The birth of a civilisation

Historians believe that civilisation started in just a few places on the planet. You have probably heard of some of them… but what about this place?

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


Caral-Supe, Peru

The ancient city of Caral in Peru was the oldest civilisation in the Americas. If you’re planning to visit Caral from Lima, here’s everything you need to know.

Almost five thousand years ago, humankind came together in a way never seen before. We began to turn our backs on the traditional hunter gatherer form of survival.

Tribal communities based around families began to form into larger hierarchical systems. The techniques to build permanent structures were developed. And the worship of deities was taken to a new level.

Civilisations were being born – and one of the first was Caral in Peru.

Getting to Caral Supe, Peru
Getting to Caral Supe, Peru

I find it a bit strange the way this happened almost simultaneously (in the grand scheme of human history) around the world – but just in a few select places. Experts debate whether this happened independently or whether the idea spread across the world. Regardless, it was the dawn of a new era for mankind.

Getting to Caral Supe, Peru

In the Americas, it was on the coast of what is now Peru that the first cradle of civilisation emerged in about 2600BC. On a site called Caral, these ancient people with bountiful food on hand in the rich ocean, rose at around the same time as five other major civilisations.

Getting to Caral Supe, Peru

Caral was eerily similar to some of the other great cultures growing at the same time. They built stone pyramids here, for instance, at exactly the same time that the Egyptians were building their much more famous counterparts.

But there were also differences. No artwork adorned the structures of Caral in Peru. Unlike in Egypt or Mesopotamia, the people of Caral did not seem to have the same aesthetic tastes (or knowledge).

There is no evidence they made or used ceramics, another key utensil and form of artwork in other civilisations. But they did have textiles.

Getting to Caral Supe, Peru

In fact, the textiles were for more than just clothing and decoration. It’s believed the people of Caral also used textiles as their form of writing. Strings of different lengths with knots in various places is one way they could have communicated.

Getting to Caral Supe, Peru

If this new advanced culture was not famous for art or ceramics, it was its architecture that was its strength. The same grand pyramids and temples of worship that were built here thousands of years ago are still partly standing around me on the day I visit.

They don’t just prove that the Caral civilisation was advanced enough to build these large monuments – it also shows that they had an advanced religious ideology. The pyramids and other important structured would certainly have been used for worship and other ceremonies.

What is Caral-Supe?

Caral-Supe is an ancient city that was founded near the coast of Peru about 5000 years ago. It was the first civilisation in the Americas and was extremely complex for its time. It was abandoned thousands of years ago but the ruins have been well preserved and you can visit Caral today.

How old is Caral-Supe?

Caral-Supe was founded in about 3000 BC and was in use for about 1200 years until approximately 1800 BC when it was abandoned. It appears it was occupied during two later periods – about 1000 BC and about 900-1400 AD – but these settlements didn’t disturb the ancient structures.

What is important about Caral-Supe?

The reason Caral-Supe is so important is that it emerged as a civilisation at the same time as five other unrelated places around the world. It was the oldest civilisation in the Americas but, perhaps more importantly, it was also very advanced. When you visit Caral you will see what remains of pyramids, palace-like residences, and ceremonial monuments.

Although Caral-Supe is not one of the most famous sights in the country, I think it’s one of the most interesting places to visit in Peru. There’s a fascinating story behind it and there’s much more to see than you might expected for something that is 5000 years old!

Visiting Caral, Peru

It’s worth pointing out at this point that it is not simple to get to Caral. For a World Heritage Site and a place that is officially the oldest city in the Americas, there is little infrastructure to help visits for independent travellers.

There are a couple of private tours that go to Caral from Lima and if you would like to book in advance then I would suggest having a look at one of these options:


The private tours to Caral are expensive if you’re on your own, though. So, if you would like to do it independently, I have some practical advice for getting to Caral-Supe.

How do you get to Caral from Lima?

To get from Lima to Caral-Supe, there are a few steps and none of them is particularly easy, unfortunately.

Firstly, you’ll need to get a bus from Lima to a city called Barranca, about 190 kilometres north of Lima. There are a few bus companies that do this route but, annoyingly, they each leave from their own bus station. The trip takes 3-4 hours.

I would suggest checking the timetables for the best departure at the local options of either Turismo Barranca or Trans Sol Barranca. You should also be able to find one of the larger companies that passes through, by using the directory at RedBus.

Getting to Caral Supe, Peru

Once you get to Barranca, ask around for where you can catch a collectivo to Caral. If you’ve managed to get off the bus at Supe, just before Barranca, you may find more options.

A collectivo is essentially a shared taxi, so you’ll need to wait until all the seats are full before it will leave. It should cost you about 10 sold (US$3) per person. If you prefer, you could negotiate a price for the whole taxi. The return trip should cost about 100 sols (US$30).

It would also be worth asking the collectivo taxi to wait for you at the Caral site, because there is only limited transport back to Barranca. When you get to Barranca, you’ll find getting a bus back to Lima will be easier, though, because they all leave from the same station and you can just get the first one that comes.

If you’re going to continue travelling north and don’t want to go back to Lima, or if you prefer not to rush and just stay in Barranca the night, there are a few accommodation options.

Where should you stay in Barranca?

For a good cheap and comfortable room, I would suggest either Hospedaje Lucia or, closer to the main street, Hostal Wills.
For something a bit nicer that even has a pool, Hotel Chavin is your best bet.

Here’s some other practical information for visiting Caral-Supe that you may find useful. It’s worth being a bit prepared because it’s not the easiest place to visit.

You should take everything you’ll need because you may not be able to buy anything. So that definitely includes water and sunscreen, because you’ll be standing out in the sun for at least an hour.

Where is Caral-Supe?

The site of Caral is about 190 kilometres north of Lima, and about 25 kilometres east of Supe. You can see it on a map here.

When is Caral-Supe open?

Caral-Supe is open every day from 09:00 – 16:00. The last tour (which is mandatory) begins at about 14:30.

How much does it cost to visit Caral-Supe?

Entry to Caral-Supe costs 11 sols (US$2.90) for an adult and just 1 sol (US$0.30) for a concession. But you’ll also need to pay 4 sols (US$1.20) for a guided tour, which is mandatory and in Spanish.

You can find out more information at the official website here.

So, as well as being quite difficult to get to, it’s also not the best visitor experience. The tour of Caral is compulsory but it is only in Spanish, for instance.

So you have to pay for it (it’s a fairly minor 4 soles) and then follow the group around the site, even if you can’t understand what’s being said. Annoyingly, when I visited, I also had to wait 30 minutes until there were enough people to start the tour.

Getting to Caral Supe, Peru

But, let’s put all of this aside because it’s the kind of thing you come across in Peru quite often and is just part of the experience.

What’s really important is the significance of the structures here at Caral. The pyramids are not as large as the famous Egyptian ones at Giza but clearly as much relative skill went into building them, considering this was almost 5000 years ago.

Getting to Caral Supe, Peru

They haven’t been as well preserved and were, in fact, only discovered in 1948. But you can still see enough of the impressive structures to imagine how they would have dominated this plain at a time when there was nothing else on this continent like it.

Getting to Caral Supe, Peru

The tour takes about an hour and as we walk from pyramid to pyramid, I understand just a few words of the guide’s Spanish explanations. What I comprehend better is the layout of Caral and how this was more than just a few structures haphazardly raised by simple people.

These were quite literally the building blocks of a civilisation still in its cradle but about to inspire millennia of cultures in one of the most fascinating countries on this planet.


This site is on the UNESCO World Heritage List!
I'm on a mission to visit as many World Heritage Sites as I can. Only about 800 more to go... eek!

9 thoughts on “The birth of a civilisation”

  1. What an effort to get there. I hope it was worth it. I look forward to the post you suggested about the lack of infrastructure to visit some UNESCO sites.

    • Well, it was worth it because of the significance of the site. And it was also pretty interesting to look at. it’s not as spectacular as the Egyptian Pyramids from the same time but I still marvel at how people could build something like this 5000 years ago!

    • Yeah, you’ve got a point. When you compare the aesthetics of the two places, it’s like comparing Michelangelo to my preschool finger-painting. But I really like sites that have meaning and significance. When you start to look at the ruins (and some are in quite good condition) and think about how many thousands of years ago people built these and held ceremonies in them, it’s pretty cool. Maybe if it was easier to get to, more people would have the opportunity to appreciate the history.

  2. Fantastic site to visit perhaps more so because it feels like you are one of the explorers too. The journey to get there and back is an experience in itself. You could see that they are beginning to make efforts to cater for tourists. There are many boards of information but only in Spanish. Same with the guided tour, Spanish only. They guide didn’t even seem keen in our English speaking guide translating. There are at least 6 pyramids on the site and even more in settlements along the Supe Valley. It reminded me of Egypt with the lush green valley surrounded by amazing history. And of course it is so similar in age. Three of us shared a vehicle with hakutours. Expensive if you travel on your own, but not bad in a group. Funny that Im writing this in 2017 … not much has changed!

    • I was really surprised there wasn’t more infrastructure for foreign tourists – especially considering it is a World Heritage Site. But, yeah, at least it gives you that fun feeling of feeling like an intrepid explorer, rather than just a tourist walking around with hundreds of other people. I’m pleased you enjoyed visiting it too!

  3. From Huaraz, take a colectivo near the stadium (S/. 50). It takes 3.5 hours to reach Barranca. Be warned that the drivers drive insanely fast and dangerously. Once you arrive in Barranca, hire a private taxi for the round-trip ride to Caral and back to Barranca. Word of advice – do not go with colectivo to Caral. Otherwise, you will have to walk 3.5 km + 1.5 km to the main entrance. I paid for S/. 80 for the taxi. I went alone and at the ticket counter, they told me to wait for other people and pay for the tour guide. There was no other people there and I had to hurry back to Huaraz. I waa very pissed so I left without going to the inner part. Best decision ever!! I got the colectivo back to Barranca. Arrive at 9 pm.

  4. ‘Almost five thousand years ago, humankind came together in a way never seen before. We began to turn our backs on the traditional hunter gatherer form of survival
    Evidentially that had already happened 11,800 years ago at sites like Gobekli Tepe and Karahan Tepe.


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