You don’t have to be a history buff to appreciate the wonders of ancient times and their remains in the present. Many sites, from Macchu Picchu to the Pyramids, are also located in striking and breathtakingly beautiful landscapes. Every continent has its special, atmospheric sites that attract thousands of tourists in their every year. Like eco-tourism, archaeo-tourism is not only a pleasurable and exciting holiday option, but it puts something back. Revenues from archaeo-tourists often make the difference between preservation and decay. Here is a selection of some of the many notable ancient wonders, including some less famous sites, that the archaeo-tourist can visit in the Americas (listed from south to north).
This legendary Inca terraced settlement that flourished for almost a hundred years lies ninety kilometres east of the Peruvian city of Cuzco in the highlands of the Andes Mountains. An American archaeologist rediscovered the remains of homes, gardens, temples and granite steps in 1911. It was probably either a defensive outpost of the Inca Empire or a retreat for one of the most powerful Inca emperors. If you want to visit, you need to book in advance – tourism has been restricted to prevent damage caused by visitor traffic.
Less well known but as impressive, Chan Chan’s complexes of sunbaked mudbrick buildings are the largest in the world, once housing over 25 000 people. Also in Peru, it adjoins the northern city of Trujillo. This capital of a pre-Columbian state dates to the five hundred years before the rise of Machu Picchu. It was eventually conquered by the Incas in 1460. Walls and the civic buildings where the elite received people were adorned with designs, depictions of marine creatures and images of civic life.
A lesser known site, Copán, in Honduras, is a Mayan city of the middle to late first millennium AD. Its fame today is due to its buildings and temples with fabulous sculpture work, carved stucco facades (once probably also painted) and elaborately sculpted stelae (columns). Tunnels have been dug in parts of the site and visitors can explore them. The site lies about 250 kilometres to the east of Guatemala City.
Half an hour or so north of Mexico City, the great city of Teotihuacán was established in about 100 AD and endured for 600 years. It is famous for its temples (such as the great Pyramid of the Sun) and the frescoes that adorned its public buildings. Hundreds of young men offered as human sacrifices have been uncovered from the Temple of the Feathered Serpent.
The site of Mesa Verde, Colorado, was proclaimed a national park by Theodore Roosevelt a century ago and is now a World Heritage site. In fact, the park contains several thousand archaeological sites, most famously its spectacular sandstone buildings nestling beneath overhanging cliffs. They were made by the Ancestral Pueblo people ( ‘Anasazi) from about 700-1200 AD and include massive ‘apartment buildings’. The Cliff Palace has 150 rooms and religious areas called kivas. Ramble through the park or take a guided tour through America’s early history.
L’Anse aux Meadows:
Christopher Columbus didn’t discover the Americas. The Vikings got there first, establishing a settlement in Newfoundland, Canada in the 11th century AD. Eight houses – probably timber frames covered in turf – as well as a carpenter’s workshop and a forge show that they lived there for maybe three decades, almost five hundred years before the Spanish got to the New World. Three of the Norse buildings have been rebuilt for the benefit of visitors. The site can be visited in summer.
The Americas are filled with other exciting sites, from the famous sites of Chichen Itza (Maya)and Tenochtitlan (Aztec) to others less famous but as extraordinary: sites like Kotosh, Monte Alban, Huaca de la Luna and Palenque. Archaeo-tourism is for lovers of Indiana Jones movies, culture vultures and lovers of the outdoors alike.