Atahualpa, the last Inca lord, was in Cajamarca in late 1532, relaxing at the hot springs, when news came of Pizarro dragging his 62 horsemen and 106 foot soldiers high up into the mountains. Atahualpa’s spies and runners kept him well-informed of the Spaniards’ movements, and he could quite easily have destroyed the small band of weary aliens in one of the rocky passes to the west of Cajamarca. Instead he waited patiently until Friday, November 15, when a dishevelled group entered the silent streets of the deserted Inca city.

For the first time, Pizarro saw Atahualpa’s camp, with its sea of cotton tents, and an army of men and long spears. Estimates varied, but there were between 30,000 and 80,000 Inca warriors, outnumbering the Spaniards by at least two hundred to one.

Pizarro was planning his coup along the same lines that had been so successful for Cortés in Mexico: he would capture Atahualpa and use him to control the realm. The plaza in Cajamarca was perfect, as it was surrounded by long, low buildings on three sides, so Pizarro stationed his men there. Leaving most of his troops outside on the plain, Atahualpa entered the plaza with some five thousand men, unarmed except for small battle-axes, slings and pebble pouches. He was carried into the city by eighty noblemen in an ornate carriage – its wooden poles covered in silver, the floor and walls with gold and brilliantly coloured parrot feathers. The emperor himself was poised on a small stool, richly dressed with a crown placed upon his head and a thick string of magnificent emeralds around his aristocratic neck. Understandably bewildered to see no bearded men and not one horse in sight he shouted, “Where are they?”

A moment later, the Dominican friar, Vicente de Valverde, came out into the plaza; with a great lack of reverence to a man he considered a heathen in league with the devil, he invited Atahualpa to dine at Pizarro’s table. The Lord Inca declined the offer, saying that he wouldn’t move until the Spanish returned all the objects they had already stolen from his people. The friar handed Atahualpa his Bible and began preaching unintelligibly to the Inca. After examining this strange object Atahualpa threw it angrily to the floor. As Vicente de Valverde moved away, screaming – “Come out, Christians! Come at these enemy dogs who reject the things of God.” – two cannons signalled the start of what quickly became a massacre. The Spanish horsemen hacked their way through flesh to overturn the litter and capture the emperor. Knocking down a two-metre-thick wall, many of the Inca troops fled onto the surrounding plain with the cavalry at their heels. Spanish foot soldiers set about killing those left in the square with speed and ferocity. Not one Inca raised a weapon against the Spaniards. Atahualpa, apparently an experienced warrior-leader, had badly underestimated his opponents’ crazy ambitions and technological superiority – steel swords, muskets, cannons and horsepower.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

Peru features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

20 pictures of Peru that will put the country on your bucket list

20 pictures of Peru that will put the country on your bucket list

Peru is has long been a favourite destination on the South America backpacker trail, but there's more to tempt you here than the oft-photographed llamas and …

05 Aug 2016 • Rough Guides Editors insert_drive_file Article
15 things everyone learns backpacking South America

15 things everyone learns backpacking South America

South America has become a favoured destination for the intrepid backpacker, and while it’s impressive in the astounding diversity of its nations, there are a…

02 Mar 2016 • Steph Dyson insert_drive_file Article
Behind the scenes of the best restaurants in Lima

Behind the scenes of the best restaurants in Lima

Co-author of The Rough Guide to Peru and Lima resident Greg de Villiers gives us an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the city's best restaurants.  Beto i…

28 Jul 2015 • Gregory de Villiers insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month