Travel to Learn: The Inca Empire

travel to learn

When you travel to learn about local culture and history, you are giving yourself an education that cannot be gained from any school or class back in your home country. And when it comes to South America, Peru is a destination that many flock to in order to do just that. Many of the famous historical landmarks in Europe are from the last 500 years, maximum, and some records of North American history doesn’t go back even as far as that. For South America, however, the stories of ancient civilisations that date way back to the 13th century are still very present in modern culture, and are what gives these countries their trademark stamp.

The Incan Empire is the most famous of them all, and while their rule is dated from the early 15th century, it is said that they started to rise up from the highlands of Peru in the 1300s. They were a spiritual empire, with deep connections to nature and the sun, and they worshipped the sun god ‘Inti’ in particular. Theirs is a mystical tradition, tantamount to the secret creation of the Pyramids, or the reason behind Mona Lisa’s smile. This unknown quality has drawn historians, archaeologists and explorers to the regions for centuries, but now that the Inca Empire is more accessible than ever, tourism has boomed as well.

Peru is the most densely populated in terms of Inca sites, but ancients ruins are scattered all over South America, from northern Argentina and Chile, up through Bolivia, and then stretching all the way through Peru and into Ecuador. The centre of the Inca Empire for the duration of its rule was Cusco, a city in the southeast of Peru. Cusco is where the administration and politics of the rule went on until the Spanish took over in the 16th century. It is because of this that Cusco was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, and remains a solid base for anyone looking to explore Inca ruins in Peru.

Close to Cusco stands the most famous Inca site of them all, Machu Picchu. Visited by over a million people each year and named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007, Machu Picchu was discovered by accident back in 1911 by Hiram Bingham. There have been several disputes as to who actually ‘discovered’ the Inca site, but Bingham is due credit for bringing word of it back across the ocean to Europe and up to North America.

Machu Picchu was built at the height of the Inca Empire in 1450, and excellent tours can be taken all around it to teach you more about what each part of the site means, and the use of it for the Incas and their practices. Prices to get to Machu Picchu are increasing almost every day, and for a single day trip from Cusco, the cheapest option out there, you’ll be looking at around $240. Many people take a four-day hike to Machu Picchu, which is far more cost effective from around $450. I can happily say that a trip there is well worth it, even if it does cost a lot.

The village of Vilcabamba is the Inca site that Bingham was actually looking for when he stumbled across Machu Picchu. The city burnt down when the Inca Empire fell, and was lost for centuries, only to be found to have connections with a site named Espíritu Pampa and given more exposure in the 1970s. There are a number of treks that run from Vilcabamba to Machu Picchu, and these will not only teach you about Inca history but they will also lead you through spectacular mountain and valley scenery. These long treks are not for the faint of heart however, and you need to consider whether you’re in a good physical condition to hike at high altitudes before you book.

Traveling to Peru to learn about the Incas in an unbeatable South American experience and one that any kind of visitor can dive into. While there are all these treks, it’s possible for the less active among us to be able to find Inca ruins to visit all over the continent, sites that will give you just a glimpse into the world of this mystical civilisation.

Photo Credit: Rodrigo.Argenton (My own work) [GFDL]


Emma Higgins has been writing and traveling on and off since 2009. Her blog, Gotta Keep Movin’ is full of stories and advice from her trips, which include Europe, India, Morocco, South America, the USA and Canada. Her main focuses are budget travel and volunteering, and she has been involved in sustainable farming in Argentina, animal shelters in Peru, and even tried her hand at making goats cheese in British Columbia. Follow her travels on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
Categories: Education

Leave a Reply