This ancient site was home to one of the region’s richest pre-Columbian cultures. Visually it isn’t as impressive as Machu Picchu, but the Tiwanaku had a massive influence on the empires that would follow and to this day their aesthetics are mirrored in Bolivian Aymara design. They were architectural masters, building with giant monoliths that weigh up to 25 tons and were brought from some 40 miles away. The site's most impressive monument is the 10-ton La Puerta del Sol (Gate of the Sun), an imposing stone fixture believed to be a solar calendar. At their peak between 600 and 800 AD the city grew to up to 30,000 people, although newer evidence points to much larger cities with perhaps hundreds of thousands of people living in the area. Drastic climate change around 950 AD brought a rapid decline to their largely peaceful empire and by 1200 AD the cities were almost completely abandoned.
Start your visit with the museum next to the ruins. It displays artifacts found at the
sight, the most spectacular of which is a 20-ton, 7.3-meter- (24-foot-) tall monolithic statue sculpted out of red sandstone. The monolith was discovered by an American, Wendell C. Bennett, during excavations in 1934, and since then had been on display in an open-air garden museum in La Paz, where it was being seriously eroded by weather. It was returned to Tiwanaku when the new indoor museum opened in 2002.
Admission to the ruins and the museum is (Bs)70 and guides are available at the entrance for (Bs)70 - 100. There are various companies offering complete tours from La Paz. Bring a warm sweater or poncho—the area is frequently windy and cold, as there are no trees to break the wind. It is worth spending a night nearby to appreciate the stark, empty landscape and soak up some marvelous peace and quiet. If you are in La Paz in June, go out to the site for dawn on the day of summer solstice; it's a moving experience.