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Chavin de Huantar: the enigmatic temple of the Peruvian Andes

Home / Travel Blog / Chavin de Huantar: the enigmatic temple of the Peruvian Andes
Chavin de Huantar: the enigmatic temple of the Peruvian Andes

Pre-Inca architectural jewel, this ceremonial center, more than three thousand years old, is the most important left by the Chavín culture. In its time, it was a great oracle where pilgrims came from various areas of the Andes who worshiped and showed their offerings to the gods. 

When touring the temple, the great stone carving work that characterized the Chavín is verified, as can be seen in their particular sculptures. It is even said that Chavín de Huántar inspired the Incas many years later to build the sanctuary of Machu Picchu in Cusco.

Another point that impresses about this destination is that the sacred construction presents a complex network of paths and underground galleries only illuminated by sunlight that enter through small strategically located ducts, which represents a work of engineering of great excellence. 

The Chavín de Huántar Archaeological Site

The Chavín Archaeological Site is located in the province of Huari, Ancash Region. It developed between the years 1500 to 550 BC. It was an important ceremonial and religious center that attracted people from different parts of the Andean world to worship the gods that lived in it. It is made up of monumental buildings located on terraces around square and circular squares built with finely carved and sculpted stone blocks. The most relevant characteristic of Chavín, and one of the most outstanding attributes of its Outstanding Universal Value, is the complex system of internal galleries superimposed on various levels of the buildings, which served for the development of initiation and worship rituals. The exquisite iconography embodied in stone expresses and synthesizes the vision of the Chavín world and beautifully decorates the architecture.

Chavín de Huántar is an archaeological complex built by the Chavín culture between the 2nd and 1st centuries BC and used until 200 BC. C., when it was abandoned. This impressive place is located in the foothills of the Andes mountain range, at the point where the Mosna and Huacheqsa rivers meet.

The archaeological complex of Chavín de Huántar is the most important in the department of Áncash, in central Peru. This great architectural work had two temples, of which some of its parts are still preserved and in which you will find a mysterious network of labyrinths to lose yourself and feel like a true explorer. 

In addition, Chavín de Huántar has ancient and very curious sculptures, among which the monolithic sandeel, the Raimondi stele, the Tello obelisk and the nice nail heads stand out. Some works of art that will leave you speechless! 

Chavin de Huantar temple

The exciting history of Chavín de Huántar

The Chavín culture spread throughout much of the Peruvian coast between 1200 and 200 BC and established its center in the same place where they built Chavín de Huántar, in the department of Áncash. 

Here, the Chavín developed their activities, mainly cultural, and built the magnificent archaeological complex that would lead them to be remembered and studied for centuries and centuries. 

Chavín de Huántar, the great work of art of the Chavín, had one main task: to be one of the most important oracles in the entire country. Residents from different parts of Peru arrived here daily, who made their requests and offerings to the gods. 

Among all the deities of Chavín de Huántar, one stood out: the monolithic sandeel, a sculpture in the shape of a spear, carved in granite and measuring more than four meters in height. In addition, the monolithic sandeel has three faces on which human and animal features are engraved. Now, to visit the monolithic sandeel, you will have to go through narrow and dark tunnels that give the deity a more mysterious touch. 

In its heyday, Chavín de Huántar was made up of different buildings: the new temple, the old temple, the Tello pyramid, the circular plaza, the sunken rectangular plaza, the left arm and the right arm. 

Nowadays, although many of these constructions have been partially lost, the magnificent work of archaeologists has made it possible for you to feel the grandeur of this place when you step foot in Chavín de Huántar and imagine what day-to-day life was like in this place. 

Chavin de Huantar Ancash Peru

In addition, the Chavín culture built a large number of underground tunnels here that hide many secrets to this day. So much so that just a year ago, in August 2018, the latest discovery of the complex was made: a series of underground corridors that hid various ceramic objects. Imagine everything that remains to be discovered in Chavín de Huántar! 

Chavín de Huántar became a totally abandoned place in the year 200 BC, coinciding with the disappearance of the Chavín culture. But, luckily, the history of this complex came to light again thanks, mainly, to the Peruvian archaeologist Julio C. Tello. 

Some researchers, such as the Italian Antonio Raimondi, who was the discoverer of the Raimondi stele, showed their interest in this place several centuries ago, but the complex was poorly cared for and explored. However, with the arrival of Tello, Chavín de Huántar began to flourish again. 

Exactly 100 years ago, in 1919, while a road was being built, a nail head was discovered. This attracted archaeologists from all over the country, including Tello. Thus, the investigations of this place began, which have allowed us to learn a little more about this wonderful archaeological complex and all the secrets of the Chavín culture every day. 

Nailheads 

They are stone sculptures that represent human heads with bulging eyes, figures of snakes and fangs. They were nailed to the top of the outer wall of the New Temple. Some researchers consider that the function of these stone pieces was to serve as guardians of the ceremonial center. Currently, only one remains in its original position. The rest, about fifty, are in small deposits within the complex. 

The Monolithic 

One of the best-known pieces from Chavín de Huántar is this stone sculpture that shows an anthropomorphic being with feline fangs, hands and feet with claws, and hair turned into snakes. The sandeel is four and a half meters high and is located in the deepest underground gallery of the 14 existing in the Old Temple. Due to its location, some archaeologists, such as the Polish Kryzsztof Makowsky, consider it to be the most important religious icon of the Chavín culture. 

The Raimondi Stele

It was found by the Italian researcher Antonio Raimondi, in the middle of the 19th century. The polished granite sculpture represents the god of staffs, an anthropomorphic being with feline jaws and claws on his hands and feet, holding a sacred rod or staff in each hand. Above his head stands a kind of headdress in zoomorphic figures. Currently, it is in the National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology and History of Peru. 

How to get to Chavin de Huantar?

To get to this complex, you have to travel approximately 500 km from Lima along the northern Pan-American highway. At kilometer 196 (at the height of Pativilca), you must take a detour and begin the ascent through winding roads to the town of Catac. There is another detour towards the town of Chavín. 

The best time to visit the complex is during the months of April and May. The towns adjacent to the complex that have developed a better hotel infrastructure are Chavín, Huari or Chacas. Another option is to visit Chavín de Huántar during the day and then sleep in the city of Huaraz, which is two hours away. 

Chavin de Huantar Ancash Peru

The data

The Obelisk Tello. Studied by the archaeologist Julio C. Tello, from whom it took its name, it is one of the most complex sculptures known from pre-Hispanic Peru. It is a two and a half meter high piece, which shows two mythical lizards that have a fish tail. Their bodies have bellies that simulate a huge mouth with intersecting fangs. Currently, the Obelisk Tello is in the National Museum of Archeology and History of Peru, in Lima. 

Price and schedules to visit Chavín de Huántar

Hours: Chavín de Huántar opens from Tuesday to Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. m. to 4:00 p.m. m. 

Price: the price of general admission to Chavín de Huántar is S/ 15 (approximately 4.5 dollars). However, the complex offers discounts for students (S/ 7 – US$ 2) and for children (S/ 4 – US$ 1.2). 

Recommendations to visit Chavín de Huántar: 

  • Although Chavín de Huántar is open throughout the year, the best time to visit is from April to October, since during this season there is less rainfall.
  • To complete your visit to Chavín de Huántar, don't forget to visit the Chavín National Museum, located two kilometers north of the archaeological complex. Here you will find a large collection of ceramic and stone pieces and, most strikingly, several of the famous nail heads (only one remains in the archaeological complex).
  • Huaraz's weather can be unstable, so we recommend bringing both a raincoat and a sun hat.

Best Tours in Peru

Many are the routes that take you to Machu Picchu, but none is like the Inca Trail Tours, the most famous pedestrian path in the Americas. After flying from the capital of Perú, Lima, you will arrive in Cusco to walk for four days along a path through forests and dense fog, millenary stone steps and discovering the ruins of ancient fortifications and Inca cities, and all the time enjoying majestic views. 

If you want to visit Machu Picchu, we recommend you to book your Machu Picchu Ticket in advance, so you will enjoy your Vacation in Machu Picchu without any problem.

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