There are many incredible ruins in Peru.
This country has a long history that earns it a place among the world’s cradles of civilization. Scattered all over Peru are ancient, well-preserved ruins that are among the most impressive in the world.
While the Incan ruins in Peru are the most well-known to outsiders, the country is also home to remnants of the Chachapoya, Chimu, Aymara, Tiwanaku and Nazca cultures that thrived in the region before the Incas. The Chavin and Caral thrived even before the Greek and Roman civilizations.
You don’t need to be a history buff to appreciate the ruins in Peru, but if you are one, you’ll be in your element. Archaeology sites that are still being excavated, priceless artifacts, ancient temples and palaces with stunning scenery to set the backdrop. And Machu Picchu is just the beginning!
Curious to find out more? Read this post, for I am about to share the most beautiful ruins in Peru that you should make a point to visit.
The Most Impressive Ruins In Peru
If you have a penchant for history and archaeology, you’ve likely heard of Machu Picchu. It is, after all, the most well-known site of Inca ruins in the world and one of the most well-known historical sites on earth.
This Inca citadel that was built in the 1400s is situated on an 8,000-foot high ridge in the Andes Mountains. For the average tourist, it’s the ancient structures surrounded by incredible views that capture their attention. For a history buff, it’s the incredible complexity and superior construction techniques that went into building these structures and the fact that they’re built according to astral alignments that captures their attention.
Machu Picchu was abandoned after the arrival of the Spanish and, to this day, no one really knows for sure what its purpose was. Based on theories and what has been found to date in various archaeological digs, the site is thought to have been used as an estate for the emperor Pachacuti.
Today, Machu Picchu is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
Highlights of Machu Picchu:
- Huayna Picchu – The mountain that towers over Machu Picchu and features a trail to the summit at 8,835 feet (2,693 meters) above sea level.
- Principal Temple – A striking structure that’s believed to have been a main public temple where elaborate ceremonies took place.
- Sacred Plaza – The political center where sacred rituals took place.
- Sun Gate – This is where you’ll get some of the best views of Machu Picchu.
- Temple of the Moon – A ceremonial temple built into a shallow cave.
- Temple of the Sun – An important place where priests and nobles gathered.
Machu Picchu is open every day from 6:00 am to 5:30 pm. Admission is 152 Peruvian Soles (around $37 USD). If you wish to include Huayna Picchu with your visit, it’s 200 Peruvian Soles ($39 USD).
Get your Machu Picchu ticket on GetYourGuide here.
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If you prefer using Tiqets, click here.
Just outside of Cusco are the ruins of Sacsayhuaman. These walled ruins dating back to the 1,400s are currently a UNESCO World Heritage Site but were once the capital of the Inca Empire and an important military base. Today, the citadel and foundations of once mighty temples that were used for ceremonial purposes can be seen.
It’s another astonishing feat of Inca construction that saw tens of thousands of men transport rocks from the area’s quarries, some of which were 12 miles (that0s over 19 km) away. Only 40% of the original complex can be seen today.
Highlights of Sacsayhuaman:
- Muyucmarca Tower – The highest part of this tower is said to be the place from which General Titu Cusi Huallpa jumped to evade capture by the Spanish.
- Pucamarca Tower – once used for storing water.
- Sallaqmarca Tower – Situated in the middle of the complex, this tower is connected to the others via tunnels.
- The views of Ausanfate, Pachatusan and Cinca Mountains.
A Boleto Turistico is required for admission and it costs 130 Peruvian Soles ($35 USD) for admission to 16 sites. If you prefer admission to only a limited number of sites, it costs 70 Peruvian Soles ($18.50 USD). The complex is open to visitors from 7:00 am to 5:00 pm daily.
Koricancha is another Incan site – this time in the center of Cusco – that’s a must-see when touring the ruins of Peru. It was once geographically and religiously the center of ancient Cusco and a sacred place commemorating the Sun God Inti.
Also constructed in the 1400s, a unique feature of this site is evidence of Spanish influence on the architecture. At one time, the grounds were surrounded by gold and precious metals, but today, only the foundations remain of the once extravagant site.
Highlights of Koricancha:
- Sun Temple – the most important temple in this complex.
- The Alternative Temples – Known as Wasi, these five temples are located around the garden.
- The on-site museum is where you’ll learn more about the site and pre-colonial times.
The Koricancha is located in Plazoleta de Santo Domingo and is open Monday to Saturday from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm, Sunday from 2:00 to 5:00 pm. Admission is 15 Peruvian Soles (about $3.70). Tickets are not included in Cusco Boleto Turistico.
Check out my post The Best Things To Do In Cusco.
Near Cusco, you’ll find the amazing Inca ruins of Moray – they are among my favorite ruins in Peru. While many of the ruins you see in the area were historically used for religious, military, or government purposes, this site was used for farming.
The descending circular terraces were used to grow various crops at different levels. Each level was strategically placed based on depth, sun and wind so it has its own microclimate. These unique ruins were built as early as the 1100s.
Highlights of Moray:
The three groups of terraces descend 490 feet, each with 12 levels.
Moray is open daily from 7:00 am to 5:00 pm. Admission is part of Cusco Boleto Turistico – you can get that here.
Ollantaytambo is an Incan site in the Sacred Valley featuring an ancient temple and fortress. These are some of the best-preserved ruins in Peru. The complex, which was built in the 1,400s, is thought to have once been a refuge for Inca royalty but was also used for religious ceremonies.
Highlights of Ollantaytambo:
- The sites of the massive Sun Temple and the Princess Baths Fountain.
- The Old Town section and its cobblestone streets and adobe structures.
- A climb up 200 steps reveals a better view of the temples and if you look closely, you’ll see an Inca face carved into the cliff.
- The storehouses that were likely used to hold the products of the nearby agricultural terraces.
Admission to Ollantaytambo ruins is part of Cusco Boleto Turistico – you can get that here. The site is open from 7:00 am to 6:00 pm daily.
For a day trip to the Sacred Valley, which includes a visit to Ollantaytambo, click here.
Head over to my post A Short Guide To Ollantaytambo.
Incredibly intact and an ideal example of cleverly-built Incan structures, Pisac is another must-see site in the Sacred Valley. Constructed on top of a mountain, the once expansive city featuring some of the best stone work around was built in the 1400s and features the remnants of once stately temples and palaces.
The site was likely used as a citadel and religious site. It may also have been used as a retreat for royals.
Highlights of Pisac:
- The 20 Torreones and Pucaras towers.
- Intiwatana Neighborhood – features expertly constructed temples and palaces including the Intiwatana.
- The Barrio de Tianayuc which is a sofa made of stone.
- K’alla Q’asa neighborhood – features chambers, towers, and a tunnel.
- Qanchis Raqay Quarter – Checkpoint that guarded the northeastern side of Pisac.
Don’t miss my post A Guide To Visiting Pisac Ruins.
Huaraz – Monumento Nacional Wilcahuain Ruin
The Monumento Nacional Wilcahuain Ruin is an example of pre-Incan ruins. The well-preserved archaeological site was constructed during the period of the Wari culture over 1,000 years ago. It’s significant for the ingenuity observed in the various structures including a temple that was used to hold mummies that has an ancient ventilation system to keep moisture out.
On-site, there are two areas with ruins and five structures total but the main three-level structure is the large stone mausoleum on a hillside. Each level is thought to represent the underworld, the world seen by the living and the heavens where the deities were.
Highlights of Wilcahuain:
- The second, smaller site nearby – it features many small mausoleums.
- A small museum showcases some of the artifacts that were uncovered at the site.
- It’s worth it to take some time to walk around the grounds and take in the stunning views of the nearby mountains.
Admission is 5 Peruvian Soles (little over $1 USD) and includes both sites.
The ancient site of Chan Chan, which is located near Trujillo, is the remnants of a city much older than the Incan ruins in Peru. This site was constructed by the Chimu culture around 850 AD and was once the biggest city of that era and the capital of the Chimu empire.
It remained an important center until the empire was defeated by the Incas in the mid-1400s. Today, Chan Chan is the largest adobe city in the Americas and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Highlights of Chan Chan:
- Inside the complex, you’ll see the remnants of citadels, temples and plazas.
- The ten walled citadels in the middle of the city feature walls decorated with ancient drawings.
- Nik An Palace is the only building you can enter to get a better look at the amazing architecture.
- The on-site museum showcases stone artifacts and ceramics.
Admission is 10 Peruvian Soles (around $2.50 USD). The cost of a tour guide is around 40 Peruvian Soles (around $10.50 USD) for up to five people. The site is open from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm daily except Monday.
Caral, which is situated in the Supe Valley, is another one of the oldest cities in the Americas having existed for around 5,000 years. It was built by the Norte Chico civilization and today, it’s an important archaeological site housing the remains of this mighty pre-colonial and pre-Incan city.
Archaeologists believe the city was a vital center. The large area features six pyramids constructed on mounds around a plaza. Today, the site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Highlights of Caral:
- The large 18-meter pyramid.
- The obelisk at the center that was used to determine the time of the day.
Admission is 11 Peruvian Soles (around $1.50 USD) and the site is open daily from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm.
For a guided tour of Caral from Lima, click here.
Situated near Lima, Inka Huasi is the site of a former Inca Palace and one of the most incredible archaeological sites in the region – yet one of the lesser visited ones. The ruins have been dated to around 1438 and while some areas were reconstructed, many of the walls are original. The site was used as the military headquarters of King Tupac Yupanqui.
Highlights of Incahuasi:
The stunning views of the nearby valley and mountain peaks.
The site is open daily from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm. There is a caretaker at the site that will be glad to guide you around for a small fee but beware he likely won’t speak English!
Among the most fascinating and mysterious sites in all of South America is the Nazca Lines. No one knows why these lines and designs were carved into the desert sands in a 620-square-mile area but it’s known that they were there long before colonial times and perhaps date back more than 1000 years.
Many theories exist as to what their purpose was. Some believe they had a role in pilgrimage while others believe they had cosmic significance. These lines remain mostly intact due to the dry, windless weather conditions of the plateau.
Highlights of Nazca Lines:
Over 300 huge designs carved into the desert floor including shapes, animals and plants. Some of the most notable ones are the spider, cactus, whale, monkey and hummingbird. Some of these figures are up to 1,200 feet long.
The best way to see the Nazca lines is from the air and a 30-minute flyover from Nazca or Paracas airport costs between $100 and $300 USD.
You can book your flight over the Nazca lines here.
The walled ruins of Kuelap in the Amazonas region of Peru were constructed by the Chachapoyas culture around 500 AD. Because this site is located in a remote area almost 10,000 feet (that’s more than 3000 meters) above sea level in the Andes Mountains, not many people know about it. That being said, it’s a must-see when it comes to ruins in Peru. It’s believed that the site was mostly used for defense purposes but there are signs that it was also a city that was home to 5,000 people.
Highlights of Kuelap:
- See one of the biggest ancient stone monuments in the Americas.
- The remnants of 400 round houses
- Limestone walls that range in height from 10 to 20 meters
Admission is 20 Peruvian Soles (Iittle over $5 USD) and the site is open from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm daily.