Perched on a breezy hill commanding fine views over the surrounding countryside, INGAPIRCA , which roughly translates as “Inca wall”, was built during the Inca expansion into Ecuador towards the end of the fifteenth century, on a site that had been occupied by the Cañari people for over five hundred years. The Incas destroyed most of the Cañari structures (though a burial site remains), replacing them with their own elaborate complex that probably functioned as a place of worship, a fortress and a tambo, or way-station, on the Inca Royal Road connecting Cuzco to Quito.

Since then, many of the Inca buildings have been dismantled, their large stone blocks hauled away by Spanish colonists to be used as foundations for churches and other buildings; however, the complex’s central structure – known as the Temple of the Sun, or the Adoratorio – remains substantially intact and dominates the whole site. It’s composed of an immense oval-shaped platform whose slightly inward-tapering walls are made of exquisitely carved blocks of stone, fitted together with incredible precision. Steps lead up to a trapezoidal doorway – a classic feature of Inca architecture – that gives onto the remains of a rectangular building within the platform. It is the superior quality of the platform’s stonework, usually reserved for high-status buildings, that suggests this was a ceremonial temple.

The rest of the site consists mainly of low foundation walls, possibly the remains of storehouses, dwellings and a great plaza, among other things. There’s not a great deal left, but the guides stationed near the site entrance can explain various theories about what once stood where (some speak a little English). They’ll also take you on a looping one-kilometre path in and out of the ravine behind the ruins, to the nearby Cara del Inca (“Inca’s Face”), a huge rock face resembling a human profile with a hooked nose, as well as several other rock-hewn curiosities, including the Casa del Sol with its circular, supposedly astronomical, carvings, or the Silla del Inca, a large boulder with a chair cut into it, actually a broken piece of a small Inca bath from the hill above. Count on a guided tour of the site taking two hours. There’s also a small museum (with an attached book and craft shop) just inside the entrance displaying Cañari and Inca pots, tools, jewellery and a skeleton found on site.