If you are looking for the best Machu Picchu books, then you have found someone passionate about travel books on Peru.
My love affair with Peru started nearly 20 years ago, before the internet was widely used and when the best way to learn about a country was to read books. Slowly but surely I built up a library of the best travel books on Peru, including the best Machu Picchu books.
I needed to know everything I could about Peru, and I collected an impressive set of titles. My Peru library includes great tomes like the History of the Conquest of Peru by William H. Prescott and The Conquest of the Incas by John Hemming. These are fascinating Peru books for those with a deep level of interest in Peru; however, I don’t believe that these are books to read before traveling to Peru for the first time. Here I have included my personal favorites, Machu Picchu books, Novels about Peru, and a couple of books that aren’t even about Peru but do provide much insight into some of their cultures. There are a lot of good books about Peru!
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Best Books About Machu Picchu
The Lost City of the Incas, by Hiram Bingham, is a great Machu Picchu book to get into the spirit of the lost city.
Nowadays people always say Hiram Bingham “rediscovered” Machu Picchu; as it was never lost to the local people. While some of the facts in the Lost City of the Incas aren’t correct, it still is a very evocative read.
I love this book for the way it brings the spirit of adventure to life; you travel along with Hiram Bingham on his explorations that found the famed “Lost City of the Incas.” You learn that he was always accompanied by local guides who knew the locations of all the “lost” ruins and get a good feeling for Bingham’s romantic and exciting exploration. Get your copy of Lost City of the Incas here.
The White Rock
The White Rock, by Hugh Thomson is quite possibly my favorite book about Peru; it shares the story of a young adventurer setting off to find some ruins once found (by Hiram Bingham) but subsequently lost. As Hugh travels, he shares much of the history of the Incas, in a captivating and thoroughly fascinating way) He shares his stories of exploration as well as other modern-day explorers, giving you a sense of what it takes to find an Inca Ruin. While The White Rock doesn’t focus only on Machu Picchu (in fact there is only one chapter about it), it makes a great companion book for a Peru trip as the context of exploration and travel is awesome. Get your copy of Hugh Thompson’s The White Rock here.
Turn Right At Machu Picchu
Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams is the newest book about Machu Picchu that you will find on this list, and also amongst the most entertaining. Part travelogue, part historical summary, the author follows the steps that led Hiram Bingham to “rediscover” Machu Picchu one hundred years earlier. (Turn Right at Machu Picchu was published in 2010, Bingham first arrived at Machu
The chapters in this interesting Machu Picchu book alternate between Bingham’s and Adams’ expeditions. Adams includes anecdotes, observations and sometimes he tosses in some very funny titbits. Like others on this list, Mark Adams addresses the question, “What role did Machu Picchu play?” Was it a city or a pilgrimage or the lost city of Incas? Mark Adams has collected all the theories that various people who were involved in the discovery of Machu Picchu and some of the other Inca sites. Therefore if you are looking for a one-stop-shop on different theories about Machu Picchu then Turn Right at Machu Picchu fits the bill. Compare prices for Turn Right At Machu Picchu.
Best Travel Books On Peru
In this category, I have put together great travel books on Peru that will be awesome companions for your first trip to Peru. Therefore I have chosen books that are readable and enjoyable, as well as factually interesting.
Last Days Of The Incas
Last Days of the Incas by Kim MacQuarrie is a must-read book for someone visiting Cusco, the Sacred Valley, and Machu Picchu. It provides a very unique perspective and is highly readable.
What I love about Last Days of the Incas is that it is more like a Peru novel than a historical book. It is, however, serious history of the conquest, and written in much detail in a narrative style. That is, you get into the story.
The story is not new; it tells how Pizarro and his small group of Spaniards take Cusco, which is already ravaged by inter-Incan disagreements and weakened from smallpox. It does also cover the 40 years after the conquest, bringing much context into the rebellions of the Incas and how modern-day Peru still views the conquest. Also very interesting are struggles within the Spanish camp, resulting in Pizarro’s death.
If you love hardcore academic reading, then John Hemming’s Conquest of the Incas is the definitive work on the conquest. However, MacQuarrie’s book is much easier and more fiction like reading, making it highly recommended.
If you read any Peru books before traveling, let it be this. This is a good, strong, in-depth guide to all things Peru.
You will learn about the traditions and values of the residents of Peru. The guide also explains communication, food, along with do’s and don’ts so that you can avoid any awkward experience when visiting for the first time!
It’s always difficult to travel from one country to another, especially if you haven’t been there before. This guide will help you know what to expect, and understand the things that you may see – it’s a great tool to prepare you for your trip!
This is one of the best travel books on Peru that will give context to your Peru travel. Compare Prices here.
One of our most highly recommended Peru Travel books, Weaving in the Peruvian Highlands by Nilda Callanaupa Alvarez is a must purchase for anyone who loves art or textiles. This beautifully illustrated book gives a wonderful insight into the importance of weaving in Peru. The author, Nilda Callanaupa, is an indigenous woman from Chinchero was critical in bringing the world’s attention to the Cusco weavings, and she does it again with this great Peru book.
It extensively documents many of the incredible traditional patterns that you see throughout Peru’s textiles. It shows how exquisite pieces of fabric are crafted on a simple loom – it helps you appreciate the labor and love that goes into each piece!
If you have an interest in textiles, or weaving then this book, Weaving in the Peruvian Highlands is a must-read.
Books To Read Before Travelling To Peru
I’ve made a separate category for these books, as they are not strictly Peru travel books. Most of them only just make peripheral reference to Peru… but their historical context and how that relates to modern-day Peru is fascinating.
A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, And The Quest For The Color Of Desire
A Perfect Red, by Amy Butler Greenfield, is a fascinating, beautiful book about color. More specifically, it is about how the color red became powerful, and how the color red (along with competing colors) affected past and present cultures. From botanists to spies, from industrialists to inventors, from politics to revolutions… this book is a terrific read that has you turning pages.
In short, after Cochineal was discovered by Spanish conquistadors in Mexico in 1519, cochineal became one of Spain’s top colonial commodities. Not only was the Spanish crown made rich from the gold and silver of the Americas, but it was also made rich by having a monopoly on the Cochineal bug! Spain fiercely guarded the secrets of cochineal cultivation in Mexico and only after centuries of speculation (as the red powder derived from plant or animal?) did 18th-century microscopes reveal the secret of Cochineal red!
The Potato, by Larry Zuckerman, is a very interesting historical account of the history of the potato and how it was introduced to Europe after being discovered in the Andes! Can you believe the potato was once known as throwaway food no one wanted to eat? This book does a marvelous, and entertaining, the job of illustrating the evolution and importance of the potato.
This book doesn’t so much touch on the history of the potato in the Andes though. Rather it speaks about the incredible effect it had in France, England, and Ireland. It’s incredible to think about the impact a simple potato had! It really was life-changing for so many people and countries!
If you visit any traditional communities while in Peru you are sure to be offered more than a few humble potatoes, so this book will give you a new appreciation of the Humble Spud! Compare prices for The Potato here.
The Motorcycle Diaries
Made famous by the film of the same name, The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto “Che” Guevara are an entertaining read for anyone traveling to South America, or Peru. Certainly, the diaries travel from Che’s home country of Argentina, right through to Colombia in the north. However, the Peru section is evocative and interesting. Once you have visited Cusco and the Sacred Valley and read his beautiful impressions, you will realize that there are things about this part of the world that are timeless.
If you are interested in Che Guevara’s revolutionary contribution to the world, the Peru section of the Motorcycle Diaries is particularly interesting. Coming from a relatively affluent background in Argentina, during his travels, he encounters indigenous people such as the Quechua and Aymara, and discovers the poor realities of his life. During his time in Peru, you see his thinking about the world begin to change. Get your copy of the Motorcycle Diaries here.
Novels About Peru
I get it; sometimes nonfiction work is just no fun when on holidays. That is why I have included a few novels about Peru. I believe they would be a good companion while on your Peru holiday.
The Inca’s Trilogy
As the name suggests, there are three books in the Incas Trilogy: The Puma’s Shadow, The Gold of Cusco, and the Light of Machu Picchu by AB. Daniel.
If you are looking for really well written, gripping reading then these books are probably not for you. That said, they are fairly light. While they provide a lot of detailed insight into the Incas and the Spanish at the time of the Conquest of Peru.
These are romantic novels, with Incan and Spanish main characters that are part of the fall of the Inca Empire. Through reading the story you do get an understanding of what Peru might have been like at the time of the conquest. The plot of the book isn’t that fantastic and the main characters two dimensional. However, if you can work through that you will learn enough to make the trilogy worthwhile! Get the whole set here!
Once on many bestseller lists, the Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield is bound to be a slightly controversial inclusion in this list!
If you are interested in viewing your life and the world differently, then the Celestine Prophecy might give you a wonderful revelation. The writing in this book is terrible. The description of locations in Peru is completely inaccurate. However, try to let go of the bad writing and instead discover the gems and insights offered.
Yes, it’s a “new age”, batty book. However, it does get you thinking about your personal energies and what coincidence is and what is not. And more.
Conclusion – Best Books About Machu Picchu And Peru Travel
I hope you have enjoyed this Peru journey with me. I’ve got a lot of Peru books on my bookshelf! Believe me, not even half of them have made this list. I have chosen an enjoyable narrative that will provide you with unique insights into your Peru Travel. Please let me know if you have any other suggestions on the Best Machu Picchu books!
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Interested in knowing some more about Peru, try our Fun Peru Facts For Kids.
Or if you would like to delve deeper into the history of the fascinating Inca Empire, try Facts About The Incas For Kids.
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