Summary: The Incan Empire in South America

Part Six: The Incan Empire

Story & photos © Raghbir Jin

The Incan empire was more a quilt than a blanket; a mass of regional cultures and backgrounds bound together with the stitches of the Quechua language.


The result is a collective web of territories on the western edge of South America where each area has grown and developed with its own style and story, influenced by its own pre-Incan history before being united by the Incas and the later Spanish conquest.


While visible traces of the old empire are more evident in some areas than others, every corner of the old empire has its unique set of attractions, offering their own unforgettable memories to today's travellers.


A trip through the old empire promises a variety of destinations too long to name in one list let alone hit in one trip: The incredible rainforest ecosystem of Lago Agrio in eastern Ecuador, fishing on Perú's coast, trekking the salt flats in Bolivia or skiing and wine tasting in Chile; deserts, rainforests, mountain ranges, tropics, coastlines, grasslands and everything in between.


So if your travelling fugue is itching and Incan territory is calling, here are a few more destinations to mark on your next trip map, listed from north to south.


Baños de Agua Santa, Ecuador

Baños de Agua Santa, often referred to simply as Baños and located about three hours south of Quito, is a haven of water-related activities. Its semi-tropical climate and jungle views, along with rivers, rapids, waterfalls and hot springs make Baños as attractive as a relaxing retreat as it is an adventure destination.


Visitors can go whitewater rafting one morning, relax in the hot springs that evening and take a photography hike up the Tungurahua volcano the next morning. Jungle tours, bike and horse-back trips, pedestrian markets and zoological gardens all offer excuses to extend your stay.


Máncora, Perú

This town on Perú's far northern coast boasts 365 days per year of sunshine, perfect waves for surfing and a tropical-paradise sort of backdrop that seems straight out of your computer's selection of desktop images: Straw-roofed huts on the white-sand beaches, hammocks strung from palm trees, clean adobe craftsmanship, even poorly-composed photos from cell-phone quality cameras promise to instill jealousy in friends, family and coworkers.


If you're looking for a few days away from the city to relax, this town of 10,000 is the answer you're looking for.


Cajamarca, Perú

Considered the dying-place of the Incan empire, many visitors come to see the "Ransom Room," the place where the final emperor Atahualpa was held while he fulfilled his ransom of gold and silver for the Spanish. Cajamarca is known for its similar building style and atmosphere to Cusco, as well as being a starting point for trips to the stone forest, natural reserves and pre-Inca petroglyphs and aqueducts.


Colca Canyon, Perú

This natural wonder is more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the U.S., making it noteworthy in itself. But one of its major pulls for tourists is the Andean condor, a relative to the vulture and the world's largest land-dwelling bird with a 10.5" wingspan. These birds make their home on the canyon walls and are often seen hunting in the early morning and late afternoon.


Santa Cruz, Bolivia

Located at the easternmost border of the old empire, Santa Cruz is the largest city in Bolivia – and infamous for its nightlife.


Home to a gamut of shows and events year-round, including its world-renowned Latin film festival, Santa Cruz serves as an energetic contemporary-city stop for travellers who aren't looking to recharge their batteries.


Potosí, Bolivia

Potosí's ancient silver mines give a grim look at the dark history of the Spanish rule over the Incas. Used to methodically work the Incan population to death through slave labour, the Spanish required one member of each native household be sent to work in the mines and a replacement once the current family member died.


The hills of Potosí have seen more than 450 consecutive years of mining, and can be toured using a series of elevators that take visitors down as far as 240 metres below the surface.


San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

San Pedro de Atacama is located in the Atacama desert, widely known as the driest place on earth. As such, it's also one of the most sterile due to salt levels in the sand and the lack of moisture to feed bacteria.


It's respected as a prime destination for sand-boarding, which is basically snowboarding on large sand dunes. Bike tours can be arranged to take guests to the neighbouring sights such as the salt flats, Valley of the Moon and Del Tatio geyser.


Atacama is also home to the R. P. Gustavo Le Paige museum which boasts an exhibit with the world's oldest mummies.


Santiago, Chile

The metropolis of Santiago is one of the few places in the world where you can go skiing and snorkeling in the same day. Though the city itself isn't located directly in the Andes or on the coast, the city serves as a hub only a short bus ride from both.


The city is starting to receive global recognition for the quality of its wines, most of which can be tasted and tested within the city.

Though the Incas themselves only lasted 300 years as a civilization, their stories and territories remain, waiting to be shared with anyone willing to take the venture.


Travellers can easily customize their own trip to suit their tastes. Whether you take my brutally inefficient route -- starting in the middle and heading north before doubling back south; follow the south-to-north trail of Ernesto Guevara's famous motorcycle journey, or create one all your own, you're guaranteed to go home with a camera full of unparalleled images and a heart full of contentment.