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7 Must-See Ancient Ruins In South America

Travelers wanting to go deep into South America's past will be excited to see the many ruins that can be found just off the beaten path. To see some of the most exotic ruins of this region, it may be necessary to pack up that backpack and go for a hiking experience like no other. The adventure will be worth the experience you will have deep in the jungles of South America.
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Lost City (Colombia)

It may take a three-day hike to get to the Lost City from the city of Santa Marta in Colombia, but it is well worth the adventure. Located deep in the jungle vegetation of the region, this city has a series of tiled roads, circular plazas and terraces. You will be amazed by the unique architecture and design that went into the development of these ancient ruins, including the 1,200 stairs you need to climb to get to the city.

These ruins show that this civilization once was thriving and home to a sophisticated community structure. Your visit to the Lost City in Colombia will show why so many people refer to these ruins as the "new Machu Picchu." Because the Lost City is so far out of the way, when visiting many travelers book their tours and hostels through Hostel Trail.

Related: Best Backpacking Trips through South America

Chan-Chan (Peru)

Chan-Chan was built by the Chimu Kingdom near the city of Trukillo. Located in Northern Peru, this capital was one of the largest civilizations in pre-Columbian America. These ancient ruins show the city's political and social structures. That was once believed to exist form AD 850 to approximately 1470 and was home to close to 60,000 people.

This old city once served as the center of commerce and was a rapidly growing metropolis filled with palaces, temples and passageways. Though back in its day Chan-Chan was the largest city in the Americas, it is now suffering a lot of damage and is in danger of complete ruin. The ruins are fading fast as torrential rains erode evidence of this ancient civilization. Popular places to stay while visiting Chan-Chan include Gran Bolivar HotelHotel Torre Norte and Hotel Turistico Maria Elena.

Related: Best Backpacking Trips to Take Through Australia

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Machu Picchu (Peru)

One of the most mystical and sacred places in South America is The Lost City of the Incas. Machu Picchu is one of the most beautiful sites for ancient ruins in the world and is definitely a must-see when in the region. This city sits up in the sky at 7,000 feet above sea level. Being so far out of reach, this is one of the best preserved ancient ruins in the region. In fact, it was not until 1911 when the city was discovered in the Andean Mountain Range.

Machu Picchu is definitely one of the top ancient ruins to see when in South America. If you only have time to explore one, this is the one to add on your list. One of the most popular places to stay when visiting Machu Picchu is the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge.

Kuelap (Peru)

In the northwestern region of Peru lies the ancient ruins of Kuelap. This pre-Incan civilization is home to a fortress that is surrounded with walls that are more than 45 feet high and are now covered in overgrown vegetation. This city was designed to hold off attacks, with the back side of the fortress ending at a cliff that is hundreds of meters deep.

Tucked away in this mountainous realm, you are sure to be mesmerized by the breathtaking ruins and evocative feeling you will have while exploring Kuelap. While there you will find close to 400 circular stone houses enclosed by a colossal wall, which is the largest South American stone structure. Kuelap is covered with jungle plants that intertwine within the nooks in the stonework. Thus making it feel like you have discovered a new ruin.

When visiting Kuelap you can stay just under 14 miles away at the Casa Vieja or Posada del Arriero. Both of these hotels and many others can be found in Chachapoyas, Peru.

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San Agustin (Colombia)

The San Agustin's Archaeological Park in Southern Colombia is home to many statues that make this site feel less like ruins and more like a preservation. These ancient ruins were the site where two cultures on adjacent sides of the river valleys met to worship, trade and bury their dead. There is a diverse collection of ceremonial and burial sites among the guardians of stone. These stone statues depict humans and animals and range in various sizes from as small as eight inches tall to more than 23 feet in height.

Travelers find this site very mystical and fascinating. The several hundred statues found in San Agustin make this site worth the adventure to get there. Many travelers stay at the Finca el Cielo when exploring the ruins at San Agustin and other neighboring sites.

Hanga Roa (Chile)

The small fishing port of Hanga Roa is home to one of the area's most recognizable statues, the moai, which is located at Ahu Tautira. This statue is located at the foot of Av Te pito o Te Henua and has been many traveler's first experience with a moai. In fact, the platform at Hanga Roa is home to two super moai.

This site is commonly overlooked by visitors, but it should not be. Even though this site is accessed more by local fisherman, travelers will still love being able to see ancient times and modern culture come together. Most travelers passing through Hanga Roa stay at the Hanga Roa Eco Village and Spa.

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Tiwanaku (Bolivia)

Located near the city of La Paz in Bolivia, you will find the site of Tiwanaku. These ancient ruins have also been referred to as Tiahuanacu and is the location of an ancient civilization like no other in South America. You will find large stones, many weighing up to 100 tons scattered throughout the site. Many of the stones have been cut, squared and notched with far more advanced artisanship than any other civilization in the region. This civilization collapsed around 1100 AD and is a wonderful example of ancient life in South America. When visiting Tiwanaki, many travelers choose to stay at Gran Hotel Tiahuanaco or Hotel Akapana.or someone

Get on your hiking boots and prepare yourself for an adventure through the forest of South America. Your adventures can take you just about anywhere, including through some of the continent's most exotic and out-of-the-way ancient ruins.

Heather Landon (Heather Leigh Carroll) is a freelance writer with more than 20 years of experience. She has combined two of her passions - writing and travel - to share her experiences with others. You can read more of her articles at
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