To most people, peruvian history starts with incas, but they were very much the new kids on the block in historical terms. Before them came several equally influential cultures whose advanced architectural and artistic styles and techniques were copied by South America’s last great indigenous civilization. Most of these amazing pre-inca sities are found along Peru's long stretch of desert coast.
Etched into the dust of the nouthem coastal desert are the Nazca Lines: huge figures of animals and geometric patterns, some of them up to 100 m across. These giant representations of a monkey, killer whale and humming bird, among others, are visible only from the air and have puzzled scientists for many years. They were made by the highly developed Nazca civilisation between 200 BC and AD 600 and to this day no one knows for suere how or why they were drawn. They remain one of the continent's great mysteries and continue to attract tourists.
The elegant colonial city of Trujillo, on Peru's northen coast, is the base for visiting Chan Chan, the largest adobe city in the world. The crumbling ruins of the imperial city, which cover 28 sq km, consist of nine great compounds built by successive dinasties which ruled this part of the country before the arrival of the incas. Only a few kilometers from trujillo are the massive adobe pyramids of huaca del sol and huaca de la luna and father afield are yet more impressive pre-inca sites. If all the archaeology gets too much, you can always relax at Huancachaco, a fishing village on the coast and a favourite hang-out for surfers.
If the Trujillo area seems full of archaeological treasures, them the desert around Chiclayo, 200 km further north, is positively bursting at the seams. At the twin pyramid complex of Sipan, excavations over the past decade have uncovered some of the finest examples of pre-Columbian jewellery, pottery and textiles yet found on the continent. Further north lie the impressive ruins of Tucume, a vast city built over one thousand years ago, consisting of 26 pyramids, platform mounds, walled citadels, residential compounds and a ceremonial centre
In the northeast, where the Andean mountains drop to meet the vast Amazonian lowlands, countless precolumbian sites lie hidden in the forests. The fortresses and cliffside tombs of the mysterious cloud people are constantly being uncovered. The mosth visited of these is Kuelap, the greatest precolumbian fortress in the Americas, with massive stone walls over 20 m high protecting hundreds of round houses.
Aside from Machu Picchu, there are many other sites of interest in the Cusco area. For a good example of inca masonry, check out the ruined ceremonial centre of Sacsayhuaman on a hill in the northern outsikirts of the city. The impressive walls are made from massive stones weighing up to 130 tons and fitted together with absolute perfection. Standing at the eastern end of the valley is Pisac, famous for its market and superb Inca fortress set on the mountainside high above the town of Ollantaytambo. A flight of terraces leads up above the town to an unfinished inca temple representing some of the finest inca architecture in the country. At Moray is a site known as the laboratory of the Incas. These are three colosseums used as an open-air crop nursery, the ambience sharpened by the surrounding scenery and the late afternoon light.
The following tours include a visit to the most famous tourist places in peru:
- Amazon and Inca Trail Tour
- Discover Peru
- Peru Amazon and Lares Trek
- Peruvian Highlands