Backpacking across the Andes Bolivia La Paz

Backpacking across the Andes – #12: Tiwanaku and Pumapunku (Bolivia)

As we were staying a few days in La Paz, we grabbed this opportunity to go and explore an archeological site that had aroused our curiosity for a long time and that we could not wait to discover: Tiwanaku.

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FROM LA PAZ TO TIWANAKU

The mysterious archeological site of Tiwanaku (also spelt Tiahuanaco) is easily reachable via La Paz. We took a bus from the center of the bolivian capital and arrived in Tiwanaku about one-and-a-half hours later (the hardest part being going through the chaotic El Alto…). It was midday and the sun was strong at 3 800 meters above sea level. There was not a single tree, no shade. There was nothing around us but the ancient ruins. Once again we felt in the middle of nowhere!

A FEW HISTORY WORDS

We learnt that the city of Tiwanaku used to be the center of a powerful pre-inca civilization that ruled over part of Bolivia and Chile for hundreds of years. Today, we don’t know much about this civilization and it seems that scientists do not agree about its origins. Some say it emerged some 4000 years ago, others say it could be 8000 years or more! Everything about the Tiwanaku civilization is mystery, a feeling that overtakes tourists visiting the site.

 A SITE FULL OF MYSTERIES

We were indeed wandering around the ruins with the same question popping over and over again in our heads: how did they do it? If you are not an ancient history lover, you might think that the Tiwanaku archeological site is nothing but a bunch a ruins. But if you look closely at the stones that are scattered around the site, you are left thinking that there is something strange. How could people cut stones in such a precise way so many years ago!? In a way that would still be hard today with modern technology. How could they carve perfect circles and squares in stones? It is as if the stones had been laser cut to perfectly fit in one another…

EXPLORING TIWANAKU

Tiwanaku was the spiritual and political center of this amazing civilization. The remains of the mysterious monuments that we can see today are the witnesses of this powerful past: a pyramid, temples, symbolic gates, monoliths, strange carvings of human faces… Some of the stone blocks used in their construction weigh several tones and it seems that the nearest quarry that could have produced these blocks is located 40 kilometers away! What’s more the site was equipped with a complex drainage system (that we can still see today!).

WE WERE WELCOMED BY LAMAS AS WE ARRIVED

There was a whole group of lamas freely walking around the site.

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ADMIRING the AKAPANA PYRAMID

When we arrived in Tiwanaku, we first climbed to the top of the pyramid of Akapana. This pyramid which was originally 18 meters high and made of seven platforms, used to be one of the most imposing buildings of Tiwanaku. Today, only the lowest parts remain and it is hard to imagine what the pyramid must have looked like but you can still see the impressive stone carving works on the basis. You also have a great view on the site from the top.

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IMPRESSIVE SCULPTURES EVERYWHERE

As we walked past the pyramid, we wondered how the Tiwanaku had managed to carve these Andan crosses in these solid stones.

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MANY QUESTIONS POPPING IN OUR HEADS AS WE REACHED THE SEMI-SUBTERREAN TEMPLE

We continued exploring the site and reached the surprising semi-subterranean temple! We went down a few steps to reach this rectangular open-air sunken courtyard. What is impressive about this temple is that its walls are decorated with the strangest stones, carved in the shape of human heads! It seems that we are still not sure today about the meaning of these heads (human sacrifices? war enemies? aliens? …)

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EXPLORING THE KALASASAYA TEMPLE

Kalasasaya is a large rectangular open temple built on a three-meter high basis. Its walls are made of huge perfectly fitted blocks of red sandstone and andesite. It is believed that it was used as an observatory. The temple contains an impressive carved monolith as well as the monumental Gate of the Sun

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ADMIRING THE SUN GATE

The Gate of the Sun was cut from a single block of stone and is estimated to weight at least 44 tons. Above the doorway is an elaborate bas-relief frieze depicting a god. The Gate of the Sun has been interpreted as an agricultural calendar.

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STEP TWO: PUMA PUMKU

We then reached the Pumapunku site, located at a ten-minute walking distance. Here again we were constantly wondering how they had done it…

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THE MYSTERY REMAINS TODAY

The Tiwanaku civilization gradually faded into obscurity but their culture lived on through its strong influence on the Incas. When they arrived many years later in the region, the Incas believed that the city had been built not by an earlier civilization, but by their creator god, Viracocha, who rose from the depths of Lake Titicaca. When the Spanish later arrived, they asked the Incas how they had managed to build such a site and they replied that the site was already there when they had arrived…

We then returned to La Paz, our heads full of questions and mysteries. The next day we would head to the amazing Lake Titicaca, on the footsteps of the god Viracocha…

Continue reading

  • Next stop: Titicaca Lake. Click here to read the article.
  • All articles about this country: click here to see all articles about Bolivia.
  • All articles about this trip: click here to read see all articles about this backpacking trip across the Andes (Chile – Bolivia – Peru).
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  • Reply Backpacking across the Andes – #11: La Paz (Bolivia) - La petite valise d'Aurélie 20 February 2016 at 18 h 17 min

    […] stop: the archeological site of Tiwanaku and Puma Punku. Click here to read the […]

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