Tours of the vestiges of ancient civilizations — which left the imprints of their rites and ceremonies, as well as those of their members’ daily lives — allows us to understand the development and spirituality of early peoples.
In Latin America, the remains of such civilizations are found in various parts of the continent, usually framed in beautiful natural settings. Visiting them helps one to sense the splendor of some of these civilizations lost in time.
Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Ecuador are among the countries that retain vestiges of pre-Columbian civilizations such as the Maya, the Inca and the Aztec. The Mayan city of Tikal, in Guatemala; the majestic ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru; and Chichen Itza, located in Yucatan, Mexico, and which are the ruins of the most important capital of the Mayan culture, are among the most representative sites on the continent.
In various sites, Ecuador also retains the remains and foundations of important pre-Inca civilizations. We offer you a tour of the most famous and most visited by archaeologists and tourists alike.
The Tulipe Archeological Site-Museum (Northwest of Quito)
Situated 43 miles (70 km) northwest of Quito, this is one of the greatest archaeological finds in Ecuador, as it the traces of the pre-Inca Yumbo civilization (800 to 1660 AD).
The Tulipe-Site Museum will transport you in time – to the beginning of the last millennium, more specifically. Aqueducts, swimming pools, ceremonial “tola” mounds, petroglyphs and stone paths enable us to deduce the tremendous astronomical, geometric and architectural legacy left to us by the Yumbo civilization.
The museum’s most important mound is a ceremonial center that consists of eight large rock structures linked to aqueducts. These structures were used by the Yumbo to develop purification rites, to worship their gods and to determine the time.
These ruins are surrounded by a natural environment of rivers and various trails that lead to places possessing mystical airs. There, visitors will be surprised by the complex shapes of the petroglyphs.
The trails through and around this ancient site have endured over time. According to archaeologists and historians, these were used as a means of connecting what is today Ecuador’s mountainous Sierra region to the Pacific coast.
Using multimedia educational technology, the Tulipe Site-Museum recounts the history of the Yumbo civilization. The contents of these materials are the result of 25 years of research into the everyday life and significance of this pre-Inca culture, coming to understand it as an advanced organizational, spiritual and architectural development.
Hours & Admission:
Open: Wednesday through Sunday, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Admission: $3 USD Adults; $1 USD students, seniors, children and people with disabilities
The Cochasquí Ruins (Pichincha Province)
The Cochasqui archaeological and research park, located in Pedro Moncayo Canton (Pichincha Province), covers an area of approximately 200 acres (80 hectares). Situated at over 1.86 miles above sea level (3,000 meters), this is a perfect vantage point for observing volcanic summits of such as those of the Cerro Puntas, Cotopaxi, Ilinizas, Pichincha and the Quinche volcanoes.
The site retains tremendous historical and cultural wealth, expressed in the vestiges of the pre-Inca Quitu-Cara people, who inhabited a vast region that extended from the Pacific coast to the Amazon, and from north of the Pichincha Volcano (modern Quito) to southern Colombia.
Fifteen pyramids and more than twenty burial mounds, a botanical garden and an archaeological museum allow one to understand and interpret the solar culture of this civilization.
Located 32 miles (52 km) north of Quito, Cochasqui is a temple full of mystery. Several theories compete among scientists, archaeologists and historians to explain what this site might have been during its heyday. Some argue it could have been an astronomical observatory or a necropolis. For others, it was a religious site, while still others assert that it was a military training area, given the more than 500 human skulls that have been found here.
In addition to pyramids and burial mounds, Cochasquí Archaeological Park consists of walls, terraces, artificial lakes, canals and roads – including the well-traveled “Qhapaq Ñan” (known to us as the Inca Trail).
In and around this archaeological site live wild llamas, skunks, wolves, rabbits, partridges, doves, condors, eagles and cougars. One can also observe the native vegetation, which includes trees like the puma maqui, myrtle, Sacha-pink cloak, alder and orchids. Remember that the 15 km. road-marker is where you need to turnoff to reach Lake Mojanda and the partially collapsed Fuya Fuya volcano.
To reach Cochasquí, you will have to take the Pan-American Highway. At the 52 km road marker, after you reach the toll booth, you will have to take the detour to Cochasquí, though you can also reach the site from the cantons of Mojanda, Tocachi or Malchingu.
Lodging can be found in the city of Otavalo, famous worldwide for its indigenous market and handicrafts, or in the nearby city of Ibarra.
Hours & Admission:
Open: Cochasquí Archaeological Park can be visited every day of the year from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Admission: $3 USD for foreigners, $1 USD for nationals, $0.50 USD for students and $0.20 USD for children and the elderly.
The Ingapirca Ruins (Cañar Province)
South of Ecuador, on a plateau in Cañar Province, are found the ruins that make up the Ingapirca Archaeological Complex.
Only 50 miles (80 km) from the beautiful and culture-rich city of Cuenca, these pre-Columbian ruins were built by members of the Cañar people to serve as a ceremonial and trade center.
What remains of Ingapirka (a word meaning “Inca wall”) may have been a sun and moon observatory, as well as a center for conducting religious rituals and carrying out military strategies, according to some scientific explanations. The building, which is of Inca-Canari origin, was built by direct order of the Inca leader Huayna Capac during wars of territorial expansion.
The environment around these majestic ruins consists of Curuquinga and Bueran highlands to the east and south, and a string of mountains to the west. It is said that the Canar civilization chose this land to build these temples as this site was on the route that ran between Ecuador and Peru.
Large ceramic findings have helped to date these ruins to around 500 B.C.
You can enjoy these places on a one-day visit, and then stay in the beautiful and culture-rich city of Cuenca, a UNESCO-declared “World Heritage Site.”
Hours & Admission:
Open: Every day (Monday to Sunday), from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Entrance fee: $5 USD
Agua Blanca Commune (Manabí Province)
Located about 9 miles (15 km) north of the coastal town of Puerto Lopez, in Ecuador’s Manabi Province, the Aguablanca commune is an archaeological site embedded in a beautiful natural setting.
Part of the Machalilla National Park, the commune has been transformed into a museum as it reveals vestiges of the Machalilla civilization and the Manteña culture.
Ruins of temples, squares and houses of the Manteña culture (1500 BC), as well as funeral urns and pottery, especially from domestic and ceremonial use, can be seen in this museum. All of this gives visitors an idea of what the everyday life and culture of these ancient inhabitants was like.
Walking along the banks of the Buenavista River, you can discover a settlement that contains the remains of temples, squares and houses of the Manteña culture. Ancient ceramic fragments can even be found all along the way.
Also found here is a lake that is high in sulfur, which is another attraction for those who visit the commune. The concentrations of sulfur that emanate from an underground volcanic formation into a natural lagoon are said to give those waters certain healing properties.
Hours & Admission:
Open: Daily from 8:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Admission: $5 USD
Pumapungo Complex (City of Cuenca)
In the heart of the city of Cuenca, in its historic district in fact, you can find an archaeological park that was built in the late 15th century.
These are the ruins of what, according to some archaeologists and historians, was one of the most impressive cities of the Inca Empire. Found here are the “Temple of the Sun” and the “Temple of the Sun Virgins.” Also part of this complex is the “Tomebamba Temple.”
During work conducted over the last two decades, various ceramic materials, metal, shells and bones have been recovered, which can be seen in the museum and evidence that society’s developed and complex organization.
In this place was founded the city of Tomebamba, which was destroyed before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors. However, these colonialists later built their churches on top of the foundations of the preceding indigenous temples. It is said that this city was the birthplace of the son of the Inca leader Hayna Capac, and that this standing earned the site a sacred status.
In the Pumapungo Archaeological Park, you can also see the entrance to a tunnel thirty that runs meters underground. Studies have determined that this served as a mausoleum and that it symbolized the spirit world. All of this was part of the complex and profound worldview of the people who inhabited what is now the country’s most important archaeological site.
If you visit the Pumapungo Complex, you can stay in the beautiful city of Cuenca, built with features similar to those of the city of Cuenca, Spain.
Hours & Admission:
From Monday to Sunday, 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Admission: $5 USD
Rumicucho (“Middle of the World” Park)
“Cornerstone” is the meaning of the Kichwa word “rumicucho.” Archaeological ruins of this same name are located north of the city of Quito, and they offer us a clear view of a temple that was dedicated to the Sun God.
From its privileged location, on a peak where you can see La Marca Hill and the Cayambe Volcano, these ruins form an east-west horizontal line at the precise location that the sun crosses during its equinox.
It is believed that Rumicucho was one of the most important temples for worshiping the “Star King.” Covering an area larger than 300 meters long and 75 meters wide, the ruins are made up of five pyramid-shaped stone terraces.
During clashes between the native people and the Incas, this place served as a military and logistical support structure due to its strategic location. Today, like footprints, what remain are roads, bridges and temples; structures that — according to historians — were also used as an Inca military fort.
Rumicucho is a charming place with wonderful views where you can learn about these ancient peoples and their traditions while learning about the development and knowledge of ancestral cultures. What’s more, all of this is surrounded by a wonderful natural environment.
Hours & Admission:
Hours: Monday to Sunday, 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Admission: $4 USD