Leaving a legacy behind of bewildering man made structures and an enduring culture, the Incas were undoubtedly an intriguing and mystifying empire.
Springing up in the Peruvian highlands in the 13th century, the mighty civilization gradually took over many parts of western South America, particularly around the Andes.
But its heart remains in its homeland of Peru. Head here today and the remnants of its past lie at its fore, from the Quecha-speaking locals of Cusco to the stalwart ancient wonder of Machu Picchu.
And while this South American beauty is awash with adventure sports, it’s also a formidable centre of Inca culture and history. Here’s our guide to the best Inca sites in Peru…
Shrouded in low cloud and verdant green hills, the legendary ancient Incan City is an unmissable sight, whether you arrive on two feet via the four-day Inca Trail trek, or by train from nearby Aguas Calientes.
At an altitude of 2,430m, the lost city is a striking vision of beauty, and those on the challenging trek will negotiate undulating paths, nights beneath canvas and the chance to glimpse fleeing snakes and brightly coloured butterflies.
And while smaller, less elaborate Incan ruins can be spotted during the trek, nothing will quite prepare you as you round the corner, just after dawn, at the Sun Gate: the enigmatic image of this forgotten city is the stuff of travel legend. Don’t miss a hike up Wayna Picchu too – the steep mountain peering over Machu Picchu.
Isla del Sol
Ok, so this sleepy island is actually in Bolivian territory, but it’s worth an overnight trip, if not for a change in scenery then to discover a clutch of unusual Incan sites.
Castaway in the blue waters of Lake Titicaca, this dreamy patch of seclusion is reached by boat from the tiny town of Copacabana – not to be confused with the Brazilian beach of bronzed beauties.
Head first to the Gold Museum, dedicated to exhibiting Incan curios that were discovered in the surrounding water’s depths. According to local folklore, the nearby Inca Table was once used for human sacrifice, while the sacred Titi Khar’ka ‘ Rock of the Puma ‘ gave the lake its name.
Cross the island after a lunch of grilled trout and rice (or guinea pig, if you dare) to overnight in Yumani. Here, basic hostels are slowly springing up, and you’ll be within easy walking distance of the fabled ‘Fountain of Youth’.
It might be a bit of a mouthful to pronounce, and yet this ancient settlement will do its best to instil a sense of speechlessness in all visitors who grace its imposing pathways. Pitted in the Valley of the Incas, a short drive from Cusco, this timeless town was the site of the Inca’s greatest military victory over the Spaniards.
Much of its stone terraces and storehouses remain today, in a state of decadence and decay, and a wander round its curious courtyards will take you back to a bygone era of sun gods, prosperity and folklore. Fancy a spot of haggling?
The market square is the place to hone your bargaining skills, where locals sell baskets of fruit, colourful scarves, woollen hats and replicas of Incan curios.
A Peruvian adventure would not be complete without a few days milling around this centre of high-octane thrills. From horse riding amidst Incan ruins, motorbiking beside salt flats, or white water rafting in the Urubamba River, you’ll find it hard to leave this stunner of a city.
Not least because it lays claim to being the historic capital of the Incan Empire. Awash with Quecha-speaking locals selling Peruvian crafts and unusual architecture, from the beguiling Acllahuasi (Temple of the Virgins) to the Inti Raymi (Feast of the Sun), it was crowned a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.
And you’ll be in no doubt why after a mere morning’s stroll along its cobbled pathways before preparing for your pilgrimage to Machu Picchu.
Compact and charming, the tiny town of Pisac is worth a day’s exploration from Cusco. Burn buns of steel on a walk up to its Inca ruins – a captivating collection of terraces and dilapidated buildings, believed to date back to around the same time as Machu Picchu.
Its lively Sunday market is also not-to-be-missed, while its Virgin Del Carmen festival in July is a hotbed of costumed characters and riotous dancing.
For your chance to visit Peru’s top Inca sites, speak to operators such as Explore! Its 14-day Heights of Machu Picchu takes in the Inca Trail, Lake Titicaca, Cusco and Pisac, from £2,349 per person, including flights, accommodation, tour leader and in-country transportation.