Machu Picchu, Perú

Machu Picchu is a town built around the year 1450, at 8000 feet, on a mountain ridge, by the Inca civilization.  It's worth a visit, being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a beautiful place and an impressive feat of engineering and architecture.   Who were the Incas?  The Incas were the largest empire ever in the Americas, until the Spanish arrived.   The capital of their empire was not far from Machu Picchu - a city called Cusco, at 11,000 feet!  Today, the capital of Peru - Lima - is on the coast and starts at sea level. 

The Incas continue to affect what you eat and wear. The Incas domesticated corn and potatoes, meaning that without them you wouldn't have popcorn, corn on the cob, french fries or baked potatoes. Chances are, you or your friends have worn a Peruvian style hat (a knitted hat with earflaps and tassels) in cold weather.

When the Spanish conquistadors (conquerors) arrived in the 1500s, the Inca empire stretched across much of the Pacific coast of South America.  See the map of the Inca empire below. Each color represents a different Inca emperor, and the dates when he added more land to the empire:

The Incas had a complex system of agriculture, stored and distributed food for their people, collected taxes, and built an extensive road system, with paid runners delivering mail and goods.   

The Incas also built their structures out of stone blocks that fit together like a puzzle, without using wheels or metal tools.  We don't know how they did it.  The master surviving examples of their work are in Machu Picchu and in Cusco, the Inca's capital city, about 1.5 hours from Machu Picchu by car.  There is much more we don't know about the Incas, including why they built Machu Picchu. See the first 10 minutes of the video, below:

You can learn more about the Inca empire by spending time in the Inca capital city, Cusco.  There people of Inca heritage still farm traditional crops, dress in traditional colorful woven clothing, and speak the Quechua language.  

From Cusco, you can take a trip west to the desert to see another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Nazca lines: immense lines, animal drawings and geometric shapes drawn in the sand about 2000 years ago by the Nazca civilization. To see them well, you'll need to take to the air. See more in the video, below:

From Nazca you can head north to the capital of Perú, Lima, built by the Spanish in 1535. Lima was an important Spanish city in colonial times (1500s - 1800s). There you can visit some of the restaurants (like Astrid&Gastón) that have placed Perú prominently in the world food scene.

Like to travel back further in time?  You can head north from Lima to the oldest city in the Americas, the 5000-year-old city of Caral-Supe.  From there you can head farther north and east to Huascarán National Park, part of the highest tropical rainforest in the world.