Tiwanaku, a legacy of a pre-Inca civilization

There is a lot to do in La Paz even though it is not the most beautiful city in Bolivia. We decided to stay a few days in the newly opened Selina La Paz to explore the city and its surroundings. The most common excursions outside the city are the Camino de la Muerte (Yungas), Lake Titicaca and Tiwanaku. We opted for the last option since it is one of the most important archaeological sites in Bolivia. If you visit Santa Cruz, you can go to another archaeological site called Samaipata.

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Travel by bus

We decided to take the cheapest option to go, which was a bus taken from the stop in front of the General Cemetery of La Paz. Buses leave early in the morning as soon as they fill up. You may have to wait about 20 minutes until more people arrive. We bought coca tea while we waited to help with the altitud sickness since Tiwanaku is at 3,850 meters (12,600 feet) high.

The fare is very inexpensive for such a journey; We paid about five dollars to go and return. It takes 90 minutes to arrive and the driver drove like an animal. Tiwanaku is located 72 kilometers (44 miles) west of La Paz, near the south-eastern shore of Lake Titicaca. The people on the bus were scared but I did not feel the trip as I have an incredible ability to sleep on any moving object.

We agreed with the driver the time of departure and proceeded to the ticket office. You must take Bolivianos since you have to pay the entrance to the Archaeological Park of Tiwanaku in cash and it is more expensive than the transfer. Also, there are some small shops that sell snacks and drinks.

The day we went we had horrible weather. They told us it would be hot but it was bitterly cold and it rained most of the day. It got so cold that hailstone began to fall on the ruins while we ran to find a roofed shelter.

A spiritual site

Tiwanaku (also spelled Tiahuanaco) was a Pre-Columbian civilization that is believed to have been founded between 50 and 170 AD. The exact date is not known since this culture did not have written language.

It is believed that its modern name ‘Tiwanaku’ comes from the Aymara term ‘taypiqala’ which means “stone in the middle”. It was believed that this site was located at the center of the world. Mythology thought that Lake Titicaca was the center of the world and that the two islands were made in the sun and the moon. The first race of stone giants came out from there and then humans.

The Tiwanaku were excellent astronomers and had a deep knowledge of the sun, the moon and the stars. It is believed that many of the monuments that you will see, like the door of the sun and the moon, were aligned with the sunrise or the sun at noon The problem is that over the years the monuments have been changed from their original positions. Tiwanaku was a sacred site and many people made pilgrimages to worship and praise the gods.

The Aymara Indians are descendants of the Tiwanaku and still celebrate their new year in the ruins every June 24. They wear traditional clothes from the Andes, drink singani and eat coca leaves. They wait at sunrise to go up to the temple and see the first rays of the new year’s sun. Every year in January, the Aymara celebrate the Alasitas Festival in La Paz.

Mega city

Most of the buildings date from the Early Intermediate Period (200-600 AD). It started as a primitive settlement that ended up being a great city with technology. The Tiwanaku were masters of agriculture and built elaborate irrigation systems by extracting water from nearby Lake Titicaca.

The number of inhabitants vary according to the experts but it is believed that they reached up to 70,000 people. The cusp of Tiwanakku occurred in the 8th century when it was one of the most important urban centers of the Andes. Its influence reached what is now Argentina, Chile and Peru.

They were attacked by a huge drought around 900 AD. that lasted for several generations. The inhabitants were forced to migrate or starved. This caused the end of the Tiwanaku culture that lasted approximately 1,200 years. This figure makes it one of the ancient cultures that had the longest continuous habitation in one place. Even longer than any Inca site.

In the 15th century the Incas seized the ruins while conquering South America. It is said that in order to show their power, they exhibited the heads of the rival chiefs in spikes and made belts with their skins.

Tiwanaku is a mystery

They were found again by the Spanish conquistador Pedro Cieza de León in 1549 while searching for Qullasuyu, the southern capital of the Inca empire. The Indians told the Spaniards that the ruins were built by giants. Another theory is that they were the remains of an agnostic population that the Deity had turned to stone because they had refused to accept their messenger.

The Tiwanaku made some of the most impressive monoliths in the world. Some stones weigh up to 25 tons. No pre-Columbian civilization had technology to transport something so heavy. In your visit make sure to look for the two monoliths in Kalasasaya that are called Fraile and Ponce.

At 7.3 meters in height, Bennett is the largest monolith of all the cultures of the Andes, and is located inside the museum. This is due to the fact that in 1933 (one year after it was found) he was transferred by rail to La Paz. In 2002 he was returned to Tiwanaku.

This monolith was found in the semi-subterranean temple where there is still another monolith called Barbado.

UNESCO Heritage

In the 1960s, the Bolivian government began an effort to restore and rebuild the site. There is still a lot to discover, for example in 2015 they found another buried pyramid. In April 2019, marine archaeologists found ancient ceremonial objects on the Titicaca Lake reef. New technology will continue to find more objects in this ancient mega city.

Tiwanaku is considered a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since the year 2000.

In 2010, UNESCO recommended that people should not climb the Akapana pyramid and put the place on the list of heritage in danger. When I went in 2019 I could not climb anymore and it had been removed from the list.

It is definitely worth including a visit from La Paz to discover the fascinating city of Tiwanaku.

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