Although the ruins, which date as far back as 1500 BC, appear unimpressive at first—most of the area was covered by a huge landslide in 1945—underground you'll discover a labyrinth of well-ventilated corridors and chambers. They're illumined by electric lights that sometimes flicker or fail altogether—it's wise to bring your own flashlight. Deep inside the corridors you'll come upon the Lanzón de Chavín. This 4-meter-high (13-foot-high) daggerlike rock carving
represents a human-animal hybrid deity (complete with fangs, claws, and serpentine hair); it sits elegantly at the intersection of four corridors. It was built by the Chavín, one of the first civilizations in Peru, and little is known about this ancient culture, although archaeologists believe they had a complex religious system. The main deity is always characterized as a puma or jaguar. Lesser deities, represented by condors, snakes, and other animals, were also revered.
This is a fascinating archaeological site, on the southern edge of the tiny village of Chavín and accessible by a day trip from Huaraz. On the drive southeast from Huaraz you get good views of two Andean peaks, Pucaraju (5,322 meters/17,460 feet) and Yanamarey (5,237 meters/17,180 feet). Construction on the road may delay your journey, so check on conditions before setting out. Tours from Huaraz, lasting eight hours, visit the ruins, a small on-site museum, and the alpine Laguna de Querococha. The tour costs about S/70 per person, not including the entrance fee to the ruins. If you'd prefer to get here on your own, regular buses run between Huaraz and Chavín, and you can hire a guide at the entrance to the ruins.