Peru is often considered to be one of the richest and most interesting countries in the world in terms of traditions, food, culture, and history. Although it is mostly known for being the heart of the Inca empire, it was actually home to many indigenous cultures before the Incas even appeared.
The Incas first arrived in what we know today as southeastern Peru in the 12th century. However, it wasn’t until the 15th century that they became the empire we know them as today. Unfortunately, in 1532 they were conquered by the Spanish.
Even though almost 500 years have passed since then, the traces of the Incas are still present in Peru – not only remnants of the language and the traditions, but also the ruins of their architecture. So, here are the top places you need to visit if you want to discover the mesmerising world of the ancient Incas on your next big adventure.
Machu Picchu is probably a sight that doesn’t need an introduction – even if you haven’t seen it, you must have heard the name at least once in your life. Interestingly enough, up until 1911, nobody knew about its existence – aside from the locals.
Unfortunately, we don’t know what its original purpose was. However, there are many theories. Some believe that it was a royal estate for the Inca emperors and nobles. Others think that it was a religious site due to its location in the mountains, which are one of the things the Incas considered as sacred. There are also those who believe that it was used as a prison, a women’s retreat, a trade hub, and many more hypotheses. Due to the lack of knowledge about what its actual purpose was, we can assume that it may have served as a few things simultaneously.
Now, there are a few ways to reach Machu Picchu. If you don’t have that much time, or simply don’t fancy a long trek, you should consider taking the short Inca trail. On the other hand, if you want to discover not only the Incas but also admire the beauty and diversity of Peru, we recommend that you hike the classic Inca Trail. Although it’s a 4-day, 3-night hike, the effort is definitely worth it.
Cusco, sometimes also spelt ‘Cuzco’, is a city located very close to Machu Picchu. Aside from being one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the Americas, it was once the capital of the Inca Empire – all the main temples were located there. Cusco was also where all the significant religious ceremonies took place.
The Incas didn’t know anything outside of their land – they didn’t know other countries, and they did not travel beyond the seas. This can explain one of the possible meanings of the word ‘Cusco.’ It is known that the word ‘Qosqo’, from the Quechua language, comes from an indigenous word meaning ‘Centre of the World’ or ‘the Navel of the Earth.’
Cusco is one of the best places to discover the Inca culture, especially since it is home to their descendants, who make up over 40% of the overall population of Peru. When going on a walk through the city, you can still hear people talking in Quechua (also referred to as ‘Runasimi,’ which means ‘language of the people’) – the language of the Incas.
The Sacred Valley area, which includes the valley surrounding the Urubamba river as well as the Andean mountains, used to be the epicenter of the Inca Empire. Winding its way between Pisac and Ollantaytambo, it is now home to various indigenous communities, as well as several important archaeological monuments from the time of the Inca Empire.
How did the valley become part of the Inca empire? Between 1000 and 1400 CE, the Incas gained administrative control over the various ethnic groups, who at the time lived either in the valley or near it. They divided the area, giving one-third of it to the ethnic groups and farmers so that they could have a place to cultivate plants.
The Sacred Valley of the Inca, or as it is called in Spanish, The Valle Sagrado de Los Incas, was very much appreciated by the Incas due to its geographical and climatic qualities. The fertile soils, as well as the various microclimates, were a perfect environment for potatoes, other vegetables, fruit trees, and ornamental plants to grow. What’s more, the region guarded many of their spiritual temples.
Pisac is a fortress town located on the eastern end of the Sacred Valley, which hosts an impressive archaeological site of the same name. Although there are many things to see there, some of the most important structures include the royal bath complex, the Temple of Heaven, the Temple of the Sun, as well as many military stations and areas dedicated to sacrifices and astronomy.
Due to everything that is located there, we can assume that it was an important point on the Inca’s map – at least before it was destroyed in the 16th century.
Today, Pisac is a thriving village. It is home to one of the largest and most colourful markets in the region, which is organised every Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday. Millions of people come to visit the town to experience the market, especially inhabitants and visitors from Cusco.
The Bottom Line
The Incas created one of the most powerful empires in the world. And although they are no longer present, their history, traditions, and culture remain alive thanks to their descendants and the archaeological sites located in Southeastern Peru.
Despite the fact that there are many places to visit in Peru, the four we have mentioned above are probably the right choice if you are interested in seeing how the Incas lived almost 500 years ago – even if the buildings are not in ideal shape (after all, it’s been almost five centuries!).
We hope that after reading this article, you know what are the best places to visit on your next adventure in order to discover the fascinating world of the ancient Incas. So, what are you waiting for? The tickets won’t book themselves, will they? Good luck! Or should we say, ¡Buen viaje!?