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The last refuge of the Incas
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Vilcabamba – The last refuge of the Incas

In the shadow of the Andes Mountains, hidden beneath tons of vegetation of the Amazon rainforest, lay one of Peru’s most incredible secret treasures. Vilcabamba was the last refuge of the Incas before their empire was destroyed by the Spaniards. Its location was a mystery for hundreds of years and was definitely identified only a few decades ago.

Vilcabamba the last refuge of the Incas
Vilcabamba was the last refuge of the Incas after the Spanish invasion

After the Spanish invasion, the last rebel Incas fled to Vilcabamba (wild jungle of Cusco) where they established their last refuge. For many years the real location of Vilcabamba was not known until recent discoveries in this magical place.

What is Vilcabamba?

  • Vilcabamba is the name of the Inca city built to house the last Inca rulers after the Spanish invasion in 1529.
  • The American explorer Hiram Bingham discovered Machu Picchu in 1911 believing he discovered Vilcabamba, ‘The Lost City of the Incas’.
  • The last Inca rulers lived in Vilcabamba between 1536 and 1573. The place was inaccessible by the Spanish because of its location in the jungle.
  • The Amazon rainforest hid Vilcabamba’s buildings for centuries until it was discovered in 1964 by the American explorer Gene Savoy.

Why is it known as the last refuge of the Incas?

  • The last refuge of the Incas was already known by the Spanish chroniclers who knew of a place where the rebel Incas hid.
  • Vilcabamba was also known as ‘The Lost City of the Incas’.
  • When the American explorer Hiram Bingham arrived in Machu Picchu he thought he discovered Vilcabamba, the last refuge of the Incas.

How to get to Vilcabamba?

  • Vilcabamba, The lost city of the Incas is located in the district of Vilcabamba, province of La Convencion in Cusco.
  • To get to Vilcabamba you must continue traveling by bus from Cusco to the town of Kiteni (following the route to Quillabamba). From there, follow the road towards ‘Azul Mayo’.
  • The last section of the road is on foot (or on horseback) through incredible landscapes of green mountains. It is estimated that it takes 9 hours to reach the Inca refuge of Vilcabamba and its archaeological remains.

Vilcabamba Map

  • Vilcabamba is a direct distance of 118 kilometers from the city of Cusco. It is located in the middle of the high jungle of Peru, a place of difficult access.
  • Currently there is a town called ‘Vilcabamba’. From there, a trip to the ancient archaeological site known as the ‘Lost City of the Incas’ is undertaken.
Vilcabamba the last refuge of the Incas
Location map of Vilcabamba at scale 1: 269411

Who were the last Incas?

  • After the capture of the Inca Atahualpa in Cajamarca (1532), there were successive battles between Spaniards and Incas. The latter had to leave Cusco and create a mini – government in Vilcabamba.
  • The Incas who ruled in Vilcabamba were Manco Inca, Túpac Sayri, Titu Cusi and Tupac Amaru I.

What are the mysteries of Vilcabamba?

  • Vilcabamba is a recent discovery, so its mysteries are not yet fully revealed.
  • One of the recent discoveries suggests that Vilcabamba was occupied by the pre-Inca ‘Wari’ culture, up to 500 years before the Incas.
  • The Incas would have modified the existing constructions for the comfort of the Inca and its new inhabitants.
  • The walls of Vilcabamba do not have the quality of other sites like Machu Picchu. However, they keep the Inca technique intact.
  • Some researchers suggest that the archaeological site of Choquequirao was the true last Inca refuge during the Spanish invasion.

Are there treasures in Vilcabamba?

  • The Spanish invaders imagined great wealth of gold and silver taken to Vilcabamba. They believed that the Incas hid important sums of gold brought after the conquest of Cusco.
  • The investigations in Vilcabamba did not find the gold indicated by the Spaniards. However, recently the remains of a royal tomb of the pre-Inca ‘Wari’ culture were found.
  • Among the ceramic and lithic findings was a silver mask, a silver ax, a gold breastplate and various gold plates that make up more than 300 pieces of gold and silver.

Who discovered Vilcabamba?

  • The name of the city of Vilcabamba was publicly known in 1911, when Hiram Bingham published in his book ‘The Lost City of the Incas’, the discovery of Machu Picchu and an earlier place that would be ‘Pampa Spirit’.
  • However, as several authors report, Hiram Bingham had no idea of ​​its importance and firmly believed that Machu Picchu was the lost city of the Incas (Vilcabamba), that is, the refuge of the last Inca.
  • In 1964, Gene Savoy (American explorer) and a group of Andean explorers arrived in Vilcabamba and discovered remains of about 60 buildings and almost 300 houses covered with moss, lichen, vines and dense jungle vegetation.
  • In 2004, a group of Peruvian archaeologists found the remains of a tomb of a king or important personality Wari. There were also remains of a gold breastplate, an ax, ceramic remains, textiles and more.

What constructions are there in Vilcabamba?

  • In Vilcabamba ruins were found 600 meters from the findings pointed out by Hiram Bingham.
  • A 24-door temple was found – 69 meters long – and a sunken palace about 100 meters long.
  • The houses were built on platforms, apparently to be protected from flooding. There was a terraced palace 43 meters long and a large construction called ‘The house of niches’.
  • The buildings were constructed with cobblestones joined with clay. Apparently the Incas did not bring with them labor that could make constructions as amazing as those that can be seen in Machu Picchu.
Inca constructions in Vilcabamba that served as a refuge for the last Incas
Inca constructions in Vilcabamba that served as a refuge for the last Incas

For a long time it was believed that Vilcabamba was always an Inca territory. However, according to recent research, it was concluded that 500 years before it was the territory of the pre-Inca ‘Wari’ culture and that the Incas settled on this important place.

How to trek to Vilcabamba?

  • At present it is possible to visit Vilcabamba but it is a trek considered of high difficulty, recommended for hikers in good physical condition.
  • There are tours to Vilcabamba that include a trekking route along the routes that Hiram Bingham followed in his discovery.
  • There are also trekking tours that include the visit of Vilcabamba and the Inca City of Machu Picchu.
  • You can get the tours through the website of a tourism agency.

Other tourist attractions in Vilcabamba

  • Archaeological site of Rosaspata.
  • The tomb of Espiritu Pampa.
  • Vitcos, the last residence of Manco Inca.

Tips to visit Vilcabamba

  • Tours to Vilcabamba are not frequent and require good organization. Be sure to hire a serious tourism agency with good comments from other travelers on the forums such as TripAdvisor.
  • Vilcabamba is located in the tropical region of Cusco where rains are frequent. The best time to go is between April and October, when the rains decrease.
  • When visiting Vilcabamba, don’t forget to bring: rain poncho, hat, waterproof boots, trekking shoes, insect repellent, sunscreen, water and a camera.
  • After visiting Vilcabamba, take advantage of visiting Machu Picchu by the alternative route through ‘Hydroelectric’ , in the jungle of Cusco. This route is more adventurous and economical.

Advice from people who have been there

Machu Picchu

The editorBy: The editor

“About Vilcabamba“

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By Ticket Machu Picchu – Last updated, December 17, 2019