Tiwanaku is a place of mystery. And what better location for a place of mystery than near Bolivia’s Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake – 13,000 feet above sea level and so vast there are places where no land is in sight. 90% of the lake's fish species are found nowhere else in the world.
Tiwanaku is so high up the air is hard to breathe. There are few trees. And yet impressive andesite stone structures, most notably the famed monolith known as the Gate of the Sun, mark the location of what is sometimes referred to as “America’s Stonehenge” and the remains of a city that was built before the Incas and is thought to have been the largest in pre-Columbian South America for five centuries. The Incas believed the world was created at this site.
Much of what once stood there was looted and carted off through the years. There are no written records. No one knows where Tiwanaku’s ancient inhabitants came from, or even how old the place is. Most now believe Tiwanaku was built around 2,000 years ago and abandoned about 1,000 years ago for reasons unknown, but others have estimated its age at over 10,000 years.
Perhaps Tiwanaku’s greatest mystery is how its multi-ton stones were transported to the site. They came from the other side of the lake, and yet there was insufficient timber to build boats. Some say the natives fashioned durable watercraft out of millions of tons of harvested reeds. Another mystery is why the stone complex is not located right on the shore of Titicaca. Maybe it once was, but lakes can shrink over time – or grow. (Yes, offshore ruins have been discovered beneath the waters of Titicaca.)
In short, if your idea of fun is to travel thousands of miles to visit the mysterious ruins of a remote ancient site built by people nobody knows anything about, Tiwanaku might be a good bet. But if you really want to be dumbfounded, bewildered, unnerved, astonished, astounded, and utterly blown away, you can wander over to the southwest portion of the Tiwanaku site to explore what may be the most mysterious place on the entire planet – Pumapunku.