The site is located in the Ancash Region of Peru, 250 kilometers (160 mi) north of Lima, at an elevation of 3,180 meters (10,430 ft), east of the Cordillera Blanca at the start of the Conchucos Valley. Chavín de Huántar has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Some of the Chavín relics from this archaeological site are on display in the Museo de la Nación in Lima and the Museo Nacional de Chavín in Chavin itself.
Occupation at Chavín de Huántar has been carbon dated to at least 3000 BC, with ceremonial center activity occurring primarily toward the end of the second millennium, and through the middle of the first millennium BC. While the fairly large population was based on an agricultural economy, the city's location at the headwaters of the Marañón River, between the coast and the jungle, made it an ideal location for the dissemination and collection of both ideas and material goods. This archeological site is a large ceremonial center that has revealed a great deal about the Chavín culture. Chavín de Huántar served as a gathering place for people of the region to come together and worship. The transformation of the center into a valley-dominating monument had a complex effect; it became a pan-regional place of importance. People went to Chavin de Huantar as a center: to attend and participate in rituals, consult an oracle, or enter a cult.
Findings at Chavín de Huántar indicate that social instability and upheaval began to occur between 500 and 300 BCE, at the same time that the larger Chavín civilization began to decline. Large ceremonial sites were abandoned, some unfinished, and were replaced by villages and agricultural land. At Chavín de Huántar, no later than 500 BCE, a small village replaced the Circular Plaza. The plaza was occupied by a succession of cultural groups, and residents salvaged building stones and stone carvings to use in house walls. Multiple occupation floors indicate the village was continuously occupied through the 1940s.