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Tiwanaku | Our guide to this mysterious ancient site

When you’re sat watching rubbish on the telly and someone says, only aliens could have created such intricate patterns, your interest peaks.  I know these conspiracy programs are a load of old cods wallop but that’s how we first heard about Tiwanaku. We thought, well yes, that would be an interesting place to visit if the opportunity arises.

So here we are. That opportunity did arise and although we found no evidence that people from another world could have helped construct this ancient monument, we did find a place with a strange and compelling atmosphere.  The site is not as well cared for as some of it’s more well known cousins but it’s still worth a visit.  Read on to discover more about your options and a little about the site itself.

Tiwanaku
Tiwanaku

Tiwanaku, what’s it all about?

Tiwanaku or Tiahuanacu is a ruined ancient pre-incan city founded by the Tiahuanacota culture perhaps around 200 BCE although it could be a lot older.  The age is constantly being debated and changed as new evidence emerges. As with most ancient sites, the name the inhabitants knew the city as, has been lost to history.

The site sits close to the shores of Lake Titicaca although you cannot actually see the body of water from Tiwanaku.  It’s about 70km from La Paz.  Most of the city was made of mud brick and has been lost under the modern town.  What remains is believed to have been the monumental ceremonial buildings.  The site has been protected by UNESCO since the year 2000.

The site today consists of the main archeological complex, two museums and the slightly remote site Puma Punku which is believed to be from the sixth century.  This site contains intricately carved stone blocks that seem to predate the technology needed to produce them which has caused quite a few theories about how they could have been produced. Including some quite far fetched ideas about alien interventions.

Tiwanaku and what you can see there. 

The main archeological site consists of the remains of a seven platformed pyramid which seemed to be in quite poor condition due to looting in the past.  Only three levels seem to be visible with some retaining walls.  The best preserved area is a large open raised platform thought to be a temple containing the sun gate and some statues.  Next to this there is a sunken area where the walls are adorned with carved stone heads.

The Clark Bennett Monolith, now housed in a dedicated museum close to the site, was discovered in 1932.  It was then taken and erected in Stadium Plaza in La Paz. It was then moved back to the site after 69 years to prevent any further damage to this important artefact. The huge stone idol carved from a single block is well worth a visit.  Around the walls of the museum are photographs from the time of the original excavations.

The second museum houses a collection of artifacts found at the site including human remains, pottery and metallic objects.  This museum doesn’t quite have the same visual impact as the former but it’s still worth a visit, we found it very interesting.

Tiwanaku
Stone heads

How to visit Tiwanaku from La Paz?

You can get to the site from La Paz using public transport but a little effort and patience is required.  La Paz is a busy and hectic city and getting around at ground level can be quite interesting.  The first part of the two stage journey involves getting to the municipal cemetery.  Look for a collectivo, with cemetario on the windscreen and when you get in just say to the driver where you want to go.  We had no problem with this we were dropped off right at the front gate of the cemetery where all the flower sellers ply there trade.  

Facing away from the gates you should see a line of mini vans with drivers shouting out destinations ask the first driver for Tiwanaku and he will direct you to the first van.  You need to get there quite early around 9am as the van goes when full.  You also may have to wait for quite a while for enough people.  The van will go when it has eight paying passengers.  The price is 20.00 BOB per person each way.  If the van doesn’t get eight you will have to negotiate a price with the driver.

We were lucky we only had to wait about twenty minutes, although the first person, we found out later, had waited two hours.  We were in the process of negotiating with the driver when three more people arrived which was convient.  The driver agreed to take us the 70km, wait for us three hours, and bring us back to La Paz.  However on the return journey we all agreed to be dropped off at the El Alto Cable car due to bad traffic jams.  From there we made our own way back into the centre.

If this seems like to much effort you can of course visit on an organised tour. The tour will take all the logistics of getting there out of your hands but is much more expensive.  You can book online here if that’s your chosen way to visit, we find that getting there independently is part of the fun but we accept this form of travel is not for everyone. Tours include transport, entrance, a local guide and lunch.

Tiwanaku
Colectivo to Tiwanaku

What it costs & site logistics

Entry to the site of Tiwanaku is not cheap for non Bolivianos compared to many sites of a similar size and importance.  The entrance costs 100.00 BOB per person and this includes all sites and museums.  The main site has a set route to follow which takes you first to the pyramid and then following the arrows continues on a tour of all the major points of interest.  Each separate feature has a small information board in both Spanish and English, some of these are not well maintained and are quite difficult to read.

Our advice would be to visit the main site first.  If you want to visit everything you need to spend no more than about half of your three hours here.  Then make the fifteen minute walk round to the remote sight of Puma Punku.  If you spend around half and hour here you will then have plenty of time to visit the two museums on the way back round to where the van will be waiting.

We would advise spending a few minutes browsing the small souvenir market. It’s nice to buy a few trinkets. They are very cheap and it gives something back to the local community.  There’s also a restaurant but with three hours only we didn’t have time to go.  There are a few drinks and snack stalls mixed in with the souvenirs which makes a good option for a quick bite.

The church

Once you’re all back in the mini van ask your driver if he will take you through the town to visit the church in the main plaza.  Our driver did this without us asking but be sure you don’t miss it as its well worth a visit. Iglesia San Pedro de Tiwanaku was built in the fifteen hundreds using blocks of red sandstone taken from the ruins of the ancient site.

The church displays symbolism of both the catholic faith and that of the old indigenous belief system and is a very good example of the way the locals were converted to the faith of the Spanish invaders, Catholicism.  Standing guard at the gates of the church, which were locked when we visited, are two monolithic stone figures.  These stone idols were found at the base of a mountain not too far from the town.  When we were there the church gates were locked so we couldn’t visit inside.   

Iglesia San Pedro de Tiwanaku
Iglesia San Pedro de Tiwanaku

Our view

For us this was must see attraction when we stayed in La Paz.  It is without doubt the most important archeological site in the country and is well worth a visit.  It’s not the most spectacular sites to visit nor unfortunately is it one of the best looked after.  It is however very interesting and next time it’s on the telly being linked to alien invasion you can say, Ive been there.

Booking resources for your visit to La Paz

Flights

You can compare cheap flights on the Expedia platform or here on the Aviasales website.  Both will give you a good idea of how much its going to cost you to get to your chosen destination.

Accommodation

We have always tended to use Booking.com having said that if your on a tight budget another good site to try as a comparison is Hostelworld, If your looking to compare different sites you can do that on Hotellook, we tend to look on here first to make sure we are getting the best deal.

Tours & Tickets

You can book your visits as you go at the entrance to your chosen attraction or site.  Or you could use the following links to book in advance or just to find out what your choices are in the area. GetYourGuide and Tiqets are our go to choices you could try Viator to see how they compare.

For a full list check out our resources page. Don’t forget always shop around to find the best deal for you. What works for us should be good for you but it’s always reassuring to check.

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