s most famous son, Peruvian president Manuel Odría (1897–1974). He organized construction of the cathedral during his presidency. The old clock in the cathedral tower dates from 1862.

Tarma is high in the mountains and the clear nights of June, July and August provide ideal opportunities for stargazing, though the surrounding mountains do limit the amount of observable heavens. A small astronomical observatory is run by the owners of Hospedaje Central: admission includes a talk (in Spanish) on constellations and a peek at some stars.



Caral is the site where the oldest traces of civilization have been found in America. At least 25 large ceremonial/residential sites have been found. The North Chico, roughly 100 km north of the Peruvian capital Lima, consists of four narrow river valleys, from south to north, the Huaura, Supe, Pativilca, and Fortaleza. The ancient pyramids of Caral predate the Inca civilisation by 4000 years, but were flourishing a century before the pyramids of Gizeh. No surprise therefore that they have been identified as the most important archaeological discovery since the discovery of Machu Picchu in 1911.

The heart of the site covers 150 acres and contains six stone platform mounds – pyramids. The largest mound measures 154 by 138 metres, though it rises only to a height of twenty metres; two sunken plazas are at the base of the mound and a large plaza connects all the mounds. The largest pyramid of Peru was terraced with a staircase leading up to an atrium-like platform, culminating in a flattened top housing enclosed rooms and a ceremonial fire pit. All pyramids were built in one or two phases, which means that there was a definitive plan in erecting these monuments. The design of the central plaza would also later be incorporated in all similar structures across the Andes in the millennia to come – thus showing that Caral was a true cradle of civilisation. Around the pyramids were many residential structures. One house revealed the remains of a body that was buried in the wall and appears to have been a natural death, rather than evidence of human sacrifice. Amongst the artifacts discovered are 32 flutes made from pelican and animal bones, engraved with the figures of birds and monkeys. It shows that though situated along the Pacific coast, its inhabitants were aware of the animals of the Amazon.

The town itself had a population of approximately 3000 people. But there are 17 other sites in the area, allowing for a possible total population of 20,000 people for the Supe valley. Indeed, the Caral archaeological team broke up to investigate some of the other sites, such as along the Pativilca River, the next river to the north, and the Fortaleza, just north of the Pativilca. All of these sites share similarities with Caral. They have small platforms or stone circles and all were major urban centres on par with Caral – though some of them were even older than Caral. It is thought that Caral was nevertheless the focus of this civilisation, itself part of an even vaster complex, trading with the coastal communities and the regions further inland – as far as the Amazon, if the depiction of monkeys is any indication.

For an unknown reason, Caral was abandoned rapidly after a period of 500 years (ca. 2100 BC). The preferred theory as to why the people migrated is that the region was hit by a drought, forcing the inhabitants to go elsewhere in search of fertile plains.



The picturesque village of Ollantaytambo, or Ollanta, can be found in the northern region of the Sacred Valley. Predominating the village are two Incan ruins that exemplify the Incan's advanced city planning, with vast terraces once used for farming and an irrigation system comprising the Ollantaytambo Fortress, or Temple Hill. Stroll along the narrow byways, listen for the babbling of the nearby Patakancha River that feeds the fountains and revel in the feeling of stepping back in time while you're here. 

Maras, Salt Mines


For a humble collection of salt mines, the Salineras de Maras are a thing of beauty. When the sun sets on the terraced pools, the water becomes a shifting ombre of pinks and golds. A lesser-known Incan wonder hidden within the Urubamba Valley, the Maras Salt Mines are a collection of over 3,000 saltwater ponds nestled on a steep mountain side. The complex of ponds have been in use to harvest the leftover salt from evaporated water since before the Incans, and they are still in use today.