When it comes to ancient ruins, one might think of places like Rome and Athens. And while these destinations may be at the top of the destination list for seeing ruins, there’s another place that holds plenty of mystery and intrigue amongst its ruins…South America.

It’s no secret that South America has plenty of history and culture to explore when travelling there. And a part of that history lies in the ruins spread throughout the continent. From Incan cities kept alive in Peru to temples built to worship the sun in Ecuador, there are plenty of options to choose from when searching out ancient ruins in South America. Exploring these ruins is also an ideal option for those travelers who are adventure seekers and outdoor enthusiasts, since many of these sites have to be hiked to.

So what are some of the best ruins sites to visit in South America? Let’s take a look at some of the most visited and important places that tell of the history of South America…

Tiwanaku – Tiwanaku Village, Boliva

Temple Kalasasaya, an important pre Columbian Archaeological Site in Tiwanaku, Bolivia.

Bolivia may not be high on the list of places to visit for potential ruins sites, but Tinwanaku is definitely worth checking out in this central South American Country. This site is a pre-Columbian city that dates back to the Tinwanaku Empire, which lasted from 300 BC until 300 AD. It was once the capital city of the empire and was abandoned once the Spanish arrived in Bolivia.

At this site, you’ll come across the ruins of this ancient city, as well as around one hundred huge stones that weigh up to 100 tons. Some of these stones have been cut, squared, and notched, and may have been for building or ritual purposes.

Chan Chan – Trujillo, Peru

Photo of the Archaeological Site of Chan Chan Peru

Peru is a goldmine when it comes to ruins, and Chan Chan is no exception. This was the site of the largest pre-Columbian city in the Americas under the Chimor Empire. This empire pre-dates the Incan Empire, which eventually conquered it later on. Chan Chan is said to have been founded around 850 AD.

The ruins site is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city, in its prime, was filled with temples, palaces, and passageways. The ruins have since seen extensive wear and tear due to the elements, but it’s still a fascinating place to explore, especially if you plan on travelling around Peru visiting the country’s many ruins.

Lost City (Ciudad Perdida) – Santa Marta, Columbia

Founded around the year 800 AD, this ancient site pre-dates Machu Picchu, and was one of the earliest of advanced cities to thrive in South America. It was an economic center of the region and was built to maintain the city’s growth and importance within the empire.

The Lost City is quite a trek to get to. It’s about a three day’s hike from Santa Marta and is located deep within the Columbian jungle. But the trek to these ruins will be well worth it. Tiled roads, terraces, and circular plazas can be discovered amongst the ruins. The city itself had to have been quite an architectural feat. It even takes climbing 1,200 stairs to just to get to the city!

Choquequirao – Abancay, Peru

Choquequirao is an Incan site in south Peru, similar in structure and architecture to Machu Picchu. The ruins are buildings and terraces at levels above and below Sunch’u Pata, the truncated hill top

This ancient mountain city has impressive views and is second only to the famed Machu Picchu when it comes to the most visited sites in Peru. Keep in mind that it will be a challenge getting to this ruins site. It’s a two day, steep hike. But the views and ruins you’ll come across will most definitely make up for the long trek.

Choquequirao is a rather young city, by ancient ruins standards. It was founded in 1536 and used as a stronghold for the Spanish. There’s quite a lot here still intact, and the site is an ongoing archeological study. Archeologists think there are still things to uncover at this site, meaning you may stumble across a new find when you get there. One never knows what these Peruvian ruins have in store in terms of discovery.

Machu Picchu – Aguas Calientes, Peru

Of course no South American ancient ruins visit would be complete without getting a chance to explore the famed Machu Picchu site. It’s the most famous site in Peru and arguably in South America as well. It was build around 1450 but later abandoned one hundred years or so later when the Spanish arrived.

The city itself still has massive man-mad structures, including temples and terraces. There’s a mix of residential, official, and religious buildings, along with garden terraces. And don’t forget about the incredible views looking out at the Peru country side from the mountainside.

San Agustin – Columbia

An ancient, flute playing, pre-columbian statue in San Agustin, Colombia

San Agustin’s Archeological Park offers travelers a different kind of ruins experience. That’s because this site is home to a large collection of ancient statues. The diverse collection includes ceremonial and burial statues and depicts both humans and animals. The various statues range in size from eight inches all the way up to twenty-three feet. It’s thought that this site was used as a place to worship for neighboring cultures in the nearby river valley.

Kuelap – Chachapoya, Peru

This site is located in the northwestern region of Peru, tucked away in a mountainside. It’s a pre-Incan civilization site that holds quite a lot of impressive ruins to discover. The site is surrounded by large stone walls and has a fortress on the city’s edge. Inside the walls, you’ll find nearly four hundred different ruins to take in. The wall, which is the largest stone structure in South America, is covered with vines, giving it a true jungle feel. The ruins can be reached by bus or car from Chachapoya.

Ingapirca – Ingapirca, Ecuador

Ingapirca is the largest ruins site of Incan origin in Ecuador. It was founded by the Canari people, who eventually merged with the Incans. Once of the highlights of this ancient site is the Temple of the Sun, which is elliptically built. It was made to align up perfectly with the sun during the solar solstice. One of the intriguing things about the temple is that it was built in true Incan fashion…without mortar to hold the stones together.

Of course, this list is just a tip of the iceberg when it comes to the ruins that can be found in South America. But hopefully this will be a good starting point to help you plan your trip around what ruins in which countries you’d like to explore. And who knows, while you’re out there exploring these ruins sites, you may come across some hidden surprises along the way!