The most important archeological site in Ecuador is the pre-Incan pyramid built 2400 years BC on the peak of a mountain in the Andes. The pyramid is called Puñay and is 450 meters long and 40 meters tall and built at 3245 metres above sea level making it the highest located pyramid in the world.
To this day most tourists who visit Ecuador are unaware of its existence. Its recent discovery in 2002 means it has yet to be developed and protected by the government as a tourist site.
And this is both GOOD and BAD.
GOOD because while all the tourists are visiting the much smaller Inca Ruins of Inga Pirca by the busload we get to explore the structurally superior and much more beautiful pyramid of Puñay all by ourselves.
BAD because grave robbers have taken advantage of the lack of government controls at the rarely visited sacred site by desecrating the pyramid in search of gold and ancient artifacts.
Having visited the Andean Pyramid over 20 times first as a tourist and then as a guide ive come to have a great affinity with this mystical place. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited in my travels around the world and it pains me to see these holes dug by grave robbers all over the pyramid.
At this point in time the best we can do to protect the pyramid is to spread the word of its existence until the Ecuadorian government gets its act together to protect it. There isnt much information on the internet about Puñay so ive decided to write the most comprehensive article ever written on the pyramid in English to date right here.
Construction and History
It is believed that the temple was once an ancient astrological observatory where Amautas and Yacchas (Andean wisemen and priests) worshiped the God of the Sun “Inti” who is sacred to all of the Kichwa cultures in the Andes. Carbon dating and topographical mapping by the School of Ecotourism in the University Politecnica de Chimborazo verifies the pyramid was built 4,657 years ago and constructed in the form of a Macaw or Guacamaya.
There is little doubt that the pyramid was constructed by the Cañari people who were one of the most advanced pre-Incan cultures in the Andes because of the technology utilized in its construction.
An archeological investigation discovered that the stones and clay used to construct the pyramid do not occur naturally on the mountain and were carried from nearby mines in the valleys surrounding Puñay.
At the very top of the structure there are twin truncated pyramids which are very similar to many other Mesoamerican Pyramids and believed to be dedicated to worshipping the sun and the moon.
In the photo above you can see several of the steps or terraces on one side of the pyramid. The photo to the left is of the moon pyramid at the peak of the structure taken from the slightly larger sun pyramid.
One of the reasons that Puñay has laid undiscovered for so long is because of erosion and the build up of biomass on the surface of the site which has slightly affected the temples structure making it appear to be an extension of the mountain when viewed from afar.
Rediscovery and Consequent Desecration of the Pyramid
A Kichwa myth about a lost pyramid containing golden artifacts located somewhere in the Ecuadorian highlands lured both archeologists and grave robbers to the area in search of Puñay. In 2002 Christian Aguirre, a teacher in the School of Ecotourism in the University Politecnica de Chimborazo, helped “rediscover” the pyramid. He also conducted the first archeological study of the temples dimensions and created a topographical map of the site which showed the temple has the formation of a giant Macaw, a bird sacred to all Andean Cultures.
In an interview Christian said with regards to the many holes in the pyramid “These holes were made about 50 to 70 years ago by gringos. Nobody knows what they took but many people here say there used to be a lot of gold”
In 2003 Eudoro Flores the former mayor of the nearby city of Chunchi was noted as saying “If you want gold, go to Puñay” but added he was impelled to promote the place for tourism to help its conservation and prevent grave robbers from further desecrating the site.
“Spiritual Patrimony of the Peoples and Nations of Humanity”
On The 21st of June 2007 an “Ancestral meeting for the arrival of new times” was held on Puñay to celebrate Inti Raymi which marks the winter solstice. The Minister for Tourism in Ecuador at the time, María Isabel Salvador, along with the main authorities of Chimborazo province and indigenous leaders from the Sierra Centro described the event as a “symbolic act of enormous importance to the Andean people” and declared Puñay as the “Spiritual Patrimony of the Peoples and Nations of Humanity”
How to Get to the Pyramid Punay
The friendly staff at Killa Wasi Hostel in Alausi can give you directions to the Pyramid Punay – as well as rent camping equipment to backpackers and either organize transport or help them catch the best bus to the mountain.