Chankillo Archaeoastronomical Complex
The Chankillo Archaeoastronomical Complex is an archaeological site occupied between 500 and 200 BC and having ritual, astronomical, administrative and defensive functions.
The most outstanding construction is a series of 13 stone towers built on the crest of a hill, allowing the date to be known on any given day and to follow the movements of the sun throughout its annual cycle. It is believed to be the oldest astronomical complex in the Americas.
Map of Chankillo Archaeoastronomical ComplexLoad map
I made it a goal to visit all of the UNESCO sites in Peru and as many of the tentative sites as I could during a five-week trip in 2014. Of all of the sites, Chankillo was by far the most challenging to visit because of the lack of infrastructure and information online. When I saw that it's being put forward for a nomination in the near future, I figured it was time for a review.
Chankillo is an astronomical complex in western Peru, about half way between Trujillo and Lima. It's claimed to be the oldest astronomical site in the Western hemisphere, at over 2000 years old. There are some ruins of various buildings, but the highlight are 13 notched towers (with twelve spaces in between) that were used to measure the place where the sun rises and sets on the horizon to determine the approximate date of the year. I highly recommend going at sunset or sunrise so you can see the phenomenon yourself. (Although I went at dawn, it was a cloudy day, so I didn't actually get to see it myself.)
The site was not well marked, and so I went by a tour, which I'd highly recommend. I'm not sure I could have even found the exact site in the desert with a rental car, and there was no signage or explanations available at the time. Moreover, the tour was with a local company and with a local archeologist (details in the logistics section below), so I felt good about supporting the local economy.
Logistics: The site is just outside the town of Casma. Casma is on the main bus lines on the west coast from Lima to Trujillo, so getting there by one of the big bus companies that caters to tourists should not be difficult.
I organized a tour of the site through a local company in Casma that I found through TripAdvisor, Akela Tours. They arranged an archeologist to give a tour in Spanish. (They also offered a translator, but I speak enough Spanish to get by.) The tour was at sunrise so you could see the sun rising over the site. The company was very helpful overall and I would highly recommend!
Because I was trying to pack in a whole lot in a short period, I actually arranged form Akela tours to pick me up from the Lima airport, stop in Caral Supe on the way (only about an hour detour off the highway), leave me in Casma to overnight, and then take the sunrise tour of Chankillo the next morning. After the tour of Chankillo, I hopped in a collectivo to go over the mountains to Huaraz, where I visited Huascaran National Park. The alternates would have been (1) to do a daytrip to Caral Supe from Lima and then head to Casma on an overnight bus or (2) to take two days to get to Caral Supe and then Casma by public transport.
2021 Name change
From "Chankillo Solar Observatory and ceremonial center" to “Chankillo Archaeoastronomical Complex” upon inscription (on the advice of ICOMOS).
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