High on the Altiplano of Bolivia at over 13,000 feet, the ancient city of Tiwanaku sits like a frozen time capsule of Andean history. Not as famous and totally different than the neighboring ruins at Machu Picchu, Tiwanaku is a mysterious city lying windswept and haggard which has mystified scholars for multiple centuries.
The ruins are believed to be the ancient capital city of a Tiwanaku Empire which once stretched across Bolivia, Peru, Chile, Argentina and held over 100,000 inhabitants inside of its towering walls. Now this UNESCO World Heritage site is located about a 1.5-hour drive from the modern day capital city of La Paz and is reached by crossing the arid, frigid plains of the Bolivian highlands. Doable as a day trip from La Paz, the modern town of Tiwanaku also boasts modest accommodations for those wanting some extended exploration of the ruins. The reward for journeying to this remote part of the plains, however, is being able to wander among one of the most fascinating and mind-boggling sites in Latin America.
To the untrained eye, the ruins at Tiwanaku might be nothing more than some old stones set out in the dirt. To those who have been educated on the theories and history of the ancient Tiwanaku Empire, however, every turn in the ancient city unveils a new mystery for which scholars fail to find any answers. Given the high degree of knowledge needed to properly enjoy Tiwanaku, it’s recommended to visit either as part of a tour or hire a local and knowledgeable guide.
For example, many of the large stone slabs which are used in buildings such as the 50-foot-tall Akapana Pyramid, are not found anywhere else in the indigenous area. Furthermore, subterranean studies have shown that in areas such as Puma Punku there is evidence of underground, man-made structures which exist over six feet below the current surface of the Earth, a geological conundrum which confounds scholars as to how they could have gotten down there.
Undoubtedly one of the more magical - if not cold - spots in the surrounding La Paz area, traveling to Tiwanaku is a journey into a forgotten society for which more questions than answers tend to remain.