The Last Days of the Incas

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:

The Last Days of the Incas

The Last Days of the Incas

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.


10 responses to “The Last Days of the Incas

  1. Geoff, I almost never leave the house but do you know I’m seriously harbouring three-quarter-baked plans to go to Machu Picchu this very year if I can afford it time- and money-wise. When are you planning to be there? (Just out of interest. Don’t worry. I won’t aim to gate-crash half your trip.) I even did a bit of googling to see recommended routes. Coast-Arequipa-Lake Titicaca-Cuzco-Machu Picchu. It’s somewhere I’ve wanted to go since childhood and two people on my blogroll have been too – I’ll look for links in a bit – and were also blown away, if I remember rightly.

    You lucky devil!

  2. I don’t know exactly when I’ll be there, although as one of my friends from London may be joining me it’s one of the few points that I probably will try and fix in advance. At the moment, that looks like being the first week in September, but that could change by a week or so either way. All the other spots you mention are very much on my list too.

    I’m considering not doing the classic Inca trail (too crowded, too expensive), and may do one of the alternatives instead, like the Salkantay trail:

    Maybe I’ll see you there!

  3. I love reading books that put me in the mood for the place I’m in or am planning to visit – it’s all part of the anticipation.

    I wrote about Duende, set in Spain here;

  4. The Inca Trail does start out really crowded but you’ll soon find yourself on your own, we thought we’d gone the wrong way when we spent a large part of one day walking completely alone!

    I can’t speak about the Salkantay trail but there was something special about the classic Inca trail that you can’t quite put your finger on.

  5. I agree with Benedict A – although I too would like to stay away from the crowds, some places are popular tourist spots b/c they are just so fabulous and must be seen. We plan on doing the classic trail because it is just that…classic. I would hate to travel all that way and settle for the first runner up option. A note too, that in order to do the classic trail you will have to book well in advance – I will be booking as soon as my house sale is final and my June departure date is set in stone.
    Thanks for the book review – I’ll be picking it up.

  6. I’d definitely agree it’s worth a visit. Not just for the site itself though, but to visit the area– lush hills and valleys dotted with crumbling ruins. -X

  7. Machu Picchu is definately a great experience. So are the trails there. The floating islands of Lake Titicaca were well worth the trip further south.

  8. This is a video from my Inca Trail experience…… Let us know what you think (it’s split into two parts.
    Part 1

    And Part 2

  9. Pingback: Cusco « Itinerant Londoner

  10. Pingback: The Inca Trail « Itinerant Londoner

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