High on the Bolivian Altiplano, the city of Tiwanaku sits like a frozen time capsule of Andean history. One of the most fascinating and mind-boggling sites in South America, the UNESCO-listed ruins are believed to be the ancient capital of the Tiwanaku Empire, which once stretched across Bolivia, Peru, Chile, and Argentina.The Basics
Tiwanaku is a pre-Incan archeological site on a remote part of the Altiplano, near the southern shores of Lake Titicaca. Not as famous as, and entirely different than, the ruins at Machu Picchu in Peru, this mysterious city has confounded scholars for centuries.
Given the high degree of knowledge needed to properly enjoy Tiwanaku, it’s recommended to visit either as part of a tour, or to hire a local and knowledgeable guide. Many tours depart La Paz for half- and full-day Tiwanaku experiences.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The ruins at Tiwanaku are a must-see for first-time visitors as well as history and archaeology buffs.
- Wear comfortable shoes suitable for walking over uneven surfaces, and bring sunblock and warm clothes.
- At 13,000 feet (almost 4,000 meters) above sea level, the high altitude can be a problem for many visitors, so take it easy until you’re properly acclimated.
How to Get There
Tiwanaku is located about 44 miles (72 kilometers) from La Paz, across the arid, frigid plains of the Bolivian highlands. Most visitors arrive as part of a tour or by public transport—colectivos headed to the ruins depart from the bus station across from the cemetery in La Paz; the ride takes about 1.5 hours.
When to Get There
You can visit the ruins year-round, though the best time to travel in Bolivia is during the winter dry season, from May to October. Tiwanaku receives fewer visitors than the better-known sites in neighboring Peru, and you can go just about any time without having to worry about crowds.Tiwanaku Highlights
The ruins of Tiwanaku are made up of mysterious palaces, temples, and pyramids. Highlights include the 50-foot-high (15-meter) Akapana Pyramid, which was built using large stone slabs not found anywhere else in the indigenous area, and Puma Punku, where there is evidence of man-made structures that exist more than 6 feet (1.8 meters) below the earth’s surface.