Southern Highlands

Ecuador’s best-preserved archaeological site, Ingapirca, with its semi-intact temple, grazing llamas and open fields, is definitely worth a stopover if you are headed this way. The ruins were originally used by the Cañari people as an observatory. The strategic site was later taken over and developed by the Inca during the 15th century as a military stronghold.

Unfortunately, the Spanish carted away much of Ingapirca’s stone to build nearby cities. What’s left of the site is still important to the indigenous Cañari, and they now control the administration of the ruins and the museum (admission included) displaying Inca and Cañari artifacts.

The centerpiece of the site is the Temple of the Sun, a large structure that was originally used for ceremonies and solar observation. Nearby, signs point to pits called colcas (used to store food) and to the acllahuasi, the place where the ceremonial, and ultimately sacrificial, virgins lived. The trapezoidal niches you see in the stonework are identical to those found in other ruins, such as Machu Picchu in Peru and San Agustín de Callo near Latacunga.

Agencies in Cuenca organize day trips to the site, starting at $50 per person. Serious hikers won’t want to miss the three-day Camino del Inca trek.

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