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Tiwanaku: The holy city of the Incan God

Now in ruins, but still appealing; the ancient city of Tiwanaku is said to be the home of a vital pre-Incan colony that ruled between 500 and 900 AD in the Andean terrain. The city ruins are scattered very close to the famous Lake Titicaca’s southern shore in Bolivia. Because the lake was revered as the place of emergence of the main Incan deity Viracoca and the fact that Tiwanaku is so close by together made the Incas to believe that this town was created by their deity. Today, this holy city is the home of monumental as well as cultural relics in form pyramids, monolith sculptures, temples, exemplary gates, and above all, the mysterious alien-like faces that attract thousands of explorers here.

The lofty colossal temples, heavy basalt as well as sandstone slabs, and minutely detailed carvings indicate that this city was built by some of the best artisans as well as builders of that time. Among all the monuments, the most skillfully built is the Akapana Pyramid built upon a former edifice. Rising in the shape of approximate square, the pyramid’s flat top boasts a middle portion that is a hollow oval believed to be rendered so by the digging of the Spanish invaders. However, there are other archaeologists claiming that this hollow part was used for storing water and so was purposely carved in that shape. On the whole, today, this pyramid is no longer left appealing due to much theft of its stones for making the local homes and churches.


The nest highlight is the Kalasasaya Temple in Tiwanaku – a zone of ceremonies in the north of pyramid. At its giant entrance, the edges boast two monolithic uprights and you then enter into its courtyard followed by the ruins of the priests’ chambers from the refurbished portico. The walls of the sanctuary are made using the big red sandstone as well as andesite chunks, while the platform is raised by the use of the same stones affixed precisely. Inside the temple, you will spot a few extra secondary platforms that hold some additional monoliths including the El Fraile that stands for ‘the Priest’.

Known as the Gateway of the Sun, the Puerta del Sol is the northwest corner, whose peculiarity is that it is constructed using a single andesite block rendering the gateway quite lofty in weight. As the name indicates, this monument is related to the sun god and is assumed to be used as a predictor of day, date, month, and year. Fully drenched in bas-relief designs, the structure’s one side boasts a carving of a deity, whereas the other side has the four deep alcoves for gathering the offerings. Besides the dedication to the Sun, the people here also seem to be devoted to the moon because of the Puerta de la Luna that is also called as the Gateway of the Moon. Nestled near to the temple’s western end, this is a similar gate as of the sun, but is adorned with the animal designs.

To the east of Kalasasaya’s entrance in Tiwanaku, the Templete Semisubterraneo exists – the rarest one of its kind. This semi-subterranean temple is assumed to be the emblematic portrayal of the Underworld due to which many assume that the Kalasasaya is the symbolic representation of the Earth. This temple of underworld of red sandstone boasts a courtyard in the shape of hollow rectangle as well as walls with over 100 carvings of human faces that seem to be the modern alien sketches. So, it is obvious that several rumors have been spread regarding these interesting works of art!

Check for an extensive rectangular, but yet to be fully excavated area named as Putuni or Palacio de los Sarcofagos in the west of Kalasasaya. At its eastern end, a sculpted rubble pile named Kantatayita can be seen with different geometrical patterns.

When to come

It is solely on the day of winter solstice – June 21 – when the Aymara New Year (Machaj Mara) is celebrated attracting thousands of visitors. The main draw is the spectacle of the rising sun rays shimmering across the east temple entrance. Expect fair, parties, and many locals in colorful traditional robes.

How to come

For 21 June celebration, take a special bus from La Paz at somewhere around 4 am and you will reach the site well before sunrise at 6 am at a cost of Bs15.


9:00 am to 4:30 pm.


Do also visit the site of Puma Punku in the south across the railroad tracks where you will spot several heavy megaliths. This site is also known as the Gateway of the Puma.