Stone & Air - Ancient Peru
The Cordillera Blanca near Huaraz offers Peru's best climbing and trekking territory. It's a rugged saw of cones, home to distinctive plants, birds and animals as well as scenery that mixes the bucolic with the awe-inspiring. Near the Cordillera the progenitors of Peruvian high culture, the Chavin, arose, preceding the Inca by almost 2000 years. Not at all a conquering people, the Chavin influenced-by-inspired-example religion, ceramics and agriculture all up and down western South America. Their major ruins are called Chavin de Huantar. Most of these ruins are underground, and may be visited during the day by a lightly guided tour.
Across the northern mountains, Kuelap is possibly the best known of the pre-Incan fortress cities. Still, being way off the beaten track, it only gets one or two parties of visitors per day. Built by the Chachapoyas culture, at the time of the Incan conquest the city walls took in more than 300 buildings. The massive stonework resembles that of the Incas, though rougher. And decorated with patterns and designs, its much less severe than the brutally plain Incan stonework. There are a couple ways to reach the site, but probably the most dramatic is to hike up from the small village of Tingo, which takes about 5 hours. A very reasonably priced hotel is at the ruins, so you might want to plan on spending the night there. The ruins are not far from the very pleasant and under-visited city of Cajamarca.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication