Epic Ruins in Peru That Aren't Machu Picchu

Caral citadel
Caral citadel | © Mi Peru/Flickr
Manuel Orbegozo

Before the Inca expansion in the north and south of (South) America, there were many cultures that left their mark on buildings, temples of worship or citadels that survived the test of time. Although Machu Picchu is the most recognised Peruvian archaeological site in the world, there are innumerable citadels of Inca and pre-Incan cultures that deserve to be visited too.

El brujo

Translated as ‘The witch’, El brujo is a citadel with pyramids mostly built by the Moche culture where an important burial site containing the mummy of a tattooed priestess – and possibly Peru’s first governess – was found. She was named ‘The Lady of Cao’. The El Brujo archaeological site is also located in Trujillo, not too far from Chan Chan.

Huaca El Brujo

Caral Ollantaytambo

The oldest centre of civilisation in the Americans is just three hours north of Lima; Caral dates back 5,000 years. Located in the middle of a desert, it was a religious centre for the Caral civilisation and is also considered a city due to its six pyramids, circular courts and residential zones for the elite. Because of its great preservation throughout millenniums, it’s considered a World Heritage Site. To travel to Caral, you must take a bus from Lima to the city of Supe, then take another bus 12 miles inland.


If you plan on visiting Machu Picchu, you will most likely make a pit stop at Ollantaytambo, a town in the Sacred Valley with a breath-taking Inca citadel. Inca ruler Pachacuti made it his home and it became a stronghold during the Spanish conquest; part of the Inca road starts in Ollantaytambo. Locals say that if you’re standing on one of the andenes or stair-like terraces and look across, you will see Inca’s deity Viracocha’s face on a mountain.



The Wari culture is believed to be an extension of the Tiahuanaco culture, a lost civilisation in western Bolivia. Notable artisans, the Wari built this complex citadel around a religious cult and it’s still unknown why it was abandoned. Located in the Ayacucho Andean region, the city was divided into neighbourhoods and plazas, and had an important canal drainage system.

Wari archeological site


When Cusco was siezed by Spanish conquerers, Manco Inca Yupanqui fled to Choquequirao, a bastion located 9,840 feet above sea level in between Cusco and the Amazon rainforest. It resembles Machu Picchu because it was built atop a mountain and has a similar architectural style, with ceremonial centres and pilgrimage sites. Only 30% of the archeological zone has been uncovered. To access Choquequirao, you must hike for two days.

Choquequirao citadel


The Chachapoyas culture built this city in the cloud forest of the Amazonian region in the sixth century AD. In fact, they considered themselves to be ‘Warriors of the Clouds’. This walled city could’ve been a strategic spot to control any neighbouring threats, but not only warriors lived in this city: farmers and merchants inhabited the cone-roofed stone houses as well. To access Kuelap, you must reach the city of Chachapoyas, then take a bus onward to a town called Tingo, where you’ll have to walk 20 minutes up the mountain to reach Kuelap.

Kuelpa Citadel

Chavin de Huantar

This archeological site was a pilgrimage centre where Andean civilisations would meet and share ideologies and customs. Its carefully carved head monoliths built after deities can still be found on site, and its tunnels and intricate architecture continue to exert an influence: in 1997, 72 hostages were rescued from an embassy by the Peruvian military after a tunnel system inspired by those found in Chavin de Huantar was secretly built under the residency.

Bonus: Paititi

Although some call it El dorado, its most accurate name is Paititi and it’s the ultimate lost city of the Incas. It has not been found yet, but it is believed to hide the most important Inca secrets and greatest treasure that remained hidden from Spanish conquerors. Legend says Paititi could’ve been covered in gold, and the Manu rainforest is often cited as a possible location for this lost city. Every year, groups of renowned explorers like Darwin Moscoso travel to this area in search of it. Travel agencies like One Earth offer legit customised trips in search of the lost city of the Incas.

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