Ancient Civilisations

Hundreds of years, if not thousands, before the arrival of the European explorers, Latin America's ancient civilisations flourished with highly developed cultures and traditions of mysticism, architecture, art and agriculture. These civilisations built magnificent cities and worshipped in ornate temples, many of which are still standing today - the subject of countless studies by historians and scientists, with many mysteries that are yet to be solved and uncovered.

Centuries before the arrival of European explorers, South America's ancient civilisations developed rich and innovative cultures that grew in and amongst the geographic features of their landscape. The Inca Empire emerged and developed around AD 1438 along the west coast of the continent, with the Pacific Ocean forming its western border, and the formidable Andes Mountains to the east, which provided a natural barrier from outsiders. The Inca constructed inns, signal towers, roads, and massive forts such as the famous Machu Picchu, the ruins of which continue to teach archaeologists about the Incan Empire.
Ancient Civilisations
The most famous of Latin America’s civilisations was the Inca Empire who ruled much of present-day South America, from Colombia in the north to Chile and Argentina in the south. Mexico and Central America were ruled by the other great civilisations of the Aztec and Maya, and even earlier, the Olmecs. All these civilisations have left a lasting legacy with their impressive architectural accomplishments and a rich cultural heritage that can be found in the customs and traditions of many of the indigenous communities today. Here is a list of our recommended ancient cities to discover:
Machu Picchu, PeruThis magnificent Inca citadel built in the 15th century is located in the Sacred Valley near Cusco and is, beyond doubt, the best-known archeological site in Latin America, if not the world. To get there, you can embark on a 7-day trek from Cusco or travel there in style on board a luxury train.
Teotihuacan, MexicoConstructed around 200 BC, and inhabited by the Aztec from AD 1300, this is one of the most impressive and most underrated archeological sites in the world. Located just 50 kilometres outside of Mexico City, it can be easily reached as a day trip from the capital.
Tikal, GuatemalaThis was a major city and ceremonial centre of the Maya Empire built around AD 100 in the Guatemalan jungle. The complex was so large and hidden that they are still uncovering new structures today. The complex can be easily reached from the town of Flores.

Chichen Itza, MexicoProbably the second most famous site in Latin America, this important ancient Maya city was constructed between AD 600 and AD 750, and can be reached as a day trip from Cancun, in the Yucatan Peninsula. 

Tiwanaku, BoliviaThis was the capital of the pre-Columbian civilisation of Tiwanaku which existed from 200 BC – AD 200. During its peak, the civilisation extended into the coast of Peru and the north of Chile. The site can be reached on a day trip from La Paz.

Palenque, MexicoLocated in dense jungle, the ruins of Palenque were as important to the Maya civilisation as Chichen Itza and Tikal. The city existed from 226 BC to AD 799 and was located in the Chiapas region of Mexico. It can be accessed from the nearby town of Palenque.

Chan Chan, PeruDuring its heyday, this former capital of the Chimú Kingdom in Peru which existed from AD 1100 to AD 1470 was the largest city in the pre-Columbian era in South America. Today, this archaeological site, located in northern Peru near the town of Trujillo, comprises a huge adobe complex with art and carvings.

Other ancient sites such as the San Agustín Archeological Park in Colombia can be visited while in the country, and the sprawling vast Maya city of Copán in Honduras is close to the Guatemala border and can be accessed from the town of San Pedro Sula.

Unsolved Mysteries and Lost Civilisations
Whilst these ancient civilisations left an enduring legacy and have been the subject of countless studies and research expeditions by historians and scientists, there are still many secrets that we have yet to uncover. The mysteries still surrounding these ancient civilisations continue to confound historians to this day.Nazca Lines, PeruThe most famous of these mysteries is the Nazca Lines in Peru. These giant designs of different figures, including animals and plants, perfectly etched into the Peruvian coastal plains are over 2,000 years old and are most visible from the air or nearby hilltops. No one knows why they were created and how they managed to achieve such perfect shapes and symmetry from the ground.

Teotihuacan, MexicoThis massive pyramid and temple complex outside of Mexico City was inhabited by the Aztecs from AD 1300; however, they did not actually build the city. The Aztecs believed that the city was built for them by the Sun God. Historians claim that the city was constructed about 1,000 years earlier, but no one knows who actually built this impressive city and what happened to the lost civilisation of over 150,000 inhabitants who mysteriously disappeared without a trace.

The Moais of Easter Island, ChileBuilt over 500 years ago, these giant carved statues are located all over Easter Island. To this day, no one has been able to solve the mystery of how their Polynesian ancestors ended in such a remote island in the Pacific Ocean, and why they built these massive poker-faced statues. The one mystery that has been solved is with regard to the premise that only heads were carved. Excavation has discovered that the upright Moai statues are actually buried to their shoulders revealing only the big heads that are visible above ground. 

Cueva de las Manos, ArgentinaTucked in the valley of the Pinturas River, in an isolated spot of the Argentine Patagonia, the Cueva de las Manos (Cave of the Hands) is a cave or series of caves famous for hundreds of stencilled handprints and wall paintings depicting animals, such as guanacos (Lama guanicoe), still commonly found in the region, as well as hunting scenes. Painted over 10,000 years ago, this is one of the oldest and best preserved pre-historic sites of rock art in the world.

Machu Picchu, PeruBuilt in the 15th century and later abandoned, and then rediscovered again in 1911, Machu Picchu is an Inca citadel set high in the Andes Mountains in Peru. It is a mystery how the sophisticated dry-stone walls of this archaeological complex could fuse huge blocks without the use of mortar to hold together its stones, and intriguing that the construction of its buildings knew how to play on astronomical alignments and panoramic views. 

The subject of many wide-ranging theories as to its original purpose, from initially thought to be a military defense fortress, then a resting place of the Inca, to a graveyard of virgin women, its exact former use remains a mystery. Whoever and whatever it was built for, a high sense of spirituality inhabits this place which has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Many other unsolved mysteries can be found across the continent. Ometepe, an island in southwest Nicaragua's vast Lake Nicaragua, is famous for its petroglyphs comprising thousands of ancient rock carvings dating back to 2,000 BC, and no one knows the source of these ancient carvings or the people who created them.

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