Lost civilisations in South America
If you happen to be travelling on Ruta 40, consider a stop at these magnificent cave paintings, or better said, ancient stencils of hands. The well-preserved paintings are on a rock face and were made over 9000 years ago. Most likely, the hands were made by the Tehuelche people, also known as Patagons. They were known as very tall people which you can notice by the size of the hand prints. Most of the prints are of left hands, probably because the paint was sprayed using a bone tube which was held in their right hand. Apart from the hundreds of hands, there are also a few paintings of guanacos and some other animals.
Giant stone statues are the stars on Easter Island (also called Rapa Nui). The Moai, as they are called, were carved out of the side of volcano craters and moved somehow to the shore, where they were lined up to stare over the tiny island. It is a mystery today how they were transported, in some cases to the other side of the island over rugged terrain. The history of Easter Island is full of ancient legends, controversies and guesses – though Thor Heyerdahl's wild speculations about how the island got populated by South Americans is today put to shame by genetic evidence which tells that they came from Polynesia. Due to local warfare, most statues have been knocked over, where some still remain today. Besides the stone faces, the civilisation also left behind petroglyphs (rock drawings), ceremonial villages (more rocks) and a curly alphabet that nobody today can read. Even if old rocks and mad history is not your cup of tea, the Easter Island is still worth a visit just for the sheer fact that it is the most isolated place on earth, being 1900 km from the nearest populated landmass, the Pitcairn.
In the surrounding hills of the village of San Andres de Pisimbala are several groups of underground burial chambers, also known as Tierradentro. Not much is known about the ancient culture that left these behind, but it is believed that the tombs are from 6th to 9th centuries AD. The inside of the chambers were painted in bright geometric patterns and creatures, and to this day it can still be seen in the best preserved ones. A visit to all four sites (Segovia, El Duende, Alto de San Andres and El Aguacate) will at least require a day's walking in the beautiful mountains and will also include the site of El Tablon where mystical stone statues, similar to the ones at San Agustin, can be seen. It is the only place in the Americas where such tombs have been found, and a wonder why they are so seldomly visited.
Ancient stone statues that were erected to guard the graves of tribal leaders. They portrait animals and spirits, and were made by a pre-Colombian culture that flourished between the 6th and the 14th century. Even though it is the largest collection of such religious monuments in South America, not much is known about them or the culture and that just makes it even more intriguing. They were originally spread over a wide area around Rio Magdalene, but have mostly been relocated to a handful of sites, where Parque Arqueologico in San Agustin and Alto de los Idolos are the biggest. Similar statues have also been found at Tierradentro, which just adds to the mystery. If you get stoned out while trying to see all 500 statues, the beautiful landscape offers great trails (trekking or horse riding) to viewpoints and waterfalls.
Just outside the village of Cañar, and an easy day-trip from Cuenca, lie the ancient ruins of Ingapirca, the largest known and best preserved Incan ruins in the country. Dating back several hundred years, the ruins are an interesting mix of Inca architecture and local indigenous Cañari input. The most recognizable structure is the Temple of the Sun, a round partial tower built around a centre-piece stone. The ruins might not compare to Machu Picchu, but then again, what ruins can? The site is also the location for a number of festivals and rituals that might take a bit of luck to stumble upon.
The mighty site of the Incas and Peru’s number one tourist attraction.
When it was first discovered by Hiram Bingham at the beginning of the 20th century the "lost city" was fully overgrown.
Since 2007 Machu Picchu is part of the "new seven wonders of the world list". This event has created even more publicity for the site and even more people are now visiting. It is however still very much worth to visit the site, especially when you have a good guide who can explain you about the meaning of the buildings and stones.
To experience Machu Picchu without too many people you should get there early. Take the first bus up the mountain or start hiking up the mountain even earlier in the night so that you can be there when it opens. This way you’ll even get there before the Inca Trail hikers.
Climbing Huayna Picchu (the mountain behind the site) and climbing Machu Picchu mountain itself give completely different views than known from the classic photos.
In the Nazca desert, about 400 kilometers South of Lima you can find the Nazca lines. They date from the ancient Nazca culture, which is way older than the much more known Inca culture. The area is covered in lines of which some of them represent (animal) figures such as the monkey, hummingbird, spider, a pair of hands and even an image which is called the astronaut. The lines were made by removing the top layer of the earth, showing a layer with a different color.
The images are very large so you have to view them from a small plane. Although many people don’t make it out of the plane without feeling sick (some of the pilots fly rather adventurous and love offering the passengers nice views) it is well worth the ride!