Machu Picchu was never actually "lost", there were always local farmers living there but it had been lost to the outside world. Furthermore, Machu Picchu was never really an actual city or administrative center. The former Inca capital of Vilcabamba on the other hand is called the "Lost City of the Incas". Vilcabamba was the last refuge of the beleaguered Inca Empire from 1539 to 1572.

The Incas had been ravished by smallpox, civil war, and the onslaught of the numerically few but technologically advanced Spanish conquistadors. When this city finally fell it was the end of the once-proud Inca Empire. After it was abandoned it was forgotten and would be lost for centuries until 1911. Today it is one of the incredible sights in Peru that's not Machu Picchu.


About Vilcabamba

Vilcabamba means "sacred plain" in the Inca language Quechua and today it is located in La Convecion Province in the Cuzco Region in Peru.

  • Date: Capital Of The Remains Of The Inca Empire 1539-1572
  • Discovered By: Explore Hiram Bingham in 1911

In 1911 the explorer Hiram Bingham was exploring the mountains and forests of Peru and he discovered this lost city after the local Peruvians showed him the way. He described the city in his book "The Lost City of The Incas". But it seems he was confused because he seems to have thought that Machu Picchu was the fabled lost city of Vilcabamba. Machu Picchu may have been more of a royal sacred site than an actual city.

It wasn't until 1964 that Gene Savoy was able to identify these ruins (which were then called Espiritu Pampa) with the fabled stories of the lost Vilcabamba. The site is still continuing to release its secrets, in 2010, artifacts have been shown to belong to the ancient Wari culture from around 700 AD. This means the site had been in use long before the Inca arrived in the 1400s.

  • Size: Vilcabamba Occupies An Area of 15 Ha
  • Ruins: Ruins Include Canals, Terraces, Inca Temples, Traces of Buildings
  • Access: Via Long And Difficult Hiking Trails, No Road Access

The Inca emperor, Manco Inca Yupanqui, guarding the last of his empire managed to defeat the Spanish and their Indian allies in 1537. But even so, it wasn't enough to stop the Spanish, and he had to move his capital. While he managed to escape, his principal wife was captured.

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Some of the buildings and ceramics here have Spanish influence. This shows that despite being the last refugee for the weakened Inca Empire, there was influence from the warring Spanish. There is also evidence of fire, that could indicate damage caused by the victorious Spanish as they eventually overran the last redoubt of the disintegrating Inca Empire.

Visiting Vilcabamba

Today the site is open for tourists. For much of the site, the jungle has been cleared, but other parts still remain covered by the dense Cusco forest.

While one needs a tour to hike to Machu Picchu, tourists can go to Vilcabamba by themselves if they prefer. There are of course options for organized tours too and this is the most popular way to visit. Going through a tourism agency means that food, camping, transportation, etc. are covered. Tours are available that include guided tours to the iconic city of Machu Picchu.

To reach this remote location by oneself, one needs to take a long bus ride from the modern town of the same name, Vilcabamba. And then there is a long hike to this forgotten site deep within the jungle. See here for hiking the Inca trail to Machu Picchu.

  • Getting To Vilcabamba: One Can Hike By Oneself, But Via Guided Tour Is Recommended

Related: Skip Machu Picchu And Consider Visiting The Ancient City Of Chan Chan, Instead

The extremely rugged terrain of the region (that includes snow-capped mountains, forests, lowland jungles, and deep canyons), is why it is difficult to reach today. It is also why the Inca chose it as their retreat from the Spanish, why it resisted the Spanish for so long, and why it was forgotten. Getting there remains no easy feat and is recommended only for experienced hikers. But as the saying goes, no pain no gain, the site is very rewarding to those who do hike through the snow-capped mountains, through the jungle, and across rugged and even dangerous terrain.

How To Book Tours

Guided and professional tours to the site can be booked through an agency in the Historic Center of Cusco. Alternatively, to get an online quote, see Mountain Macchu Picchu Guide.

Vilcabamba is a great option for those really interested in seeing and discovering more of the Ancient Inca culture than just the popular Machu Picchu. While Machu Picchu really is stunning, which is far from the only attraction of the Inca Empire to survive.

Next: 20 Things Tourists Do At Machu Picchu (That Locals Can't Stand)