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.
Need help planning your trip?
Speak with our specialist advisers, for first-hand advice and inspiration on the best attractions, accommodation and activities available.
Find your perfect Holiday from our Suggested Itineraries