Last Updated on July 22, 2021 by worldoftravelswithkids
Here are some interesting and complex facts about the Incas for kids. The history of the Inca Empire and the story of the Inca civilization is a fascinating one. There is a lot of complexity and also doubt about some facts. In short, the Incas were a civilization that flourished through conquer in the 1400s (about 600 years ago) and was made up of ethnic Quechua people. Today, the descendants of the Incas still speak Quechua in the Andes and follow many of their ancient traditions.
What I have done here is collate the most interesting facts about the Incas – and the Inca Empire as well as some Inca fun facts for kids. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to drop them in the comments!
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How Did I Become Interested in Facts on the Incas?
After a lengthy holiday in Peru, I settled in Cusco, once the capital of the Inca Empire, in 2002. Living in Cusco it is impossible to not become profoundly aware of the tribe of people known as the Incas. You live and breathe facts about the Inca civilization every single day. As you walk through the Plaza de Armas, you are in fact walking through Huacaypata. Just down the street, you can see the exquisite walls of the Coricancha, the temple of gold. You get the picture, Cusco is a living museum to the Quechua Tribe called the Incas.
Facts about the Incas for Kids
The History of the Inca Empire and the story of the Inca civilization is a fascinating one. There is a lot of complexity and also doubt about some facts. What I have done here is collate the most interesting facts about the Incas as well as some Inca fun facts for kids.
Who were the Incas?
The most important fact about the Incas is – who were they? They were a tribe who originally settled around the Valley of Cusco, and through warring with other tribes gained dominance of more and more land. The Incas steadily built a massive empire that spanned from what is now Northern Ecuador all the way down to Chile. The center of the Incan Empire was the city of Cusco.
Who was the Inca?
What…? It’s a bit confusing, isn’t it?
The Inca was like the supreme emperor of the Inca people (the Incas). He was also referred to as the Sapa Inca. He was the representative of Inti on earth, Inti being the ancient Incan sun god.
When did the Inca Civilization Flourish?
While the Inca tribe slowly expanded around their capital of Cusco, in Peru for a couple of hundred years, the Inca Empire as we know it and the Inca civilization flourished under the rule of the Inca Pachacuti or Pachacutec. (You see Pachacutec more commonly in Peru.)
With the full name of Pachacuti Inca Yupanqi, he was actually the ninth Sapa Inca of the tribe of Incas, but the one responsible for the most expansion of the Inca Empire.
Once the many tribes of present-day Chile, Peru, and Ecuador were defeated Pachacuti controlled them by displacing hundreds of thousands of dissenting tribes in massive programs of relocation and resettling them to colonize the most remote edges of his empire. In addition, the Incan imperial government was highly authoritative and repressive and kept control through language (Quechua) and an amazing road network. Even after the conquest, Inca leaders continued to resist the Spaniards up until 1572, when its last city, Vilcabamba, was captured
How Many People Lived in the Inca Empire?
It is not known exactly the numbers of people living in the height of the Inca Empire during its peak. However, there is no dispute that it was the largest pre-Columbian empire in the Americas, stretching 770,000 square miles. The population is estimated at between 6-14 million people. I find that a fascinating Peru fact!
Where was the Inca Empire Located?
One of the most interesting facts about the Incas and Inca civilizations was the enormous amount of land that they held. Their empire stretched from modern-day southern Colombia to Central Chile (the Maule River). That is a lot of people and land! All of present-day Peru, and Ecuador, as well as a big part of Bolivia, was part of the Inca civilization.
How did the Incas Control such an Enormous Area?
There were no phones, no way of communicating during the Incan times. They imposed their language – Quechua- on conquered peoples, and for this reason, various forms of Quechua are spoken throughout the Andes. In addition, they moved entire populations of hostile tribes to the Cusco region, while moving loyal tribes to other strategic locations.
Why is so much about the Incas a Mystery?
One of the facts about the Incas for kids is that even today we don’t know everything about the Inca Empire. Many things remain a mystery because they did not have a written language. Many of the rulers and elites were wiped out by the time a written language was developed. Instead, they used a system of knotted and colored strings, called a khipu. The khipu has never been deciphered, and it is thought that they provided an inventory of the assets of the empire.
Textiles told stories, and still do today, but do not represent a factual record. These are facts about the Incas that truly are a mystery.
There is a Good Reason the Inca Flag Looks Familiar!
You’d be forgiven if you thought you’d seen the Incan flag associated with the LGTBIQ+ community – it does look very familiar! However, it is not the same! How do you tell the difference you ask? Here is an easy tip, the Incan flag contains a light blue stripe that the LGTBIQ+ flag does not contain. So the Incan flag has 7 colors total.
Also, the rainbow Inca flag is not an ancient Incan flag. It was only imagined in 1948 by a Cusco radio announcer (at Radio Tahuantinsuyo). All the colored horizontal stripes have a meaning. The red for the earth, orange for society and culture, yellow for energy, white for time, green for the economy, blue for space, and purple for policy.
Inca Empire Facts – Information about Cusco
How was the Location of Cusco Chosen?
Cusco was the capital chosen by the Incas when they came to the forefront of other tribes in the 12th century. For three centuries they lived in the valley of Cusco until under the 9th Inca, Pachacuti their conquests began in the early 15th century.
There are a couple of Inca myths as to how Cusco was chosen as the capital, but my favorite is that the Manco Cápac and Mama Ocllo were sent to the earth by the sun god Inti.
Emerging from the waters of Lake Titicaca, Manco Cápac and Mama Ocllo traveled for many days. The husband and wife deities were on a mission: wherever their golden staff sank into the earth, then the land was considered fertile and would be where the Inca Empire began. This moment occurred at Huanacari, nowadays a short drive from Cusco.
Cusco is Shaped Like a Puma
Cusco was the capital of the Inca Empire (not Machu Picchu). At the time of the conquest is believed to have at least one gold-plated temple at the Coricancha and the home of the Inca nobility, especially the Inca and his ancestors (mummies). Another of my favorite facts about Peru is that from above, Cusco is shaped like a puma (an animal sacred to the Inca), with the giant fortress of Sacsayhuamán forming its head and jaws.
Cusco Translates as ‘Belly Button of the World’
Here’s an Inca fun fact for you – in Quechua, Qosqo (Cusco) translates as the belly button of the world. Now that sounds really funny and like they were making fun of their own city. However, it is quite the opposite. The Incas were meaning that Qosqp (Cusco) was the center of the universe. As the Incas believed that their capital was the center of their empire, or the world as they knew it, then the navel or belly button was an accurate idea.
Others say that as the administrative and religious center of the Inca Empire, it would have been more accurately considered the heart (sonqo) of the land.
More Fun Facts about the Incas – Construction and Technology
What did the Inca’s Call Their Empire?
See if you can pronounce this – Tahuantinsuyo – Tah-whan-tin- SU-yo. It translates as the four corners of the earth, and that is what the Incas called their empire.
The name comes from the Quechua words for “four” (tawa) and “quarter” (suyu) and the suyus were the four main administrative bodies of the empire. Originally conceived as four equal units with the city of Cuzco located at the central point where they all came together. In practice as the expansion of the Inca Empire occurred at different rates the suyus were not all equal.
The Incas also Built Earthquake-Resistant Buildings!
Not only were the Incas great at building roads, but they also excelled at masonry too. They constructed their buildings without mortar and used flat stones that fit perfectly together with no cracks. This made their buildings very strong and super earthquake resistant.
The Incas were Incredible Road Builders
What is the Qhapaq Nan (and how do you say that)? Pronounced “kah-pak Nan” it is the name of the Incan road network.
One of the most famous facts about the Inca empire is that they held their empire together by a road system. The Inca Empire was so vast that it built a road system with over 18,000 miles of road and even made up its own sort of postal /messenger system. Their roads stretched all the way from Chile to Columbia which was roughly a distance of 3,250 miles.
Remember it wasn’t just one road north to south, but a network of roads crisscrossing the mountains in every which way. Providing the easiest way to cross mountain passes, many Incan roads remain in use (and visible) today.
Characterized by steep slopes and many, many steps, the Incan roads were best traversed by humans, thought llamas could still use them. The Incan roads were useless to the Spanish with their wagons and horses. This significantly delayed the Spanish during their conquest, but not enough. The Incas never built a wheel.
How did the Inca Postal System Work?
In order to keep their vast empire together, the Incas needed excellent communications. They did this through their road network and constructing resting houses (tambos) and storage depots at strategic distances apart.
The communications system was manned by Inca messengers Chaskis (or chasquis) that would run up and down the mountains until they met another relay messenger. This system worked throughout the entire empire. The messengers lived and worked in pairs and one person would sleep while the other was awake and ready to receive and relay messages.
Early historians noted and were surprised to learn that the Inca [Emperor] ate fresh fish, brought from the sea to Cusco. Its been established that the chasquis would leave Puerto Inca on the coast with the fresh fish and it would arrive in the Andean capital within 1-2 days later having traveled over 700km by foot!
Incan Bridges are very Impressive
While many of the Incan roads on the Qhapaq Nan would follow the sides of mountains and avoid the need to cross chasms, at times it was unavoidable. The Incas made some very impressive rope bridges over gorges out of Ichu Grass. Today, the Q’eswachaka Bridge is a wonderful example of this Incan engineering, and as in ancient times, the local villagers replace the Ichu each year in a festival held in June.
Incas had Agricultural Research Stations
Not far from Cusco are the fascinating Inca ruins of Moray. These were agricultural research stations in Incan times. Scientists have discovered some truly amazing things here. The terraces each have a different temperature and each of these differences in temperature is similar to what is found at different elevations within the ancient Inca Empire — from sea level to the Andean highlands.
In addition, the scientists discovered the soil on the various terraces had been brought came from different locations within the Incan Empire. This led to the inescapable conclusion that the Moray Terraces were an enormous agricultural testing station, with each level having its own microclimate.
Facts about Incan Cities
The most Famous Inca City is Machu Picchu
A fun fact about Machu Picchu, and what probably contributed to its excellent state of preservation, was that it was “lost” to the Western world until a local led American explorer Hiram Bingham to visit it in 1911. It was never discovered by the Spaniards during the conquest, though many expeditions passed right by it during the final uprisings of the Incas. There are so many fascinating Incan facts, we have written a full post about Machu Picchu Facts For Kids.
Another Stunning Incan City is Choquequirao
As can be expected, when such an advanced civilization as the Incas settled such a vast area as they did, they left behind some incredible cities, settlements, and structures. There are many other lost cities apart from Machu Picchu but one of our favorites is Choquequirao.
Discovered in 1880 it is protected naturally by the Apurimac canyon, located in the most insane location – not unlike Machu Picchu. Today, it has been protected by its geography in a way that Machu Picchu was not. Choquequirao remains largely unknown, as you can only get there via a grueling 2-day hike.
Unlike Machu Picchu which is likely to have been a summer retreat of the Inca and largely ceremonial in purpose, Choquequirao seems to have been an administrative center. This Mumma traveler (the author of the post) has made two trips to Choquequirao. However, since then, ongoing archaeological work at Choquequirao has revealed some amazing llama terraces – a wonderful reason to go back!
Inca Daily Life
Llamas were the Inca’s most Important Animal
Pre-Inca tribes living in Peru had domesticated the llama a couple of thousand years before the Incas came into power. For more than 5,000 years alpacas have been bred for their fiber, while llamas have been bred for the same amount of time as pack animals and meat.
Llamas were very important to the Incas as they provided meat and also carried their cargo on the narrow and steep roads that the Incas built. They were also sacrificed to the gods in great numbers. Their relative, the alpaca was bred for its fine fleece, and the Incas wore woven alpaca clothing.
Alpacas, though providing clothing for royalty (and far more valuable in today’s world) were not so important to the Incas. Their super fine fleeces were reserved for Incan royalty. To learn more about the differences between the two animals, read our post Alpaca Vs Llama -What’s The Difference Between A Llama And An Alpaca.
What Language did the Incas Speak?
Quechua is actually, ‘Runa Simi’ or ‘mouth of the people; in Quechua itself.
Nowadays it is spoken widely across the Andes in various regions of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Chile, and Argentina, though different areas speak different dialects.
Interestingly, the first Incas who arrived in Cusco in the 1200s did not speak Quechua. They spoke ‘Puquina’, which was a native language spoken by the people that lived around Lake Titicaca. When the Incas began to expand their empire, they took over the northern and coastal areas of Peru where Runa Simi was spoken. Eventually, it became the lingua franca of the Inca Empire and the language of its rulers.
The Spanish tried to ban Quechua after the conquest. For many years, right into the 20th century, it had a negative stigma. It is now one of the official languages of Peru and is actually growing in popularity and becoming more widely used.
Inca Fun Facts – What does “Linga Franca” even mean? Well, it is a language that is used between people whose native languages are different. It is developed by the two groups of people so they can communicate.
Incas Were Known As ‘Big Ears’?
Sounds silly, we know. The Spanish Conquistadors referred to the Incas as Orejones, which literally translates into ‘big ears’. The Spanish called them this from the fact that noble males wore large gold or silver ear plugs in their pierced ear lobes. They would stretch their ear lobes with pieces of thick wood. The bigger the plus, the higher rank of an individual. This is one cool fact about the Inca Empire that sounds similar to a trend today.
Did the Incas have a Writing System?
No, the Incas didn’t have a writing system. However, they did have a way of keeping records. These were knotted, colorful cords, called Qhipu /Khipu (pronounced key-poo)(as we mentioned earlier). This system works by tying different kinds of knots on pieces of string. The number of knots, the kind of knot, and the color of the string were all factors in communicating the information – kind of like an abacus.
As the interpretation of the khipu was done by khipu mayocs (like khipu masters) who were wiped out after the arrival of the Spanish. The khipu remains a mystery to the present day. No one is entirely sure how to interpret them. More recently Archeologists have suggested the khipu was also used to preserve history, stories, and legends as there are few words in Quechua, they could be used as pronunciation keys on the cords.
Textiles told stories, and still do today, but do not represent a factual record. You can learn more about Quechua symbols at Threads of Peru.
The Incas were the First Potato Farmers!
The Incas were in fact the first potato farmers, that is they were the first to cultivate the potato. In fact, the Incas cherished the potato so much that they would often bury their dead with potatoes. The Spanish discovered the potato and fed them to their sailors to prevent scurvy. They also introduced the potato to other parts of the world. So, if you are a potato lover, then the Incas … and to some extent the Spanish. Now that is an interesting fact about the Incas I bed you didn’t know!
How is the Alstroemeria Linked to the Incas?
The Alstroemeria, also known as the Peruvian Lilly or Lily of the Incas, is a flowering plant from the Alstroemeriaceae family. It is native to South America, and in particular the Andes, just like the Incas.
The Peruvian Lily is known as being symbolic of wealth and prosperity. It is also known commonly as the “flower of friendship”.
Facts About The Incas – Religion
The Incas Worshipped the Sun, Moon, and Earth
The Incas were polytheistic, meaning they believed in many gods.
The principal god in the Inca culture was the sun god Inti and the Emperor of the Inca Empire was considered to be a son of the sun. The moon, mother Quilla was the goddess of the moon. Today, Mother Earth or Pachamama is still worshipped on a daily basis by many of the descendants of the Incas, the Quechua people.
Another Inca god was Pachacamac, who they believed created humans, vegetation and oversaw the harvests.
The Incas Believed in Life After Death
Much like the Egyptians, the Inca believed in life after death. When an emperor died, he was mummified. The emperor’s possessions would be kept with the mummified body and also passed on to other children besides the heir.
For any important ritual, the mummies of Inca rulers were brought out for ceremonies.
The Incas also had a Concept of Heaven and Hell
The central rule of Inca religion (corresponding to the Ten Commandments) was Ama sua, Ama lulla, Ama chella (Do not steal, Do not lie, Do not be lazy).
This Quechua saying is still frequently seen around the Andes. If you lived a good life you would go to the Upper World or the land of the sun. If you did not live a good life you would go to the underworld, much like in Christianity. That is one of the interesting facts about the Incas that is similar to other religions.
Norman dwarfed by the stones of Sacsayhuaman
The End of the Inca Empire, Up Until Today
How did the Inca Empire End?
Quite simply the Inca Empire was already weakened by civil war and the diseases of the Spanish conquerers – namely smallpox. This was well before the Spanish conquistadors tread on the soil of the Inca Empire. While the structures of the Inca empire began to dissolve around 1532, there are still some elements of their culture and society that live on in modern-day Peru.
How Many Spanish Defeated the Incas?
One of the saddest facts about the Incas is that Emperor Athahualpa leading an army of up to ten thousand was defeated by just 168 Spanish conquistadors. The Incas were already weakened because so many had died of diseases the Europeans brought and because of an ongoing civil war.
Are there any Similarities between Mayans, Incans, and Aztecs?
If you watch Hollywood movies you can often see confusing presentations of the Inca, Maya, and Aztec cultures making me wonder if they ever had any contact.
There is no written record indicating that the Incas and Aztecs had some kind of relationship. And, beyond small similarities, they are very different cultures. The Aztecs lived mainly in plains in a tropical climate. The Incas lived at altitude, in cold climates. The Aztecs had a written script, the Incas did not. It is certain that they all were pre-Hispanic peoples and had similar worldviews. As they were agricultural societies they all ate similar styles of meals.
Furthermore, all were polytheist (meaning worshipping multiple gods) and did leave a great legacy of constructions and traditions. They all practiced human sacrifices, but this is apparently a normal part of human evolution, according to some sources.
The Descendants of the Incas Still Live in Peru Today
Far up in the mountains, the descendants of the Incas keep the Inca history alive, in their language, textiles, customs, and lifestyle. Most women are still monolingual (that means one language only) Quechua speakers, while the men tend to also speak Spanish. The women weave using the methods of the Incas, while the families still revere nature, the sun, moon, and mountains.
The Verdict– Facts About The Incas For Kids
There are many fun facts about the Incas, and we have shared several of them here for you. Peru is one of our most favorites places for family travel and there is so much to learn and see. If you want to learn more about Peru in general, please take a look at our Peru Destination Guide.
Have you ever been to Peru? Do you have any Inca facts for kids to share? Let us know in the comments below
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