In the 16th century, the Spanish conquistadors reached the town in the majestic Andes mountains that served as the political seat of the sprawling Incan Empire. For over three centuries, the Incas had developed a complex and thriving civilization.
They built stunning strongholds in the mountains (if you need convincing, just take one look at Machu Picchu); they carved out a mind-boggling series of trails that extended over 14,000 mountainous miles and across what are now six different countries; and they collected gold, silver, and other opulent symbols of wealth…and lots of it.
It was stories of these riches that captured the explorer Francisco Pizarro’s attention. So, in 1524, he set sail from Spain, leading a crew of conquistadors headed for the New World with the gleam of gold in their eyes.
Nearly a decade and three expeditions later—after the soldiers had battled, pillaged, and proselytized their way down the South American coast—Pizarro’s army finally conquered the main Incan city of Cusco in Peru.
It was the grand victory over the Incan Empire that Pizarro had dreamt of all those years ago. But there was one small problem. When the victorious army arrived in Cusco, the Incan riches of legend were nowhere to be found. Sure, the soldiers found plenty of gold and valuables to plunder, but not the vast fortune whispered of in the tales that crossed the Atlantic Ocean. Where had the Incan treasure gone?
Almost immediately, speculation started to fly. Many suggested the Incas had hid their treasure in a secret, remote city deep in the jungle east of the mountains. But no amount of searching uncovered its location, and Pizarro eventually met his violent end in 1541 in Lima, a city he founded, after he was murdered by Spanish rivals.
But the death of Pizarro didn’t stop the search for Paititi, the golden city of legend. Ever since the fall of the Incan Empire, adventurers, treasure seekers, and archeologists have been heeding the siren song of the lost city that has, so far, remained out of reach.
As with all great legends—especially those concerning cities full of riches—no one is certain whether Paititi exists in real life or only in the land of myth. But what we do know is that legends of the city have been passed down through the generations of Incan descendants. And interesting bits of evidence have popped up over the years to suggest that those who have faced hardship and even death searching for this lost treasure may not be entirely crazy.