Inka Universe

The city of Cusco is the principal one of all the cities and is the residence
of the nobles, and is so great and beautiful that it would be worthy of Spain.

—Pedro Sancho de la Hoz, secretary to Francisco Pizarro, 1534

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    Marcapata, Peru, 2014. Photo by Doug McMains, NMAI.


Collasuyu—High Plains and Herds

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    Select highlighted words to hear them spoken in Quechua.

    The Inka spoke the Quechua language, which is still spoken today in the Andes.


The second-largest suyu in the empire, Collasuyu covered southern Peru and parts of Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile. Colla means “high plain.” Its extensive grassland was ideal for llama and alpaca herding. The region was also a source of salt, potatoes, gold, silver, and copper.

Collasuyu and Contisuyu together formed the hurin, or lower half, of Tawantinsuyu. Collasuyu’s most valuable resources were its herds of llamas and alpacas.

Building the Road

Tampus—Accommodations for Travelers

Travelers on the Qhapaq Ñan could spend the night at way stations called tampus. Thousands of these “inns” dotted the roads that crossed the empire. They were built approximately 20 to 25 kilometers (12 to 15 miles) apart, roughly a day’s journey on foot.

Expanding the Road, Expanding an Empire—Llamas for Transport

Collasuyu’s great herds of llamas and alpacas provided wool, meat, and, most importantly, transport. At harvest time, the road was especially busy with llama caravans. Before a caravan departed, the lead animal was blessed, and every llama was decorated.


The wool of llamas, alpacas, and vicuñas was woven into a variety of textiles. From high-ranking Inka to workers and soldiers, almost everyone in Tawantinsuyu wore wool.

Llamas were as vital to Inka religious life as they were to the economy.

Copper and Bronze

Long before the Inka became powerful, Andean cultures discovered bronze, which is made from copper mixed with other metals. The people of Collasuyu perfected a tin-bronze alloy that was harder than iron. The Inka treasured this metal, using it for axes and other tools.

Andean kilns, called wayranas, can maintain temperatures high enough to melt metals into various alloys. Master metallurgists then worked the alloys into tools or sacred objects.


Andeans have cultivated potatoes for thousands of years, domesticating hundreds of varieties that thrive in almost any climate. The Cochabamba region exported enormous quantities throughout Tawantinsuyu. Potatoes sustained the empire’s rapidly growing population, even when other crops failed.


Collasuyu was a major producer of salt for the empire. The state controlled its extraction and distribution, dedicating special routes for its transportation. Collasuyu produced two types of salt: white salt, harvested from salt flats, and black salt, extracted in blocks from mines.

Gold and Silver

Access to gold and silver mines was a major goal of Inka expansion into Collasuyu. Symbolic of the sun and the moon, these metals were sacred, and their use was restricted to religious purposes. Gold and silver objects were used as offerings or worn by Inka rulers, priests, and members of the royal family.