Discover ancient civilisations and modern history

Three main civilisations dominated Latin America at various times before the arrival of Europeans in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. These's were the Mayans in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico, the Aztecs in central Mexico and the Incas, mainly in Peru. These civilisations flourished within their local surrounds, gaining wealth and power from which they built great cities and empires. Religion was also very important, with each civilisation constructing great temples for the performance of ceremonies and rituals to appease the gods, in return for bountiful harvests and victories in battle.

The Mayas thrived throughout the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, creating a complex society built on agriculture and trade, which consisted of several large city-states, with large pyramids and palaces. They also created an accurate calendar and a numbering system.

The Incas settled in Peru, near the Urubamba Valley, establishing Cusco as their capital and building nearby the 'lost city' of Machu Picchu, high in the Andes Mountains. They built their famed terrace farms, as well as an elaborate system of roads to maintain control of their empire.

The Aztecs were a fierce warrior society, who built a huge empire through military conquest and subsequent taxation of neighboring peoples. They built there mighty capital Tenochtitlan on floating islands in Lake Texcoco, located on the site of present-day Mexico City.

The Spanish conquered Latin America in the 1600s, sacking and destroying the many monuments created by the incumbent civilisations and introducing strong European influences to city architecture planning. Yet Inca descendants still speak their ancient language, Quechua.

Today we can explore the remains of these mighty civilisations, marveling at their extraordinary capacity and ingenuity, at some of the best preserved archaeological sites in the world.

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Insights & Highlights

Cusco by Indrik myneur - licensed under CC

Cusco

Beautiful Cusco was the centre of the Inca Empire and is the oldest continuously inhabited city on the continent.

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Machu Picchu Sunset by Perou Magique - licensed under CC

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is probably the best known Inca site in South America, and one of the most recognisable ruins in the world.

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Sacred Valley of the Incas

The Sacred Valley is characterised by traditional agriculture, bustling markets and outstanding Inca ruins.

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Templo de los Guerreros (Temple of the Warriors) by Keith Pomakis - licensed under CC

Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza is the most visited of all the Mayan sites, and is probably the best kept. The buildings were built on an im…

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Uxmal Palomas N by HJPD - licensed under CC

Uxmal

Buried deep in the heart of the tropical rainforest are the Pre-Columbian ruins of Uxmal and perhaps the pinnacle of Maya…

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Ruins of Palenque by Jan Harenburg - licensed under CC

Palenque

Palenque is therefore one of the best places in Mexico to appreciate the finer details of Mayan craftsmanship and design,…

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Tikal

Nestled among the tropical rainforests Tikal is one of the largest archaeological sites and urban centers of the pre-Colu…

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guatemala_131 by Jocelyn Saurini - licensed under CC

Aguateca & El Ceibal

Hidden deep in the Guatemalan jungle are these two remote Mayan archaeological sites, offering wonderfully maintained rui…

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Mayan pyramid at Copan by Lauri Väin - licensed under CC

Quirigua & Copan

Just over the border in neighbouring Honduras, Copán is another magnificent Mayan archaeological site, in fact it was one…

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