Southern Peru has been on my travel to-do list for years. I’ve always been intrigued by ancient monumental architecture and the area is littered with amazing sights. As if I needed more incentive to go, there was one more thing drawing me to the area – the sites make frequent appearances on the History Channel’s “Ancient Aliens.”
“Ancient Aliens,” if by some unfortunate circumstance you’re not familiar, is an incredible show that combines fascinating archeology, intriguing history, bogus credentials, tortured logic, rank speculation, and astounding hair to create the most entertaining hour of television possible. It even has its own drinking game.
The show’s primary theme is that the sheer scale of many ancient monumental sites demands a non-conventional explanation. The archeological sites that dot the landscape in the Cusco region are some of the show’s most common examples of supposedly-extraterrestrial architecture. Obviously, I couldn’t wait to check them out in person.
Saksaywaman is a massive military and ceremonial complex that crowns a summit overlooking Cusco. Initial construction began in the 1440s and continued for decades. While the site is huge, experts estimate that less than 20 percent of the original complex remains after the Spanish dismantled it to create colonial Cusco. Some of the stones lining the lower ramparts weigh in excess of 100 tons.
Ollanataytambo is one of the few Inca sites that escaped massive damage at the hands of the Spanish colonizers. As a result, it is the most well-preserved example of Inca town planning.
The most incredible feature is a phalanx of perfectly fitted 100+ ton stones perched high on a mountain side. Almost certainly created as bait for the future gang at “Ancient Aliens,” these stones were quarried from the opposite side of the valley, moved across a river, and up the hillside before being set in perfect alignment facing the town below. That’s a mind-boggling achievement, whether extraterrestrial or not.
Maccu Picchu is the crown jewel of Inca archeological sites. I skipped the highly touristed Inca Trail and took a train to Aguas Caliente (the town immediately below Machu Picchu) and then a 5:00am bus up to the site. Even as highly touted as it is, Maccu Picchu didn’t fail to impress in person. It is breathtaking and fully worthy of the acclaim.
Although not an archeological site, Cusco’s main museum contains a set of elongated skulls that are just as much fodder for the fantasists at “Ancient Aliens.” I buy the conventional explanation (head binding) and feel for the poor souls who had to endure that particular fashion statement.
Other Sites Near Cusco Not Featured on Ancient Aliens
I also made it to a few sites in the Cusco region that didn’t make the cut on “Ancient Aliens.”
Pisac is located at the head of the Sacred Valley that leads toward Machu Picchu. Like its more well known sister site, the Pisac fortress/religious site is located high on a mountain ridge over looking a picturesque valley.
Tambomachay was a resort for the Inca rulers. Located 8 km from Cusco, it was known as the “Baños del Inca.”
Puca Pucara, another site located just outside of Cusco, was a military and administrative center.
Maras is a working salt mine that began its service in pre-Incan times. The salty water issues from an underground spring and dries in a series of pans that cascade down the mountainside.
Moray is a fascinating Inca agricultural research center. The temperature difference between the highest and lowest levels is said to be 20 degrees. This has lead experts to speculate that the Inca used the site to test crops at different temperatures.