A view of the Temple of the Sun

Ecuador’s Machu Picchu: Ingapirca

Everyone knows about Machu Picchu. It is now one of the seven new wonders of the world. There are more than half a million tourists from around the world that visit the famous site near Cusco, Peru every year. Machu Picchu is one, and the most famous, of the ruins from the Incan Empire which ruled from its capital of Cusco from the early 15th century until the Spanish invasion in 1532. However, what lots of people don’t know, is that the Incan Empire stretched as far to the north as the current capital of Ecuador: Quito. Therefore, there are numerous sets of Incan ruins throughout the country of Ecuador. The most famous of these is known as Ingapirca.

I can honestly say that I had never heard of the Ingapirca ruins when I arrived in Ecuador. The first time that I heard of it was when I was in the adrenaline town of Banos. I was working out the best way to get to the southern city of Cuenca when someone told me that I shouldn’t miss the opportunity to stop off at Ingapirca on the way. A very quick google search told me that Ingapirca is a set of Incan ruins that is often overlooked by tourists, and that was enough to make me interested in going.

I have to admit, it is not the easiest place to get to. It is situated about 50 miles (80km) north of the city of Cuenca, right in the Ecuadorian countryside. There are buses directly from Cuenca each day, but these do not run that often and if you miss your bus, it will require a detour through either Canar or Tambo to get from Cuenca to Ingapirca. There are also tours available from Cuenca that go with an English speaking guide, something that I would recommend as very few of the guides at the site itself speak great English. I was lucky enough to hire a bus in Banos with a number of other fellow backpackers with the instructions that on our way to Cuenca, we wanted to stop off at Ingapirca.

So, we set of from Banos early in the morning on our way to Cuenca, via Ingapirca. It was afternoon by the time we arrived.

The site itself actually predates the Incas. It was originally a Canari settlement, and this difference is something that you can see as you walk around the site. The Canari used a form of mortar to glue the rocks in their buildings together whereas the Incas are famous for their ability to cut rocks to fit perfectly together without any form of glue.

The most spectacular part of the ruins that still stands is the Incan Temple of the Sun. It stands right in the centre of the ruins and is built using the traditional Incan technique. During the time of the Incas, the Temple of the Sun was the most important building in any settlement. It was the centre of the Incan religion. Here was where the infamous human and animal sacrifices would have taken place in order to please the Incan gods.

Ingapirca is very much a forgotten site. Spending the afternoon walking around the ruins, I probably saw as many llamas as I did fellow tourists. It’s something that adds to the experience. Whereas at larger sites, especially Machu Picchu, you are in competition with the hundreds or thousands of other tourists for photos and space. At Ingapirca you have all the time and space that you could want to explore the ruins, all for the very affordable entry fee of $2.

As someone who has studied aspects of South American history, Ingapirca is, in my opinion, somewhere that is overlooked by other travellers. It certainly isn’t as grand as Machu Picchu, but it is far quieter and, in some ways, far more authentic. Of course, it isn’t one of the seven wonders of the world and definitely isn’t somewhere that people will have on their bucket list. However, with that being said, any backpackers who are travelling through Ecuador should certainly not miss out on Ingapirca.  

Image Credit: Cayambe via Wikimedia Commons