At 13,000 feet above sea level Tiwanaku is the site of an ancient ruin which was occupied as early as 1500 BC.

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Tiwanaku is located west of La Paz across the Altiplano and very close to the borders of Peru and Chile. Its location played a key role is its importance as a focal point of many cultures in the the region, acting as a hub for politics and religion.

When most people see south American ruins the first thought is Mayan or Inca. Although later invaded and conquered by the Incans most of Tiwanaku’s history is dominated by the Tiwanaku culture. In it’s time Tiwanaku was technologically advanced compared to other cultures, for example the techniques for binding stone blocks using metal structs was only found in Tiwanaku and Rome at the time.

We managed to bargain one of the tour guides down from 130 Bolivianos to 100; however this was in Spanish! If you wanted an English guide the cost was 200 (Gringo Tax). This was fine seeing as 4 of the five of us could speak Spanish and I have to learn anyway. The guide was essential really as he added much depth to tour, which would have otherwise been a collection of anonymous rocks and ruins.


The picture above show the main staircase which would have ascended a pyramid seven levels high. Originally the staircase was lined with black basalt half man half puma some covered in gold.

At the top of the staircase was a reflection pool used by ancient astronomers to view the movement of the stars, many of the symbols found at the site are related to constellations. The top of the pyramid was littered with shards of pottery, coming from urns containing offerings that were smashed on the ground. The site also contained offering rooms which were dedicated to different gods, you can see the ruins of these rooms below.


Features of the site are all aligned with the movements of the sun, aligning on key dates of the solar calendar eg equinoxes.

The stone pillars below align with the sun coming though the door at points of the year


In the pit that contains these pillars are many stone faces embedded into the rock,  it is a mystery who they are. The tour guide said they could represent the different tribes which visited the site.



The majority of the site was destroyed during the the time of Spanish colonization, statues representing different gods destroyed in the name of the one true God.Much of the architecture is also marked by the removal of gold our guide told us. The destruction of the site was more about greed than the spreading of the faith. Personally I don’t think god was too happy about it.

Some of the statues survived, the best of which are held in the museum on the site where photography was not allowed. Below are some of the statues which are found outside:




The sun gate below is covered in symbols which remain a mystery, they are believed to reference times of the year. Its location currently is just where it was found, so it may have been located somewhere else on the site.


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It was well worth the trip, it was just a 2 hour mini bus ride from La Paz which soon passed due to the scenery.