One of the best-preserved archaeological sites in Peru and one of the most established Inca centers on the coast, Tambo Colorado was built at the time of the Inca Pachacutec to house his soldiers and the high dignitaries of the town. Faded but still visible, the adobe complex of Tambo Colorado derives its name from the abundant colors that once vividly adorned its outer walls. Situated between the Pacific coast and the Andes Mountains of southern Peru, the decorated surfaces and structure have survived remarkably well for centuries due to the region's arid and temperate climate. The Inca settlement was constructed as an administrative and ceremonial center.
The site is strategically located midway along the Camino Real from Cusco. From this position, it was possible to control the flow of commerce and access to water sources in the region. The only Inca complex composed entirely of adobe and "tapia" walls, as an adaptation to the coastal environment, Tambo Colorado follows the typical Incan design with recessed trapezoidal niches and a rectangular floor plan. Tambo Colorado was one of the most critical coastal sites of the Incan empire. Strategically positioned and uniquely crafted, the site offers essential historical, archaeological, and religious insight into Incan culture. Today, it is an important symbol to those living in the surrounding coastal environment. Seismic activity, aggressive weather conditions, and uncontrolled tourism threaten the site's stability and preservation.
The Inca king Pachacutec is said to have built this site along a vital trade route for the Incas. Looking at this large complex, you can see several structures, with a large central trapezoid plaza measuring approximately 150m in length. A Northern Palace and a Southern Palace are on either end of the plaza. Facing the river, you will see a raised platform where the shaman lived. This ceremonial platform is called the Ushnu and is where sacrifices to the Gods of the earth were made. The Incas worshipped all things related to the land. They worshipped the mountains, the sun god, the river, and the great harvest every year. Most of all, they worshiped fertility and many other things directly related to survival in such harsh environments in Peru.
On an Inca calendar, this is primarily represented as a shifting circle around the harvest seasons and family. As you wander around Tambo Colorado, into the rooms - you will see that the original wood is above the door threshold. In one room, you can see that they even had a form of indoor plumbing, where stones were placed strategically to allow water from the river to flow into the home itself. Surprisingly, the walls are painted, and the plaster and paint are original to the site.
Most of the information about Inca archaeological sites in Peru is centered around Machu Picchu, offering impressive views of the ruins amongst the clouds. But the magnificent site of Machu Picchu has now become crowded and quite commercialized. Tambo Colorado provides a much more authentic look into how the Inca lived. The ruins here are so well preserved that you can still see the straw in the plaster and the adobe bricks, plus tiny channels where the rare rainfall has carved out the patterns in the bricks.
Today, Pisco rotates around the tourists that visit this off-the-beaten-path site. However, the people of Pisco still dedicate their lives to produce and the livelihood it creates for them and their families. Before this was a protected site, young people would use the Tambo Colorado area to carve their names into the walls so that a part of them would remain here forever. The damage is irreparable, however, as the materials used back in the day are no longer available, and the etched graffiti is evident.
During the tour, you will also be able to observe the Pisco Valley and its villages and the Pisco River. There will also be a visit to a small Tambo Colorado museum where archaeological remains from that era can be found.