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6 Must See Ruins of South America

They are sacred and mystical, they sparkle the imagination of civilizations long gone. In touch with the elements of the sky and the earth the Ruins of South America will touch your soul in many ways. It's time to get out your hiking backpack and experience the 6 Must See Ruins of South America for yourself. Some are easy to reach, others will demand some effort on your part.


1. Machu Picchu (Peru)

Machu Picchu - Peru Machu Picchu, The Lost city of the Incas, is a mystical, sacred place. Touched by the clouds, the ruins are one of the most enigmatic and beautiful ancient ruins in the world.

Rediscovered on July 24, 1911 by Yale archaeologist Hiram Bingham, Machu Picchu (meaning 'Old Peak' in Quechua, the language spoken by the Incas) was thought to be a sanctuary for the preparation of priestesses and brides for the Inca nobility.

The dramatic setting in a remote area of the Peruvian Andes enhances the shroud of mystery even more. The ruins lie near the city Cuzco in Southeastern Peru. An absolute wonder of human heritage, Machu Picchu will touch your heart and soul in many ways. Highly recommended!

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2. Kuelap (Peru)

Kuelap - Peru The pre-inca ruin Kuelap lies in Northwestern Peru and the road to get there is as adventurous as exploring the sacred ruins themselves. The fortress has outer walls reaching 14 meters (46 feet) high and is overgrown with vegetation enhancing its sacred function even more.

Kuelap is the only ruin with circle shapes in Peru and was strategically built to hold off attacks (the back side ends on a cliff, an abyss hundreds of meters deep).

I walked in the ruins alone on a moonlit night. It was all quiet, a mysterious play of light and shadow surrounded me, the mood beautiful and inviting. I visited some breathtaking ruins all around the world but I've never felt like on that night again. In touch with the elements of the universe.

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3. Tiwanaku (Bolivia)

Tiwanaku - Bolivia The site of Tiwanaku, also spelled Tiahuanacu, lies near the city of La Paz, Bolivia. It is very different to other ruins found in South America.

The site is characterized by large stones, weighing up to 100 tons, and cutting, squaring, dressing, and notching exceeding even the Inca in artisanship. What fascinates me are the many faces that seem to come out of the walls.

At its maximum extent, the city covered approximately 6 sq km (2,316 sq miles), and had as many as 40,000 inhabitants.

Tiwanaku collapsed around 1100 CE and the city was abandoned adding itself to the list of wonderful mysteries in South America.

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4. Chan-Chan (Peru)

Chan Chan - Peru The Chimu Kingdom built Chan Chan, in and around the city of Trujillo in Northern Peru, as its capital some 15 centuries ago.

The planning of this huge city, the largest in pre-Columbian America, reflects a strict political and social strategy, marked by the city's division into nine 'citadels' or 'palaces' forming autonomous units.

Some ruins lie in the center of a busy neighborhood of Trujillo (quite bizarre). Others, such as Huaca del Sol and Huaca de la Luna, require public transport to be reached.

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5. Lost City (Colombia)

Lost City (Ciudad Perdida) - Santa Marta, Colombia The Lost City (La Ciudad Perdida) can be reached after a 3 day adventurous hike from the city of Santa Marta in Colombia.

It was discovered in 1976 when an airplane spotted it through the vegetation of the jungle that had taken the city. It exists of an entangled net of tiled roads, terraces and small circular plazas supported by walls on the sharper mountains.

Although The Lost City can't match some of the other treasures found in South America the hike to the city is just awesome. The path takes you through coca plantations (and yes, people got kidnapped a few years ago so inform yourself before going) and through lowland jungle. After 3 days you reach the 1,200! stairs that take you into the city.

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6. San Agustín (Colombia)

San Agustin - Colombia There are some 35 statues to be found in San Agustín's Archaeological Park in Southern Colombia (yes, I hear you, that's not a ruin, it's just too beautiful to ignore). San Augustin is actually a collection of ceremonial and burial sites scattered over an area of 645 sq km (250 sq miles).

The size of these magnificent guardians of stone, which depict humans and animals, vary from twenty centimeters (8 inches) to seven meters (23 feet). In the area of San Agustin there are four hundred statues evoking a wonderful mystical mood.

The statues are very beatifully carved and emit a power that touches on many levels. Fascinating indeed.

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© All photographs by Mark Van Overmeire

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