The Inca civilization arose from the highlands of Peru in the early 13th century. Starting from 1438, they began conquering lands surrounding the Inca heartland of Cuzco, creating the largest empire in pre-Columbian America. The coming of the Spanish conquistadors in 1532 marked an end to the short-lived Inca Empire. What remains of their civilization is limited as the conquistadors plundered what they could. But visitors can still gain an appreciation of how advanced the Inca were from the amazing ancient Inca ruins found in the highlands of South America.
Moray is an Incan agricultural laboratory that was likely used to cultivate resistant and hearty varieties of plants high in the Andes. The site contains several circular terraces, that could be used to study the effects of different climatic conditions on crops as the lower terraces have lower temperatures. The deepest crater is about 150 meters (492 feet) deep with a temperature difference of up to 15° C between the top and the bottom level.
The Inca site of Winay Wayna is built into a hillside overlooking the Urubamba River. It is located on on the Inca Trail and, like today, may have served as a rest stop for weary travelers on their way to the famous Machu Picchu. The Inca ruins of Winay Wayna consists of upper and lower house complexes connected by a staircase and fountain structures. Beside the houses lies an area of agricultural terraces.
The Coricancha in Cuzco, originally named Inti Kancha (‘Temple of the Sun’) was the most important temple in the Inca Empire. The walls and floors were once covered in sheets of solid gold, and the courtyard was filled with golden statues. Like so many other Inca monuments it was severely devastated by the conquistadors, who built a Christian church, Santo Domingo, on top of the ruins. Major earthquakes have severely damaged the church, but the Inca stone walls, built out of huge, tightly-interlocking blocks of stone, still stand thanks to the sophisticated stone masonry of the Incas.
Located at 2,840 meters (9,318 feet) above sea level along the Inca trail, Llactapata means “High Town” in Quechua. It was probably used for crop production and storage. Llactapata was burned by Manco Inca Yupanqui, during his retreat to discourage Spanish pursuit. In part due to these efforts, the Spanish never discovered the Inca trail or any of its Inca settlements.
Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) is a rocky, hilly island located in the southern part of Lake Titicaca. According to the Inca religion, it was the first land that appeared after the waters of a great flood began to recede and the Sun emerged from the island to illuminate the sky once again. As the birthplace of the Sun God, the Incas built several sacred sites on the island. Among these Inca ruins are the Sacred Rock and a labyrinth-like building called Chicana.
Sacsayhuamán is an Inca walled complex high above the city of Cusco. The imperial city Cusco, was laid out in the form of a puma, the animal that symbolized the Inca dynasty. The belly of the puma was the main plaza, the river Tullumayo formed its spine, and the hill of Sacsayhuamán its head. There are three parallel walls built in different levels with lime stones of enormous sizes. It is suggested that the zigzagging walls represent the teeth of the puma’s head. The Inca wall is built in such a way that a single piece of paper will not fit between many of the stones.
Pisac, a word of Quechua origins, means “partridge”. Inca tradition dictated building cities in the shape of birds and animals, and as such, Pisac is partridge shaped. The Inca ruins included a military citadel, religious temples, and individual dwellings, and overlooks the Sacred Valley, between the Salkantay Mountains. It is thought that Písac defended the southern entrance to the Sacred Valley and controlled a route which connected the Inca Empire with the border of the rain forest.
Seated on the border of Cuzco and Apurimac, Choquequirao (meaning Cradle of Gold), is located 3085 meter (10,120 feet) above sea level. The Inca ruins contains a staircase configuration, made up of 180 terraces. Built in a completely different style than Machu Picchu, Choquequirao is much larger in area. One can only travel to Choquequirao by foot or horseback, and as such, is visited much less often than Machu Picchu. Without benefit of wheels, the trek to Choquequirao from Cachora can take up to four days!
During the Inca Empire, Ollantaytambo was the royal estate of Emperor Pachacuti who conquered the region, built the town and a ceremonial center. At the time of the Spanish conquest of Peru it served as a stronghold for the Inca resistance. Nowadays the Inca ruins of Ollantaytambo is an important tourist attraction and one of the most common starting points for hike known as the Inca Trail.
The most beautiful and impressive ancient Inca ruins in the world, Machu Pichu was rediscovered in 1911 by Hawaiian historian Hiram after it lay hidden for centuries above the Urubamba Valley. The “Lost City of the Incas” is invisible from below and completely self-contained, surrounded by agricultural terraces and watered by natural springs. Although known locally, it was largely unknown to the outside world before being rediscovered in 1911. Since then, Machu Picchu has become the most important tourist attraction in Peru.