When planning my first trip to Peru, I didn’t imagine the magnitude of what I was about to see. I knew the cultural and historical weight that Peru represents for the world and especially, for South America. The Peruvian history illustrates South America history itself: all the struggles the natives faced, who had their people violated, culture destroyed, riches stolen, and all that was left behind was the shadow of successful civilizations, whose walls stand until our days, to tell us silently their history.
Despite the desperate attempt from the Spanish conquerors to destroy and erase everything that could link us to the past, their hard work, fortunately, was not so successful, and the world can still admire what was once the biggest Empire in the world.
When we think about Inca Ruins, the first thing that comes to our mind is Machu Picchu, fair enough, although this is definitely the most impressive of the ruins near Cusco, there are many others close to the city that we don’t pay much attention to, but this doesn’t make them less impressive.
On the Inca Path – Ruins to visit near Cusco
Tawantisuyo, commonly known to us as the Inca Empire, was the strongest and most organized Empire in Americas before the invasion and conquest by the Spaniards in the 16th century . With an impressive knowledge of agriculture, architecture, medicine, mathematics, astronomy and other sciences, they were able to do, with no technilogy, what we struggle to achieve nowadays.
Their aqueducts and canals were never been seen in any other ancient civilization, their skull surgery with impressive 80%-90% succesful rate, their stone buildings so stable it survived for centuries despite earthquakes, while colonial and modern buildings built in the same area need to be consantly rebuild.
Main Ruin near Cusco
This was the original capital of the Inca Empire, it was here that the 12 Incas (the governors of the people), including the Sapa Inca (the major authority of the Inca Empire) used to live.
Cusco was almost entirely destroyed and rebuilt by the Spaniards in colonial style, but many of the original architecture base still remain from the Inca time. It is still possible to see remainings of Inca palaces, as it is the case of the Inca Museum building, the Cathedral and the La Capania as well as the remaining of the most important temple in the region, the Temple of the Sun, called in Qorikancha in Qechua (native language).
Part of the temple was destroyed by the conquerors and turned into a church. Their famous gold walls and statues that used to adorne its yard were given to the Spaniards as a ransom for the life of Atahualpa, who was kidnapped and later killed by his captors.
Different than most of people believe, Machu Picchu was never discovered nor invaded by the Spanish conquerors, rather, they never had a clue of its existence, this is one of the reason that the city received the title “The Sacred City of the Incas”, because it was as if Machu Picchu was protected by the gods of the mountain, so loved and worshiped by the Inca population.
Another reason for the title, and also a curiosity, is that Machu Picchu wasn’t a city like the others, it was not habitated by normal civilians. The Sacred City was only accessed by high classes that included priests, ministers and the Inca himself, the rest of the Inca population was totally unaware of the Sacred City.
To reach Machu Picchu you can choose between one of the trails, being the Inca Trail the most famous and recreating the original trail used by the Incas, or day trips from Cusco or Aguas calientes.
Ollantaytambo was conquered by Pachacuti and became a Royal Estate, the city worked as a stronghold and served as a temporary capital for Manco Inca Yupanqui, leader of the Inca resistence when Cusco was conquered by the Spanish and the Inca and his people were forced to live in exile.
Ollantaytambo is located close to Cusco and can be reached by car, van or bus. It is an obligatory stop if you are heading to Aguas Calientes to visit Machu Picchu. The ruins can be easily accessed since it is close to the main square of the town and can be seen from there, there are many options of restaurants and hotels here and many tourists prefer to spend at least one night in Ollantaytambo before heading to Aguas Calientes.
Pisac was erected by Pachacuti after his victory over the Cuyos, a tribe that used to inhabitate the region. Pisac served as a fortress to protect Cusco, the capital, from attacks coming from other tribes
In Pisac it is possible to see ruins of the Temple of the Sun, Inca baths, ceremonial altars and water fountains. It is located close to Cusco and can be reached by bus or car. Now a days the city is famous by its market selling cheap souvenirs.
After fleeing Cusco and then Ollantaytambo, Manco Inca moved his court and people to Vitcos turned it into a new Inca capital for the people in exile. This is the site where Manco Inca was later murdered by the Spanish he accepted was refugees.
It is possible to visit Vitcos from Aguas Calientes, where you can take a bus or rent a car. Close to Vitcos besides the ruins, there is the Chuquipalta, or the White Rock, a giant sculptured rock that some believe to be made by a pre-inca civilization as the site mix different architectures, one of them being of flat rocks.
Considered the young sister of Machu Picchu, Choquequirao is a city located on the top of a mountain overlooking the Apurímac river. Choquequirao was an administrative and religious hub, belueved to be one of the entrance check points to the Vilcabamba.
Although the city was as important as Machu Picchu and discovered before its famous sister, little attention is giving to Choquequirao, which makes it far less touristy than Machu Picchu. From all the 1,800 hectars of the site, only 40% is excavated, but the visible buildings are well preserved.
To visit Choquequirao it is necessary to take a 2 or 3 days trail leaving from Cachora, a city located 165kms away from Cuscos, or if you are a fancy human being you can go for the helicopter trip.
Considered the real Lost City of the Incas and their last refuge, it was built in 1539 far into the dense forest by Manco Inca as the last capital of the Incas. It was then raided by the Spaniards in 1572 and destroyed.
It is possible to visit the Vilcabamba site today, however, due to it’s extremely remote location, the trails can be of hard access and only recommended to experient hikers.
For more information about the Inca history
“A special illustrated edition of Hiram Bingham’s classic work captures all the magnificence and mystery of the amazing archeological sites he uncovered. Early in the 20th century, Bingham ventured into the wild and then unknown country of the Eastern Peruvian Andes–and in 1911 came upon the fabulous Inca city that made him famous: Machu Picchu. In the space of one short season he went on to discover two more lost cities, including Vitcos, where the last Incan Emperor was assassinated.”
“In 1911, Hiram Bingham III climbed into the Andes Mountains of Peru and “discovered” Machu Picchu. While history has recast Bingham as a villain who stole both priceless artifacts and credit for finding the great archeological site, Mark Adams set out to retrace the explorer’s perilous path in search of the truth—except he’d written about adventure far more than he’d actually lived it. In fact, he’d never even slept in a tent.
Turn Right at Machu Picchu is Adams’ fascinating and funny account of his journey through some of the world’s most majestic, historic, and remote landscapes guided only by a hard-as-nails Australian survivalist and one nagging question: Just what was Machu Picchu?”