History & Culture

  • Indigenous Shuar children, Ecuador

    Indigenous Shuar children, Ecuador

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  • Machu Picchu

    Machu Picchu

  • Cathedral, Bogota, Colombia

    Cathedral, Bogota, Colombia

  • Ouro Preto, Brazil

    Ouro Preto, Brazil

  • Local dancers, Ecuador highlands

    Local dancers, Ecuador highlands

  • Hand weaving, Sacred Valley, Peru

    Hand weaving, Sacred Valley, Peru

Mysterious pre-Inca and Inca civilisations, indigenous Amazon tribes and European colonial influence spiced up with some African magic

The early history of Latin America is rich and complex. The Inca Empire dominated the Andes during the late 15th and early 16th Centuries, but their civilisation was built on roots of many much earlier civilisations that thrived in the highlands – some dating back thousands of years. The arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the early 16th Century and later the Portuguese changed the face of the continent for ever, bringing with them Christianity and building magnificent churches and palaces – often on the foundations of Inca buildings.

Evidence of the Inca and pre-Inca civilisations can be found throughout the Andes. From their capital at Cusco, the Incas systematically overthrew the earlier civilisations and completely dominated the Andes region from the mid-1400s until their final defeat by the Spanish in 1533. Inca rule extended to nearly a hundred different ethnic communities from Chile through Bolivia, Peru and up to the north of Ecuador: a vast region encompassing up to 14 million people and connected by an incredible system of 25,000 kilometres of mountain trails.

Archaeological excavation of these civilisations continues today. Machu Picchu stands as the greatest monument to the Incas but many other important excavations continue to reveal secrets from the past. Choquequirao – deep in the Peruvian forest – is now being excavated and appears to be an even larger ‘lost city’.

Colonial invasion

From the 1530s onwards, the Spanish conquistadors arrived in force and were committed to converting the local people to Christianity. Magnificent churches, cathedrals, convents and other ostentatious buildings were built across the region to show the power and authority of the Church. Very much the same later happened with the Portuguese in what is now Brazil. This has left the region with some fantastic colonial architecture, as exemplified in cities like Quito, Cusco and the many charming Portuguese colonial towns in Minas Gerais, Salvador and other towns along the Atlantic coast.

Many locals, however, clung to their original beliefs but put on a façade of Christianity to please their colonial masters. This has created a fascinating mix of syncretic beliefs which continue today – blending Christian festivals and beliefs with solar celebrations – or, in the case of the Afro-latinos, mixing Christian saints with African Gods.

Over the years, there was inter-breeding between the colonial masters and the local people, creating a ‘mestizo’ class. The mix is complex and uncertain, but in countries like Brazil where a significant number of African slaves were brought in to work on the plantations – you find today people of every conceivable shade: an amazing melting pot of race and cultures!

It is really this extraordinary history and collision of cultures that gives Latin America its vibe and diversity. Different peoples, different cultures and music, different traditions and beliefs and different cuisines all thrown into the pot and slowly cooked for centuries: there is really nowhere else quite like it!

To discover more about the rich history and cultures of Latin America, give us a call or send us a message.

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