Machu Picchu seems to be at the top of every traveller’s list when putting together a South American itinerary. With it being such a highlight, I’ve read quite a few posts about it among the travel blogs I follow – and all seem to agree that it lives up to the hype.
In preparation for my visit, I thought it’s be nice to read up a bit on the history of the Incas before my visit, to get a feel for the context. To that end, I’ve been reading this fantastic book:
which I really would recommend to anyone planning a trip to Peru. Far from being a dry, academic text, ‘The Last Days of the Incas’ reads more like a gripping thriller.
The story of how a small group of Spaniards (just 167 at first) manage to conquer an empire that covered a huge chunk of South America is quite incredible. Unwittingly arriving just as the empire was engulfed in civil war and weakened by smallpox (that had been brought to the Americas by Europeans, and which had travelled down from the Caribbean coast), they were able to triumph despite being overwhelmingly outnumbered, thanks to a combination of horsepower, guns, deft politicking (playing different native factions off against each other), shameful brutality (often in the name of Catholic church, at other times just senseless violence) towards the Incas and even a dose of sheer good luck. Later on, the conquistadors risked the success of the conquest by fighting amongst each other, and the book does a great job of bringing to life the personalities of all the key players.
As well as the historic context, Macquarrie brings the story up to date by describing how Hiram Bingham rediscovered Machu Picchu in the quest to find Vilcabamba, the last hold out of the Inca kings.
I’m really glad I’ve read this before my trip, as I think I’ll get even more out of my visit now – and I’d heartily recommend it to anyone thinking of doing the same.