Chavin de Huantar is the largest ruin from the Chavin culture in Peru, and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. It lies on the outskirts of the village of Chavin, at 3,140m (10,302 feet). It is a 2.5 hour, 106 km (66 mile) drive from Huaraz - or a three-day hike - across the Cordillera Blanca.
The Chavin is a mid-Andean culture which emerged around 1200 B.C., lasted a thousand years, and was known for its highly-stylized stonework depicting feline deities such as jaguars and pumas, and less important serpents, condors, and human figures. The Chavin artistry influenced much of central Peru, from the highlands to the coast, in what archaeologists term the Early Horizon.
The main features of the site are a large, three-tiered temple, fronted by a huge courtyard. A landslide in 1945 buried the courtyard and lower temple. Excavation has revealed elaborate and advanced drainage systems in the courtyard, and superbly-engineered passages and ventilation ducts inside the temple, named the Castillo (castle).
At one time, puma head-shaped keystones on the temple walls gazed out into the surroundings; now, only one remains on its walls. The rest are stacked up inside the temple, in the on-site museum, or museums elsewhere.
The most remarkable feature is the Lanzón de Chavín, a slender, 4.5 m (15 foot) high, intricately-carved stele (upright stone slab, often serving as a gravestone) standing in the midst of tortuous, underground passageways within the Castillo. (Two other stelae from Chavin are now in Lima’s Museo de la Nación.)