10 Reasons You Should Visit the Mysterious Tiwanaku Ruins in Bolivia

Central Tiwankau courtyard
Central Tiwankau courtyard | © Jose Luis Hidalgo R. / Flickr
Photo of Harry Stewart
21 April 2018

When it comes to South American ruins, Machu Picchu steals the limelight every time. And while Peru’s world wonder is undeniably stunning, the lesser known Bolivian site of Tiwanaku is a must as well due to its historical importance to the region. Here are 10 reasons why you should visit this enigmatic archeological site.

It’s way older than Machu Picchu

Despite their exotic perception, the Inca were a relatively recent civilization who built their famous citadel in around 1450 AD. The Tiwanaku, on the other hand, are considerably more archaic, first settling in the region way back in 200 BC. Struggling with the math? That’s a difference of about 1,650 years.

Tiwanaku carvings | © François Bianco / Flickr

The people were super resilient

The Inca were also a remarkably short-lived civilization, lasting a mere century before being overrun by the Spanish. The Tiwanaku, however, thrived for over a millennium.

Tiwanaku statue | © Thomas BONNIN / Flickr

It’s cheap

The entry fee recently went up to 100 BOB (US$14.50) per person, which is still a pittance compared to Machu Picchu’s US$70. Furthermore, thrifty travelers can get there on a 20 BOB (US$3) bus rather than forking out hundreds of dollars for that outrageous Inca rail.

Tiwanaku stones | © Jose Luis Hidalgo R. / Flickr

The history is fascinating

Over the centuries, a small primitive settlement eventually evolved into a stone-clad megacity of epic proportions. At its peak towards the turn of the first millennium, some 70,000 inhabitants were estimated to have lived in Tiwanaku, while the entire empire may have encompassed up to a million or more.

Monolith statue | © Theodore Scott / Wikipedia

But also tragic

After centuries of steady growth, the empire suddenly collapsed around 1000 AD. Most historians now agree this was due to a severe and prolonged drought that ravaged the region, causing crops to wilt and the waters of Lake Titicaca to recede. Inhabitants were thought to have either migrated or starved to death.

Much has been immaculately preserved

Plenty of original artwork remains proudly on display, including carvings and statues of exotic faces, animals, and geometric shapes. Of particular interest is the Sun Gate, a monolithic stone doorway inscribed with numerous extrinsic carvings.

Tiwanaku carvings | © Christian Jiménez / Flickr

It is shrouded in mystery

As the Tiwanaku had no written language, archeologists have been forced to make various assumptions about their societal structure and religious beliefs. Some theorize they were the first to worship Viracocha, the creator God who plays a central role in Inca mythology.

Carvings on the Sun Gate | © Marc Davis / Flickr

Their building methods were astounding

Architects will find the site particularly interesting due to the unique construction methods the Tiwanaku employed. Rather than use a masonry method, they laid mammoth ashlar blocks on top of each other, shifting them into place by way of pulleys and ropes.

Tiwanaku building blocks with face carving | © Jose Luis Hidalgo R. / Flickr

Plenty of intrigue remains

Something that continues to dumbfound researchers is how they managed to move such mammoth stones. One building block, a giant piece of sandstone which weighs 131 tonnes (288,806 pounds), has been determined to have come from a quarry an astonishing 10 km (6.2 miles) away.

Central Tiwankau courtyard | © Jose Luis Hidalgo R. / Flickr

There’s an excellent on-site museum

For a more in-depth analysis of Tiwanaku history and the chance to see some interesting artisanal artifacts, check out the adjacent Tiwanaku Museum. Entry is included on the same ticket, so you’ve got nothing to lose.

Tiwanaku Museum | © Alejandro H / Flickr

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