The Incan civilisation has fascinated archaeologists and anthropologists for decades – not to mention travellers, thousands of whom make the long journey to Machu Picchu every year to see this unforgettable remnant of a vanished empire. Formed around the city-state of Cusco in the 12th century, the Incan empire would expand to cover most of the western seaboard of South America, stretching from the southernmost point of Chile all the way up to Columbia in the north. While all this quickly crumbled under Spanish invasion in the 16th century, visitors to South America can still experience the ingenuity of the Incan people in the amazing architecture they left behind.
The most famous of these is Machu Picchu, believed to have been built as the personal estate of the great emperor Pachacuti. A vast drystone complex of temples, gardens, farms and residential buildings, this site needs to be seen to be believed. Getting to Machu Picchu is an experience in itself: guides can be hired to take you on the 28-mile Inca Trail, which winds through stunning forests, valleys and mountains for around four days before reaching the Lost City. (If you want to save yourself a few blisters, you can just take the four-hour train journey from Cusco – but that’s cheating!)
Less well-known but also well worth a visit are the remains of Choquequirao, the “Cradle of Gold”. Situated on the Salkantay mountain range in the Cusco region, this was an important administrative and religious centre for the Inca, and is still under restoration by the Peruvian government. It takes two days to trek there from the town of Cachora, and if you’re confident in your hiking and orienteering skills there’s no need to hire a guide, but don’t attempt this during the rainy season (December to May).
Moray, just west of the village of Maras, is another fascinating and lesser-seen Incan ruin. The site contains the remnants of several terrace farms, which look like enormous crop circles cut into the ground. The Inca are known for their sophisticated agricultural systems, and it is believed Moray may have been a scientific centre to study the effects of soil, temperature and sunlight on different crops. Getting there usually involves taking a bus from Cusco to Urubamba, and then another to the Moray turn-off – from here, you can take a taxi or walk 13km to the ruins.
Finally, don’t forget to look after your health if you’re booking a trip in Peru. Depending on your destination, there may be risks of yellow fever, malaria, hepatitis A and B and typhoid. Make sure you get advice on the appropriate travel vaccines through a place like Lloyds Pharmacy. Malaria is most widespread in the north of Peru, but there is a risk around Machu Picchu and the surrounding area – ask your doctor or pharmacist if you’re unsure.