top of page

Pyramids and...Llamas? Who Knew?

Updated: May 24, 2018

When I think of pyramids, I think of Egyptian pyramids. I definitely wasn’t thinking about llamas, amazing Andean views, and ancient calendars. When our friends told us about the pyramids of Cochasqui, we thought “cool, we’d love to see some pyramids”. But this is a different kind of archaeological site, an expansive, educational, and inimitable representation of the ancient Andean culture that created it.

As we drive north from Quito past Guayllabamba towards Tabacundo, on a sharp little u-shaped bend in the highway, our friend says “turn here, this is it” and I see the big sign that says Cochasqui as I pass the turn. So I go up a little ways and turn around. And you would never suspect that this is an important national archaeological research park by the signage on the highway. But it is. And it is a very worthwhile visit too.

We drove up the unremarkable, mostly dirt road and pull into the small dirt parking lot. We walked up to the tiny, understated ticket booth and purchase our tickets for $3 for foreigners ($1 for nationals, $0.50 for students, and $0.20 for children – pets are not allowed – sorry Niele). Once through the gate we waited in a covered area that had a large topographical map in need of a little touch up, several wooden benches and stools, and a variety of photos and art. The best part was the curious greeting crew of llamas waiting at the chain link gated entrance to the pyramid area. They were a little shy, but determined that a gathering crowd meant there were treats in store for them at some point in the future.

When our guide arrived, we headed through the gate and the llamas ran off to the hills close by to watch our every move, quietly awaiting their turn to participate in the tour. The park does have English speaking guides, however, our group was mostly Ecuadorian, and therefore we had a Spanish speaking guide. First on the tour was one of the smaller pyramids which had been excavated so that we could see part of the structure. Our guide explained some history of these pre-Colombian and pre-Incan ruins which sit on 84 hectares (210 acres) and consist of 15 truncated pyramids and 21 burial mounds which are called tolas (see note 1). Archaeologists date the site construction between 950 CE and the Spanish conquest of the 1530s. Exactly how the pyramids were constructed is not clear, but archaeologists believe that Cochasqui was “a ceremonial and astronomical center for the Quitu-Cara culture, a developed social, technological and scientific organization that inhabited a vast region from the coast to the Amazon and from the north of the province of Pichincha to the southern region of Columbia” (see note 1).