The Essence of Espíritu Pampa: Manco Inca’s haven from the Spanish – The route is back on!
Those who have done some research and know their Inca history might have come across information about Espíritu Pampa, also know as the “Lost City of the Incas” – the last Inca stronghold after their escape from the Spanish Conquistadores, located in the high jungle region of Vilcabamba, Peru.
It was believed that ‘Espíritu Pampa’ was built in a hurry, without proper construction materials and resources. It was a short-term-refuge for the last Inca ruler, Manco Inca, and his family, to keep out of harm’s way from the Spanish. The royal Inca family took refuge there for around 30 years, until the Spanish sacked the site in 1572. They destroyed the majority of the temples, leaving it abandoned and forgotten for hundreds of years thereafter.
Hiram Bingham, who re-discovered Machu Picchu in 1911, believed that it was the lost city and the last refuge of the Inca, but this has since been proven otherwise by many other explorers and historians. In the 1960’s, archaeologists Antonio Santander Casselli and Gene Savoy finally made the connection between Espíritu Pampa and the lost city of the Incas. Since then, archaeological restoration work of the ruins has been attempted and abandoned throughout the years.
Vincent Lee brought the site to worldwide attention over the last 15 years with his book, Forgotten Vilcabamba. Lee’s influence and archaeological work there has led to an increased interest in the area. In fact Apus Peru encountered a team of local archaeologists working at the site on our recent visit there in November, 2015.
Until recently, there had been some security concerns about trekking in this area. However, there were no indications of any problems when we hiked the trail this November.
We spoke with some of the local porters and farmers in the region: they indicated that they had not heard of any other groups of tourists hiking the route for many years, since warnings had been put in place. We were the first group they had seen in a long while.
In general, the trail is very well kept and you can be certain that, in parts, you are walking on the ancient & original Inca Trail.
Regarding the sections that are comprised of dirt or gravel footpaths, the campesinos, or local farmers, have kept the route relatively free from vegetation and overgrowth, since they use the trail for transporting their harvested crops and for herding animals.
For the main part of the trail, it takes trekking a good chunk of 50 kilometers over 4 or 5 days before you reach the first part of the archeological site (there are two). Upon arrival, you encounter a small area of restored ruins, rather like a control point. Then you head down some Inca steps, taking approximately 40 minutes to reach the second and superior site.
Weather-wise, November was particularly wet this year. There were muddy swaths of trail, and our team had to cross some washed-away river crossings, as well as a small landslide.
For the best chance for drier conditions when you trek this route, it is highly recommended to undertake this trek between the months of May and September.
We experienced very wet conditions on the trail, thus we advise you to do this route in the dry months only.
The Espíritu Pampa trek is truly a beautiful route. On the way to the ruins, you experience a mix of diverse terrains, including scenic mountain backdrops, rolling high Andes plains, and once you have reached the ‘lower’ section, lush high jungle forests, including banana and coca plantations. You will observe a wide variety of sub-tropical flora. You may well have the chance to sight some bird life such as parakeets, Andean hawks, eagles, and perhaps even the famous ‘Tunki’ – ‘Cock of the Rock’- Peru’s national bird!
Those who expect the equivalent of Machu Picchu, with its massive and plentiful ruins, would be disappointed with this trek: however, if you are seeking a truly ‘off-the-beaten- track’ route with some less touristic ruins located at the end of a truly magnificent trail, then you will be justly rewarded!
Matt Waugh, November 2016
To see more details about our Espíritu Pampa trail routes, please check out the following links:
9 day Vilcabamba – Espíritu Pampa
15 day Vilcabamba Range Grand traverse