Chavin de Huantar: the enigmatic temple of the Peruvian Andes
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Chavin de Huantar: the enigmatic temple of the Peruvian Andes

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Chavin de Huantar: the enigmatic temple of the Peruvian Andes

The Chavín Archaeological Site is located in the province of Huari, Ancash Region. It developed between the years 1500 to 550 BC. It was an important ceremonial and religious center that attracted people from different parts of the Andean world to worship the gods that lived in it. It is made up of monumental buildings located on terraces around square and circular squares built with finely carved and sculpted stone blocks. The most relevant characteristic of Chavín, and one of the most outstanding attributes of its Outstanding Universal Value, is the complex system of internal galleries superimposed on various levels of the buildings, which served for the development of initiation and worship rituals. The exquisite iconography embodied in stone expresses and synthesizes the vision of the Chavín world and beautifully decorates the architecture.


Pre-Inca architectural jewel, this ceremonial center, more than three thousand years old, is the most important left by the Chavín culture. In its time, it was a great oracle where pilgrims came from various areas of the Andes who worshiped and showed their offerings to the gods.


When touring the temple, the great stone carving work that characterized the Chavín is verified, as can be seen in their particular sculptures. It is even said that Chavín de Huántar inspired the Incas many years later to build the sanctuary of Machu Picchu in Cusco.


Another point that impresses about this destination is that the sacred construction presents a complex network of paths and underground galleries only illuminated by sunlight that enter through small strategically located ducts, which represents a work of engineering of great excellence.


What is Chavin de Huantar?

Chavín de Huántar is an archaeological complex built by the Chavín culture between the 2nd and 1st centuries BC and used until 200 BC. C., when it was abandoned. This impressive place is located in the foothills of the Andes mountain range, at the point where the Mosna and Huacheqsa rivers meet.


The archaeological complex of Chavín de Huántar is the most important in the department of Áncash, in central Peru. This great architectural work had two temples, of which some of its parts are still preserved and in which you will find a mysterious network of labyrinths to lose yourself and feel like a true explorer.


In addition, Chavín de Huántar has ancient and very curious sculptures, among which the monolithic sandeel, the Raimondi stele, the Tello obelisk and the nice nail heads stand out. Some works of art that will leave you speechless!


Where is the Chavín de Huántar archaeological center located?

The Chavín de Huántar archaeological center is located in the Chavín de Huántar district, in the province of Huari, department of Áncash. The Chavines occupied the Andean region of Peru in the southwestern part of the Andes, at 3,150 meters above sea level.


In the foothills of the Cordillera Blanca, the Chavín empire developed thanks to the favorable conditions offered by the geography of the Conchucos alley. For them it was a sacred place and it was there that they erected the largest cult temple in the Andean world.


What characteristics does the Chavín de Huántar Temple have?

  • It is characterized by its stone sculpture in monoliths, cornices, nail heads, Obelisk Tello, Estela Raymondi and Lanzón Monolithic.
  • Its architecture is made up of sculpted rocks of white granite, quartzite and limestone. Its walls are made up of large stones surrounded by other small ones joined with clay mortar.
  • It is made up of two zones: the Old Temple and the New Temple. Both are made up of pyramids in the shape of a "U" and in their interiors they have narrow passageways or underground galleries that communicate with each other.

What is found in the Old Temple of Chavín?

The Old Temple or Old Temple, is the oldest pyramid in Chavín, dating from 850 BC. C. Inside you will find:

  • Galleries or narrow passageways.
  • Stone stairs.
  • Stone drain of approximately 500 meters.

In its most important gallery we find the Monolithic Lanzón, a 4.53 m granite monolith where the image of the Smiling God, the god of the “world below”, is carved.


What were the functions fulfilled by the Chavín temples?

The main functions of the Chavín temples were religious and administrative, being an important oracle where:

  • The priests of Chavín predicted seasonal climatic cycles.
  • Ceremonies or cults were performed.
  • Pilgrims made petitions to their divinities.
  • Offerings were made to the gods.

What was the importance of the Chavín temple?

The Chavín temple was of great importance as it was the religious and administrative headquarters of the Chavín theocratic society, where the priests ruled. It was the main oracle of its time in which the priests made climatic predictions and where pilgrims went to make requests and offerings.


What does Chavin de Huantar mean?

The words "Chavín" and "Huántar" come from Quechua:

  • Chavín: chawpi which means “in the middle”.
  • Huántar: waantar, refers to the Andean plant classified as Cortaderia rudiuscula Stapf.

Who was the discoverer of Chavín de Huántar?

The Peruvian archaeologist Julio César Tello found a nail head, this being the first vestige to discover the archaeological complex of Chavín de Huántar. Although before there were other people who mentioned the existence of this place, Tello highlighted the importance of Chavín de Huántar with important investigations.


The exciting history of Chavín de Huántar

The Chavín culture spread throughout much of the Peruvian coast between 1200 and 200 BC and established its center in the same place where they built Chavín de Huántar, in the department of Áncash.


Here, the Chavín developed their activities, mainly cultural, and built the magnificent archaeological complex that would lead them to be remembered and studied for centuries and centuries.


Chavín de Huántar, the great work of art of the Chavín, had one main task: to be one of the most important oracles in the entire country. Residents from different parts of Peru arrived here daily, who made their requests and offerings to the gods.


Among all the deities of Chavín de Huántar, one stood out: the monolithic sandeel, a sculpture in the shape of a spear, carved in granite and measuring more than four meters in height. In addition, the monolithic sandeel has three faces on which human and animal features are engraved. Now, to visit the monolithic sandeel, you will have to go through narrow and dark tunnels that give the deity a more mysterious touch.


In its heyday, Chavín de Huántar was made up of different buildings: the new temple, the old temple, the Tello pyramid, the circular plaza, the sunken rectangular plaza, the left arm and the right arm.


Nowadays, although many of these constructions have been partially lost, the magnificent work of archaeologists has made it possible for you to feel the grandeur of this place when you step foot in Chavín de Huántar and imagine what day-to-day life was like in this place.


In addition, the Chavín culture built a large number of underground tunnels here that hide many secrets to this day. So much so that just a year ago, in August 2018, the latest discovery of the complex was made: a series of underground corridors that hid various ceramic objects. Imagine everything that remains to be discovered in Chavín de Huántar!


Chavín de Huántar became a totally abandoned place in the year 200 BC, coinciding with the disappearance of the Chavín culture. But, luckily, the history of this complex came to light again thanks, mainly, to the Peruvian archaeologist Julio C. Tello.


Some researchers, such as the Italian Antonio Raimondi, who was the discoverer of the Raimondi stele, showed their interest in this place several centuries ago, but the complex was poorly cared for and explored. However, with the arrival of Tello, Chavín de Huántar began to flourish again.


Exactly 100 years ago, in 1919, while a road was being built, a nail head was discovered. This attracted archaeologists from all over the country, including Tello. Thus, the investigations of this place began, which have allowed us to learn a little more about this wonderful archaeological complex and all the secrets of the Chavín culture every day.


What can you see in the Architectural Complex?

Walking through the temple, you can appreciate the great stone carving work that characterized the Chavín family, as can be seen in their particular sculptures. It is also said that Chavín de Huántar was an inspiration for the Incas many years later to build the sanctuary of Machu Picchu in Cusco.



They are stone sculptures that represent human heads with bulging eyes, figures of snakes and fangs. They were nailed to the top of the outer wall of the New Temple. Some researchers consider that the function of these stone pieces was to serve as guardians of the ceremonial center. Currently, only one remains in its original position. The rest, about fifty, are in small deposits within the complex.


The Monolithic Lanzón

One of the best-known pieces from Chavín de Huántar is this stone sculpture that shows an anthropomorphic being with feline fangs, hands and feet with claws, and hair turned into snakes. The sandeel is four and a half meters high and is located in the deepest underground gallery of the 14 existing in the Old Temple. Due to its location, some archaeologists, such as the Polish Kryzsztof Makowsky, consider it to be the most important religious icon of the Chavín culture.


The Raimondi Stele

It was found by the Italian researcher Antonio Raimondi, in the middle of the 19th century. The polished granite sculpture represents the god of staffs, an anthropomorphic being with feline jaws and claws on his hands and feet, holding a sacred rod or staff in each hand. Above his head stands a kind of headdress in zoomorphic figures. Currently, it is in the National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology and History of Peru.


What does the Raimondi Stela mean?

The Raimondi Stela is a 1.98 m granite monolith located in the New Temple of Chavín de Huántar. It bears this name in honor of its scientific discoverer, the Italian geographer and naturalist Antonio Raimondi.


Its meaning is mythological because it represents an anthropomorphic divinity, the God of the Staffs, who has:

  • Feline fangs in his mouth.
  • Snakes sprouting from his head.
  • Hands and feet with claws.
  • Large staffs in their hands, decorated with figures of felines and snakes.
  • Two snake emerging from his waist.

It is interpreted that this god is an antecedent of the god Wiracocha, which gives an emblematic meaning to the Raimondi Stela.


How to get to Chavin?

To get to this complex, you have to travel approximately 500 km from Lima along the northern Pan-American highway. At kilometer 196 (at the height of Pativilca), you must take a detour and begin the ascent through winding roads to the town of Catac. There is another detour towards the town of Chavín.


From Lima:

From Lima to the Chavín Archaeological Site there are 434 km that can be traveled in just under 8 hours by car.


If you will go by public transport and you are a traveler looking to make the most of your money and time, this is the ideal option for you. The cheapest and most practical method is to take the bus from the large terminal in Plaza Norte. The journey takes about 8 hours and costs between S/.40 and S/.100. Try to travel at night, so you can sleep at that time and be ready for adventure in the morning.


From Huaraz:

The Chavín de Huántar Archaeological Site is 104 km, a little over 2 hours, from Huaraz, the capital of Ancash. In the city you can use the services of a tourism agency, the cost of the tours per person is between S/.50 and S/.60.


Another option is to take the local transportation services in Chavín de Huántar such as collective cars, the price of the ticket is around S/.20.


How much does the entrance to Chavín cost?

The cost of admission to the Chavín de Huantar Archaeological Site, including the visit to the Chavín National Museum, is:

  • Adults: S/ 15
  • Students: S/ 7
  • Schoolchildren: S/ 4

What days can you visit Chavin de Huantar?

You can visit the archaeological complex and museum of Chavín from Tuesday to Sunday, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. m. to 5:00 p.m. m. It also has a store and parking.


When is the best time to visit Chavin de Huantar?

You can visit the archaeological center at any time of the year without any problem, but according to the reports of the tourists themselves, the best time to visit is from mid-July to the end of September, when the weather is milder and it does not rain.


Others say that summer is ideal if you want amazing photos. Because in this period the rains keep all the vegetation green.


The data: the temperature can vary between 24°C to 7°C, but sometimes it can drop to 2°C.



  • Although Chavín de Huántar is open throughout the year, the best time to visit is from April to October, since during this season there is less rainfall.
  • To complete your visit to Chavín de Huántar, don't forget to visit the Chavín National Museum, located two kilometers north of the archaeological complex. Here you will find a large collection of ceramic and stone pieces and, most strikingly, several of the famous nail heads (only one remains in the archaeological complex).
  • Huaraz's weather can be unstable, so we recommend bringing both a raincoat and a sun hat.

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