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Pre-Columbian sites in Latin America: readers’ tips

Pre-Columbian sites in Latin America: readers’ tips

Posted by PanamericanWorld on December 03, 2015

The cave is in fact a long overhang of rock on the side of a canyon. For thousands of years it was a seasonal camp for the semi-nomadic Tehuelche people. And during all that time they left paintings of the silhouettes of hands – there are nearly 1,000 of them.

Tastil, Salta, Argentina

The ruins of Tastil are about 110km from the city of Salta in the north of Argentina. It was the capital of the Atacameño people, a pre-Inca culture, during the 15th century, and local guides tell that it was home to around 2,000 inhabitants prior to the invasion of the Inca empire. It’s a little-visited site, but really interesting. You can get there by taking a bus from Salta city to Santa Rosa de Tastil, and then just walk through a window to the past.

Ruinas Quilmes, Argentina

These ruins are similar to Machu Picchu: they are the remains of an ancient city (of perhaps 5,000 people), in the Calchaquí valley, Tucumán province, in northern Argentina. Spanish invaders later relocated its surviving people to what is now the Buenos Aires suburb of Quilmes, and Argentina’s most popular beer is named after them.

Loltun caves, Mexico

This is the largest cave complex in Yucután, and sights include cave paintings and a pair of columns that play two musical notes when struck. The caves are beautiful, with many natural wonders, as well as paintings attributed to the Maya civilisation. It is still talked about in my family about 10 years after our visit and a fond childhood memory. You will need to negotiate a price with a guide (around 600 pesos, or £24) above the entrance price (about £4 for an adult).

Mexican ruins road trip

 The best trip I did in Mexico was a road trip starting in the Pre-Columbian Maya city of Tulum. From here, we hired a car for the day and travelled up to Chichen Itza for the early morning opening, stopping off at roadside food shacks for breakfast. From Chichen Itza we had lunch in Valladolid and headed to the Cenotes Dzitnup limestine sinkholes. Our next stop were the ruins at Ek Balam, more interesting than Chichen Itza as you are allowed to climb on them and explore the jungle. The roads were safe and we were back in Tulum for dinner.

Uxmal, Mexico

Chichen Itza is probably the greater best archeological site in Mexico, but we found Uxmal to be far less commercialised, and therefore it felt more authentic. The former reminded me of Lourdes, where commercial enterprise seems more important than religious devotion. We did enjoy Chichen Itza, and its the history is fascinating, but if time were short, we would choose Uxmal before Chichen Itza any time.

Kuelap, Chachapoyas, Peru

An hour from Chachapoyas by minibus, the imposing hilltop fortress of Kuelap looms into view; you arrive after another hour’s adrenalin-fuelled drive along the side of the mountain. Entering the Chachapoyan citadel is a powerful and mystical experience. It’s less developed than the more famous Machu Picchu but all the better for this – just you and the occasional llama wandering through the remains of temples and circular dwellings, with their firestones dragged from the river many miles below and distinctive channels to house guinea pigs. Complex stone-and-bone markings denote rank and family ties, evoking stories of the brave and ingenious (pre-Incan) Chachapoyans, and the mysteries of how they built Kuelap, their elaborate burial rituals and why they disappeared. Stay at Chachapoyas Backpackers, where the fabulous José knows everything you need to know and more.

Moray, Peru

Travellers heading to Machu Picchu inevitably go through Cusco, at an altitude of 3,400 metres. It is highly recommended to acclimatise for a day or two – take an exciting half-day trip (hire a local driver) to the historical site of Moray and the salt pans of Maras, where local communities continue to harvest salt in a traditional way. At Moray, the Incas were experimenting with growing crops at different altitudes and climatic conditions.

Chan Chan archaeological zone, Peru

Chan Chan was the capital of the historical Chimú culture. It’s in the region of La Libertad, 5km west of Trujillo, Peru. It was constructed by a late-intermediate period civilisation, which grew out of the remnants of the Moche people. The adobe city of Chan Chan, the largest in the world, was built around 850AD and lasted until its conquest by the Inca empire in 1470. It was the imperial capital, where 30,000 people lived.

 

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