Celebrating and Praying to the Sky in Cochasquí

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At 10,170 feet above sea level, where the rays of the sun fall perpendicularly, right on the Equator, the Archaeological Park of Cochasquí extends. This was the land of the Quitu Caras, who, according to archaeologists, created an astronomical observatory here. The pyramids formed of compacted ash and earth, over a millennium old, create platforms upon which this people observed the solstices and equinoxes, and with which they created an agricultural calendar, setting the times for dry years, for rainy years, for when to sow and when to harvest. The pyramids were also, judging by the vestiges found at the sites, places of ritual and ceremony where the Quitu Caras thanked and prayed to the Sun and to the Moon.

Access ramp to Pyramid 13, amid its Andean landscape.

From the highest pyramid, the landscape wraps around the visitor in 360 degrees. If the day is particularly clear, it’s possible to cast your eye down the length of the “Avenue of the Volcanoes”, Pichincha, Cotopaxi, Cayambe; down the valleys of El Quinche, Los Chillos, even see across to Quito and the Panecillo.

Camping amid these pyramids is an unforgettable experience: the energy of the ‘middle of the world’ seems to transmit a power, transporting one back to the structures’ ancestral inhabitants, whose presence is still palpable. The spirit of Quilago, the Quitu Cara warrior princess who defended her people against the invasion of the Incas, still radiates.

Detail of the solar calendar which points towards the Guagua Pichincha Volcano.

At the time of the June solstice and the celebrations for Inti Raymi, you can be healed by shamans here, enjoy traditional dishes prepared by the locals, or drink chawarmiski, a drink extracted from ‘century plant’, agave.

The site museum incudes display on archaeology, ethnography, musical instruments, weapons, games and an ethno-botanical garden. The site is open every day from 9am to 4.30pm, including national holidays.

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