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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. Today, Inca descendants still speak their ancient language, Quechua.

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.

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.

Meanwhile in China, successive Dynasties ruled for centuries, contributing to an immense tapestry of palaces, pagodas and temples. The greatest concentration of these are in the capital Beijing, which is also close to the Great Wall. Just outside Xi'an we find the 8,000 strong Terracotta Army, built to defend the tomb of China's first emperor.

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Suggestions & Recommendations

Cusco

Cusco is a beautiful city shaped by a mix of Inca and Catholic beliefs. It is close to the Sacred Valley & Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is one of the most recognisable archaeological sites in the world, buried deep in cloud forest.

Sacred Valley of the Incas

Traditional villages, rural landscapes and hilltop Inca ruins bring you closer to Peru's fascinating past and present.

Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza is a world-famous Mayan archaeological site in the Yucatan Peninsula, it is remarkably well-preserved.

Uxmal

Buried deep in tropical rainforest, Uxmal's large and impressive ruins are noted for their distinctive Puuc style.

Palenque

Set amid jungle in Chiapas State, the Palenque ruins show some of the highest levels of Mayan craftmanship in Mexico.

Tikal

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

Aguateca & El Ceibal

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

Quirigua & Copan

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

Beijing & Great Wall

Beijing is the cultural and historic heart of China, a mix of Imperial, Communist and modern day influences.

Xian & Terracotta Army

The former Silk Road city of Xi'an is close to the Terracotta Army and home to a vibrant Muslim Quarter.

Specialist Insights
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The story behind Inti Raymi

Discover the story behind the Inti Raymi festival, when it is and how you can attend this ancient Inca celebration in Cusco.

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Latin America's ancient civilisations: Mayans

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