The ruins of Chavin de Huantar are located to the east of the Cordillera Blanca, about 110km from Huaraz, and at an altitude of 3250m. This fortress-temple was constructed between 1200 and 300 BC and is the only large structure remaining from the Chavin culture. It is thought to have been a major ceremonial centre. In 1985 UNESCO designated it a World Heritage Trust Site.

Most visitors come here on a day trip from Huaraz. It is a long 4-hour drive along a largely unpaved twisting road, but things should improve in the future when the road is fully paved cutting the journey time in half. The most convenient way to visit Chavin is by means of an organized tour from Huaraz (Try Chavin or Pablo Tours). Prices cost around US$15 per person including entrance fees. Tours typically depart at 9am and return to Huaraz at about 8pm.

The Chavin are considered to be one of the most influential people to have lived in the Andes prior to the Incas (who arrived some 2000 years later). They were certainly one of the most sophisticated.

The site contains a large central square, slightly sunken below ground level, with an intricate system of channels for drainage. Much of the site comprises a series of underground chambers. A broad staircase leads up from the square to a large pyramid structure called the Castilla. In the heart of the underground complex is the crowning glory of the Chavin religion: a 5m-high carved rock known as the Lanzon. This dagger-like monolith depicts important deities worshipped by the Chavin culture: the Serpent, the Condor and the Feline (jaguar or puma).

Other important artefacts from within the temple, including the Tello Obelisk and the Raymondi Stela, were removed and are now housed at the Museo de la Nacion in Lima.