Marcahuasi: Visiting Lima’s Mysterious Stone Forest

The mystical Andean plateau of Marcahuasi located just outside of Lima is the perfect weekend trip for hiking lovers.
The Monumento a la Humanidad rock formation at Marcahuasi
Monumento a la Humanidad, one of Marcahuasi's most famous rock formations. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

While Lima is more often associated with coastal cliffs and beaches, the surrounding region also contains a significant portion of the Andes Mountains. With just a few short hours of travel from the city you can experience some truly spectacular mountain scenery. One of the most impressive nearby places is Marcahuasi, home to an enigmatic stone forest that is often associated with mysticism. Read on to learn more about visiting this beautiful and mysterious place.

What is Marcahuasi?

Marcahuasi (also spelled Markawasi or Markahuasi) is a high-altitude Andean plateau which has become famous for its pre-Incan ruins and mysterious rock formations, many of which are said to resemble people or animals. Located just a few hours outside of Lima, this fascinating place makes for a great weekend getaway for hiking lovers and those who want to get a bit off the beaten track.

The most memorable feature of Marcahuasi is its iconic stone forest, full of psychedelic rock formations with names like Monument to Humanity and Ancient Turtle. These unique natural sculptures were formed by wind erosion and are thought to be as many as 10,000 years old. This is without a doubt one of Peru’s most unique landscapes and a great opportunity to take some impressive photos.

The other noteworthy sights at Marcahuasi are its pre-Columbian archaeological remains, consisting mainly of chullpas, or funerary structures. These ancient ruins were visited by famous Peruvian archaeologist Julio C. Tello, and some of the mummies from the chullpas can be seen at the museum in the nearby town of San Pedro de Casta. This area has never been fully excavated, however, so much about its history remains shrouded in mystery.

Julio C. Tello's House at the Marcahuasi Stone Forest in Peru.

Archaeologist Julio C. Tello’s house at Marcahuasi. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Marcahuasi has also long been popular among mystics, hippies and new age enthusiasts, and the site is said to be home to more than 20 vortexes that give off special healing energy. The place has inspired several pseudo-historical theories, including Peruvian author Daniel Ruzo’s 1974 book Marcahuasi: The Story of a Fantastic Discovery, which makes the argument that Marcahuasi’s unique rock formations are actually megalithic sculptures carved by an ancient civilization. This idea was later picked up by the History Channel series “Ancient Aliens”, which claimed that the plateau was the site of ancient contact between humans and extraterrestrials.

Of course, for those whose interests are a little less esoteric, Marcahuasi still has plenty to offer. It is an excellent place to get some fresh air and enjoy activities like hiking and camping near the Peruvian capital. This is especially true during the long winter months when Lima is cold and its skies are overcast. Marcahuasi is full of sunshine and adventure, just waiting to be explored!

How to Get to Marcahuasi

Trips to Marcahuasi can be done as part of a tour departing from Lima. If you prefer to visit independently, you can take a bus or car from Lima to the town of Chosica. There you can change to a bus which will take you through the mountains to San Pedro de Casta, the town at the trailhead to Marcahuasi.

Most Marcahausi visitors arrive in the town of San Pedro de Casta at mid-day, eat lunch, load up their donkey, horse, or backpack, and embark on the 4-kilometer trail to set up camp before nightfall. The most popular campsite is the Amphitheater, a large grass and dirt plateau surrounded completely by rocks, the perfect shield from cold night winds.

Laguna Huacracocha at the Marcahuasi Stone Forest in Lima, Peru

Laguna Huacracocha at Marcahuasi. Image via Wikimedia Commons

What to Do at Marcahuasi

The main attractions at Marcahausi are its famous rock formations as well as the pre-Columbian archaeological remains found in the area. Most visitors spend the night camping on the plateau before exploring the rest of the area the following day. Aside from hiking, San Pedro de Casta and Marcahuasi are also great places for other outdoor activities like horseback riding and mountain biking.

A visit here is a great way to experience rural Peruvian life. As you walk to the summit, be prepared to cross many donkeys on the path, take lots of pictures, and see locals easily walking as you huff and puff to the top.

For those interested in history and archaeology, the town of San Pedro de Casta also has a small museum which houses some skeletal remains of people that were found at the summit as well as an overview of local history.

Where to Stay at Marcahuasi

The Amphitheater campsite is the most popular Marcahausi camping site. It has some very basic facilities – a small bathroom and a few trash cans. But with a night under a clear sky and a campfire to keep you warm, the experience is priceless!

The Amphitheater campsite at Marcahuasi in Lima, Peru

The Amphitheater, the most popular campsite at Marcahuasi. Photo by Michael Wieck.

In the town of San Pedro de Casta there are a number of basic Marcahuasi hotels which can be arranged on arrival. There is also a low cost budget hostel for backpackers.

If you prefer more luxury, your best option is to spend the night in Chosica and transfer to San Pedro de Casta for the day.

What to Eat at Marcahuasi

On the plateau there are no restaurants or stores, but locals can sometimes be found selling hot food, mate de coca (coca leaf tea) and other items on the weekends. The best idea, however, is to bring anything you would like to eat or drink with you along with your camping equipment.

You can buy water bottles, food, and snacks in Chosica. In San Pedro de Casta there are also a number of daily menu restaurants, small bars, and snack stalls for you to buy food.

Best Time to Visit Marcahuasi

Marcahuasi does not receive much rain, so it is possible to visit all year round. The winter months (June to September) are the driest, but it does get very cold at night (below-zero in celsius) due to its altitude of over 3,500 meters above sea level.

Colorful sunset over the Marcahuasi plateau near Lima, Peru

Sunset at Marcahuasi. Image via Wikimedia Commons

How Much Does It Cost?

Entrance to the trail costs 5 Soles for Peruvians and 10 soles for foreigners. Camping is free at the summit. You need to ensure you have your ID for entry (DNI or Passport).

It is also common to rent donkeys to carry bags and firewood to the summit if you are camping. This costs about 15 soles (around $4) total. You can also go horseback from San Pedro de Casta to Marcahausi for 15 soles.

Start Planning

Lima offers countless stunning and off-the-beaten-track destinations like Marcahuasi that are well worth exploring. Are you ready to experience a Peruvian adventure for yourself? Start planning your trip to Peru by getting in touch with one of our expert travel advisors.