Whenever I travel, in between booking hotels and planning my excursions, I read about the country I will be experiencing. It gives me more context to the culture, society, and history. I love traveling for the new perspectives I encounter and gain, and find that doing a little bit of research through books adds to just that. Here’s what I’ve read to prepare for my upcoming expedition through Peru.
I found it pertinent to brush up on my Incan history, and found just the book in THE LAST DAYS OF THE INCAS. This is a highly readable and accessible chronology of the Spanish conquest and invasion. It’s a sweeping and tragic narrative of historical events, and for the archeology nerd in all of us it also includes detailed examinations of this incredible civilization’s ruins and sites.
The epic story of the fall of the Inca Empire to Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro in the aftermath of a bloody civil war, and the recent discovery of the lost guerrilla capital of the Incas, Vilcabamba, by three American explorers.
In 1532, the fifty-four-year-old Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro led a force of 167 men, including his four brothers, to the shores of Peru. Unbeknownst to the Spaniards, the Inca rulers of Peru had just fought a bloody civil war in which the emperor Atahualpa had defeated his brother Huascar. Pizarro and his men soon clashed with Atahualpa and a huge force of Inca warriors at the Battle of Cajamarca. Despite being outnumbered by more than two hundred to one, the Spaniards prevailed—due largely to their horses, their steel armor and swords, and their tactic of surprise. They captured and imprisoned Atahualpa. Although the Inca emperor paid an enormous ransom in gold, the Spaniards executed him anyway. The following year, the Spaniards seized the Inca capital of Cuzco, completing their conquest of the largest native empire the New World has ever known. Peru was now a Spanish colony, and the conquistadors were wealthy beyond their wildest dreams.
But the Incas did not submit willingly. A young Inca emperor, the brother of Atahualpa, soon led a massive rebellion against the Spaniards, inflicting heavy casualties and nearly wiping out the conquerors. Eventually, however, Pizarro and his men forced the emperor to abandon the Andes and flee to the Amazon. There, he established a hidden capital, called Vilcabamba—only recently rediscovered by a trio of colorful American explorers. Although the Incas fought a deadly, thirty-six-year-long guerrilla war, the Spanish ultimately captured the last Inca emperor and vanquished the native resistance.
You cannot talk about Peru without mentioning the Andes, and in this insightful travelogue McQuarrie provides a unique exploration of South America’s backbone. Through portraits of the famous and infamous people who called these mountains home, McQuarrie weaves his own journey up and down the continent to different lands with the area’s history. It’s a highly entertaining read that melds two of my favorite things: adventure and literature.
“A thoughtfully observed travel memoir and history as richly detailed as it is deeply felt” (Kirkus Reviews) of South America, from Butch Cassidy to Che Guevara to cocaine king Pablo Escobar to Charles Darwin, all set in the Andes Mountains.
The Andes Mountains are the world’s longest mountain chain, linking most of the countries in South America. Kim MacQuarrie takes us on a historical journey through this unique region, bringing fresh insight and contemporary connections to such fabled characters as Charles Darwin, Che Guevara, Pablo Escobar, Butch Cassidy, Thor Heyerdahl, and others. He describes living on the floating islands of Lake Titcaca. He introduces us to a Patagonian woman who is the last living speaker of her language. We meet the woman who cared for the wounded Che Guevara just before he died, the police officer who captured cocaine king Pablo Escobar, the dancer who hid Shining Path guerrilla Abimael Guzman, and a man whose grandfather witnessed the death of Butch Cassidy.
Collectively these stories tell us something about the spirit of South America. What makes South America different from other continents—and what makes the cultures of the Andes different from other cultures found there? How did the capitalism introduced by the Spaniards change South America? Why did Shining Path leader Guzman nearly succeed in his revolutionary quest while Che Guevara in Bolivia was a complete failure in his?
“MacQuarrie writes smartly and engagingly and with…enthusiasm about the variety of South America’s life and landscape” (The New York Times Book Review) in Life and Death in the Andes. Based on the author’s own deeply observed travels, “this is a well-written, immersive work that history aficionados, particularly those with an affinity for Latin America, will relish” (Library Journal).
Mario Vargas Llosa is Peru’s most important writer. As a Nobel Laureate with a 50-year career creating novels, poems, essays, and plays, he’s an international tour de force. While his most recent book, THE NEIGHBORHOOD, is not his most recognizable, it deftly showcases Llosa’s signature style: politically charged thriller peppered with social commentary. Set in Lima during the 1990s, this book fictionalizes corruption found in the actual presidency of Alberto Fujimori and presents a complex and suspenseful mystery that reveals a seedy side of Peruvian social classes.
I’m actually spending five days hiking the Inca trail from Cusco to Machu Picchu, so I really needed the overview TURN RIGHT AT MACHU PICCHU provided. In 1911, Yale professor Hiram Bingham III hiked the Andes and stumbled upon Machu Picchu, which is now considered one of the greatest wonders of the world. In this clever and hilarious book, Mark Adams travels the same route as Bingham and his “discovery” of Machu Picchu. The self-deprecation, humor, and layers of the personal with the historical reminded me of Bill Bryson’s A WALK IN THE WOODS, where both are perfect for armchair explorers.
When Andrés Ruzo was a little boy in Peru he heard a legend about a river deep in the Amazon that is as scalding as boiling water. Twelve years later, while studying to become a geoscientist, he is determined to find this mythological river. Upon seeing it, he spends years researching its origins. While seeking scientific answers, Ruzo realizes what it means to protect the unique and significant, as this river is protected by a shaman and is a sacred and a crucial part of a community’s existence. Based on a TEDGlobal Talk, this book is a great reminder that when we try to discover the new—and in a sense travel—we usually end up revealing more about the world than anticipated.
In this exciting adventure mixed with amazing scientific study, a young, exuberant explorer and geoscientist journeys deep into the Amazon—where rivers boil and legends come to life.
When Andrés Ruzo was just a small boy in Peru, his grandfather told him the story of a mysterious legend: There is a river, deep in the Amazon, which boils as if a fire burns below it. Twelve years later, Ruzo—now a geoscientist—hears his aunt mention that she herself had visited this strange river.
Determined to discover if the boiling river is real, Ruzo sets out on a journey deep into the Amazon. What he finds astounds him: In this long, wide, and winding river, the waters run so hot that locals brew tea in them; small animals that fall in are instantly cooked. As he studies the river, Ruzo faces challenges more complex than he had ever imaged.
The Boiling River follows this young explorer as he navigates a tangle of competing interests—local shamans, illegal cattle farmers and loggers, and oil companies. This true account reads like a modern-day adventure, complete with extraordinary characters, captivating plot twists, and jaw-dropping details—including stunning photographs and a never-before-published account about this incredible natural wonder. Ultimately, though, The Boiling River is about a man trying to understand the moral obligation that comes with scientific discovery —to protect a sacred site from misuse, neglect, and even from his own discovery.