The Best Lost Cities of Peru (That Aren’t Machu Picchu)

Laura Pattara

Laura Pattara  |  17 January 2019

Click here  to find all our trips to Peru.

They may not be featured on travel brochures and they certainly don’t get the attention they deserve, but the best lost cities of Peru (that aren’t Machu Picchu) are still immensely impressive and absolutely rewarding to visit. Their combined relative anonymity is a blessing in disguise, for here you’ll find some of the best archaeological sites on the planet minus the crowds that descend on more celebrated sites.

More than a mere attempt to dodge tourists, however, Peru’s most illustrious ancient cities pay homage to all the pre-colonial cultures who inhabited the country which include, but aren’t restricted, to the formidable Incas. Ancient civilizations that lived and thrived atop its snow-capped peaks and in the heart of its most rugged and dramatic landscapes. Avid history lovers who are looking for an in-depth Peru travel experience will find all these places unmissable.

And everyone else will too.

 

Chan Chan

Sense the greatness of the ancient city of Peru. Include Chan Chan in one of our tours to Peru

The largest mud-carved ancient city in the world is a sight to behold. As you stand at its entrance admiring its imposing guarding statues and intricately carved walls, it’ll seem like the last 1000 years didn’t even happen. Severe El Nino storms have caused some damage here but there’s still so much of Chan Chan left to admire and the site, near the northern coastal town of Trujillo, remains as awe-inspiring as ever. It’s crazy to think that just half a century ago, this was the largest city in the Americas, home to an estimated 60,000 people and over 10,000 structures. The city was the seat of the prominent Chimu culture that ruled southern Ecuador and northern Peru until sometime in the mid-15th century, when it was overpowered by the Incas. This desert region of Peru is arid and seemingly inhospitable yet the aqueducts built by the Chimu aided a flourishing farming trade. You can learn all about the Chimu in Trujillo’s museums before taking an in-depth tour of the ruins, which are simply outstanding.

 

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Choquequirao 

Visit the amazing remains of Choquequirao in one of our trips

Choquequirao is an incredible alternative to Machu Picchu or, if you have time, a wonderful add-on. The ancient Inca site shares similarities with its more-famous neighbour, being also flanked by high Andean peaks in the Sacred Valley of the Incas and reached via a spectacular multi-day hike not many people even know is on offer. Unlike Machu Picchu, however, Choque was not really explored until just a few decades ago and it is believed that over half of it is yet to be discovered. This amazing lost city of Peru was picked up by the tourist radar in 2017, after the Lonely Planet featured it in one of its guides – there are even rumours of a cable-car being installed in the near future and, if this materialises, you can expect the crowds to flock.

Our tip? Head here before it all happens.

 

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Caral

Visit the oldest ancient city in Peru. Click here to discover our trips

UNESCO-listed Caral was built by what is widely believed to be the oldest civilization that ever lived in the Americas, the Norte Chico. Unlike Choquequirao, Caral has been thoroughly excavated and studied and although the site may at first appear to be in disrepair – at least compared to Machu Picchu – it is certainly impressive when seen with some perspective. Caral is 5,000 years old and its startling pyramids were built at almost the same time as those of Giza. It was around this time that anthropologists believe we evolved from our hunter-gatherer existence and started to congregate into organised societies, pooling our resources and finally constructing permanent structures where we could live, all year long. The birth of modern civilisation seems to have occurred (almost) concurrently all over the world and, for the Americas, Caral is its primordial example. This wonderful treasure of mankind is found just a few hours north of Lima. As the ancient birthplace of Andean culture, the lost city of Caral is one of the most fascinating lost cities you could discover on Peru travels but do make sure you go with an English-speaking guide who can share interesting info and bring this magnificent place to life.

 

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Kuelap

Explore the lost city in the great Andean mountains. See our Peru trips here

The Warriors of the Clouds, the Chachapoyas, built a lost city in a hidden nook of the Andean Mountains, surrounded by luscious cloud forests and framed by vertiginous peaks. Kuelap, the “Machu Picchu of the North” is the main and most arresting lost city but it isn’t the only treasure found in the north-western Chachapoyas region, not by a long shot. The modern town – also named Chachapoyas – is a wonderful springboard for exceptional hiking, with trails leading up to Kuelap (and its newly-minted cable-car) and a host of other fantastic archaeological ruins. Thousand-year-old walls and temples, ancient stone trails, the stunning funerary statues of Karaja and amazing graves of Revash, precariously placed and carved on the side of rocky cliffs as if by magic. Kuelap is surely the main reason you’ll want to head up to this lesser-visited and rather remote area of Peru but the sheer concentration of stunning sites is what will entice you to stay just a few more days.

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Pachacamac

Visit the fascinating city of Peru on one of our trips

The lost city of Pachacamac, southeast of Lima, was said to be a thriving hub of activity by the time the Spaniards arrived. It was built nearly a thousand years before the Incas rose to prominence and was added on by subsequent cultures, leaving behind a layered legacy of several civilizations. Sacred pyramids, temples and graves give this expansive complex an air of importance, perhaps defying its initial impression which may seem barren and inconsequential. Yet the history of Pachacamac is fascinating as is the long list of ancient and lesser-known cultures who built upon the original plan and expanded it. If you’re in the company of a guide who can fill in the gaps, these glorious ruins will reveal their secrets and the gorgeous views afforded from its most elevated spots will splendidly complement your visit. Arguably the easiest day-trip destination you could take from Lima, Pachacamac is the epitome of the lost city treasure in Peru, one that’s “hidden in plain sight”.

 

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Machu Picchu is a wonder of the world no first-time visitor to the country can miss yet for those who want to explore further, and deeper, the lost cities of Peru offer a stunning option for a whirlwind historical tour de force. At Viva Expeditions, we can make it happen – contact us, right here, for more info.

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