Before arriving for your Peru trip, a bit of reading might be in order to provide you with an understanding of Peruvian history and culture. Informing yourself about Peru will enrich your journey by deepening your knowledge about the conditions and events that have contributed to Peru’s current position as a developing nation. The following list should provide valuable insights, and serve as a jumping-off point for your explorations.
Exploring Cusco by Peter Frost.
Now in its sixth edition, this is the quintessential companion guide to Cusco and the Sacred Valley. Peter Frost has lived in Cusco for over three decades, and he shares his knowledge, insight, and experience with the reader, including personal recommendations for hikes and walking tours, discussions about Inca history, information about medicinal and sacred plants of the region, and numerous recommendations for restaurants, hotels, and shops. Complete with local maps that span the Sacred Valley, Cusco, and the area surrounding Machu Picchu, and a glossary of Quechua and Spanish terms, Exploring Cusco offers the reader a wellspring of knowledge and insight about Peru’s most-visited region. The author’s website contains additional references and updates that expand on the information found in the book.
The Sacred Landscape of the Inca: the Cusco Ceque System by Brian Bauer.
Before the arrival of the Spanish, the Incas had laid out a complex ceremonial system along 42 ceques (lines) that had the Qoricancha (Temple of the Sun) as their center. Ayllus, or cooperative community groups, organized to maintain the system by making specific offerings at the monuments and shrines located along its pathways. The author directed an extensive surveying project in Cusco to understand the structure of the ceque system and its underlying significance. Bauer shows how the system was organized and explores what it meant for the spiritual, political, and social configuration of the ancient city of Cusco. The Sacred Landscape of the Inca: the Cusco Ceque System offers insight into the Inca worldview.
The Conquest of the Incas by John Hemming – a must-read book for visitors to Peru who want to understand how a group of Spaniards led by Francisco Pizarro conquered one of the most advanced civilizations in existence, the Inca Empire. Superior weaponry, disease, politics, greed, and trickery all played a role in the historical overthrow of the Incas. The author discusses in detail the key historical events that led to the death of Atahualpa, the last Inca, and the subsequent exploitation of the native population of Peru and the Spanish founding of Lima, Cusco, and Peru’s major population centers.
Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams.
In spite of his chosen career as a travel magazine editor, the author had never been on his own adventure, nor even slept in a tent! Mark Adams chose to retrace the footsteps of the controversial explorer credited with the “discovery” of Machu Picchu, Hiram Bingham, who later became a controversial figure due to his appropriation of artifacts when indigenous residents led him to the “Lost City of the Incas” in 1911.
Visitors to the site will enjoy reading about Adams’ exploits and laugh at his anecdotes as he encounters local villagers along the way and stretches his own perceived limitations. His enjoyable, yet informative writing style captures the reader’s attention. A great read if you are about to visit Cusco, the Sacred Valley, and Machu Picchu.
Trail of Feathers: In Search of the Birdmen of Peru by Tahir Shah.
Tahir Shah is a prolific author and travel writer of British descent whose hallmark is his humorous style and alternative worldview. In this book, he explores an intriguing piece of Peruvian legend once chronicled by a Spanish monk: the rumor that certain Incas could “fly like birds.” On his journey to discover the truth behind the myth, Shah takes up with an interesting group of characters, including wizards, conmen, scholars, and thieves; and traverses the mountains and desert, finally landing deep within the Amazon jungle of Peru. Those who have an academic or empirical interest in the entheogenic plants of Peru, or who enjoy travel writing with a surreal twist, will enjoy this book.
Though a by-no-means comprehensive list, I hope the above books have given you a place to start in your quest to understand Peru’s history, people, and cultural legacies. Once you’ve been inspired by these great reads, you might just end up writing your own Peru legend after your visit to Peru.