When it comes to ancient ruins in the Andes, most people immediately think of the famous Machu Picchu. Until 1911, when archaeologist Hiram Bingham “officially” discovered the ruins, they lay hidden in dense forest and morning mist, high on a hill above the roaring Urubamba River. It is believed that it was built by the Inca ruler, Pachacuti Inca Yapancui, the sanctuary of Machu Picchu covers an area of 5 square km. It is part of the largest Machu Picchu Heritage site, which covers an area of 32,600 hectares and is home to numerous archaeological wonders and a myriad of magnificent flora and fauna.
Getting to the ruins is no small thing and it is 10 km longer than the trek to Machu Picchu on the famous Inca Trail. It is a strenuous hike in part, with 8 km of endless curves to reach the campsite near the ruins. Despite being larger than Machu Picchu, only about 30% of the ruins have been cleared, revealing some truly unique features of discernment. Decorating the sides of some of the terraces are inlaid white rocks that create the Llama shape. In other places, rocks are used to create the shape of a woman.
While some 3,000 tourists arrive at Machu Picchu every day, other ruins, no less beautiful, lie deserted; visited by few and unknown to many. One of them is Choquequirao, which once housed about 150 people and was totally self-sufficient in terms of food and water. Wide terraces stretch across the ruins that hug the side of Capuliyochill, the top of which was leveled by the Inca to create a flat platform 30 by 50 m wide.
In the northern part of the country, almost 1000 km from Machu Picchu, there is another unknown hero, the fortress citadel of Kuelap. This huge complex stretches for 110 mx 600 me including hundreds of stone buildings in different stages of ruin. With its characteristic tall entrance of yellow walls and green grasses that glisten in the sunlight, it sits at heights of 3,000 m and looks down over the Urubamba Valley. Getting to the ruins does not have to involve endless miles of hiking uphill; well, not if you take the tour bus. The Peruvian government plans to make this the “second Machu Picchu” and if it plans to install a cable car up to the ruins, go ahead, as in Choquequirao, it will soon be.
Besides being master builders of terraces, the Incas were also talented in hydraulic engineering and the 3500m high. Tipon it’s about honoring water and the life it provides. Taking advantage of the water from a spring at the top of the mountain, the engineers of Tipon He built 12 terraces with stone-lined aqueducts to lower the water a total of 130 m in altitude, from 1.35 km away. The path and stairs were laid along the aqueducts, winding up steep slopes in places with a 30% slope. These ruins are remarkably peaceful with a serene stillness around them.
The ancient Peruvians’ ability to harness water was not entirely restricted to agriculture, and while these are not actually considered ruins, they are certainly an incredible sight and are said to possibly predate the Inca Empire. At the end of a remote dusty road near the town of Moras, hundreds of kilometers from the sea, at an altitude of 3,800 m, stands a whitewashed mountain. Hundreds of terraces adorn the slopes, built solely for the purpose of harnessing the salt. Each salt pond measures approximately 30 cm and measures 2 × 2 meters. Narrow funnels funnel water from one pond to another down the mountainside. The ponds are individually owned by some 600-700 families and the salt is collected by hand in large bags, where it is carried to the top and transported to the nearby town on donkeys.
Myriads of ruins are scattered throughout the Andes, from southern Chile to central Peru, many no less beautiful than the popular Machu Picchu. Each provides a point on a massive road map spanning a vast empire that once ruled the Andes. For the Inca people, many of their secrets still remain buried in the cloud forests, waiting for an opportunity to reveal their mysteries.