After fleeing first the city of Cusco and then Ollantaytambo, Manco Inca settled in a region now known as the Cusco Region, a heavily forested region that also contains the Inca sites of Machu Picchu, Choquequirao, Vitcos, and Vilcabamba, now called Espíritu Pampa. It is theorized that the city of Vilcabamba, having more of a tropical jungle climate, as opposed to the cooler climate of the Andes, was considered inhospitable by the Inca and so the construction of Vitcos was ordered so that Manco and his court could have a refuge that was closer in climate to what they were accustomed to.
Another theory holds that Pachacuti, who is recognized to have built Machu Picchu, also built Vitcos as a summer palace. Upon his death it became part of his estate only to be re-used by Manco during his years in exile for the climate related reasons stated above. There is evidence to support either theory, though most Incatologists prefer the latter on the grounds that Vitcos is of very fine construction that would have been unlikely while under the duress of the conquest.
Whichever theory may be true, it is known that Vitcos is the site where Manco was murdered by a renegade group of conquistadors attempting to win back favor with the Spanish crown. Unfortunately their plan was flawed in that attacking the ruling Inca at his own palace left them little hope of escape. As could have been predicted, Manco's royal guard set upon them and made short work of them.:125-126
"After our arrival at Vitcos, a town thirty leagues away from Cuzco, we people who had accompanied my father took a break with the intention of staying and resting there for a few days. My father had a house built for his sleeping quarters, for the houses that were already there belonged to my ancestors Pachacuti Inca, Topa Inca Yupanqui, Huayna Capac, and others, whose bodies we had put there.":117
Vitcos stands on the northern side of the hill between the modern villages Huancacalle and Pucyara, and is the principal portion of a complex that covers the entire hill and portions of the valleys to the south and east. South of the hill there is Chuqip'allta, a giant carved stone said to have been an Inca oracle, and a series of terraces that stretch along the eastern side of the hill within the valley, which are believed to have been decorative or ceremonial gardens.
The palace itself consists of two groups of buildings. The upper group is made up of eight large rooms, arranged in four pairs of two rooms back to back, all joined by a common outer wall. The common wall has doors that lead to passages between the pairs. Each room has three doors to the exterior of the common wall, but no doors to either the room behind it of the passageways between the four pairs. Each pair of rooms had a common roof.
To the north of the upper group is a terrace wall, below which is the lower group of buildings. This group is made up of a dozen or more buildings arranged around an open courtyard. The exact number of buildings in this group is unclear, as it is in considerably worse condition than the upper group.
In his 1911 expedition Hiram Bingham III was searching for Vilcabamba. Following descriptions left by various conquistadors, he came upon a site called "Rosaspata" by local villagers. Through the same descriptions that had led him there, he was able to determine that he was in fact at the palace of Vitcos and Oracle of Chuquipalta. After cursory mapping of both sites he continued on in search of the last city of the Inca. Knowing roughly where in relation to Vitcos he might find Vilcabamba, he continued on what he believed was, and actually was, the road to his goal. However, at this point it can be said that this expedition was ill-fated in that while he did in fact find Vilcabamba he believed it to be far less extensive than it actually was, and after describing one small sector and naming it "Eromboni Pampa" he abandoned efforts and continued his search based on rumors of another site that was far more extensive and spectacular. This rumored site was Machu Picchu, and while it lay entirely in the wrong direction from Vitcos, he announced it as being Vilcabamba. His later expeditions all returned to Machu Picchu, and left Vicabamba and Vitcos neglected and forgotten.
In the 1980s Vincent Lee's work in the Vilcabamba led to his finding and description of more than thirty buildings and engineered structures on the eastern flank of the hill between Vitcos and Chuquipalta. Amongst these are kalankas (meeting houses), several colca (storehouses), and a large usnu (religious observation platform), as well as terraces and built-up trails.
- Vilcabamba refers to both the geographical region bordered on the south and west by the Apurimac River, the north by the Cumpirosiato and Urubamba Rivers, and the east by the Vilcanota River, and the Inca city that lies in the northwestern qudrant of this region. To further confuse the matter, there is also a contemporary village near Huancacalle that is named Vilcabamba.
- When a ruling Inca died, all things that belonged to him were kept as an estate that often included everything the Inca had ever touched and had ordered built.
- Titu Cusi Yupanqui, 2005, An Inca Account of the Conquest of Peru, Boulder: University Press of Colorado, ISBN 9780870818219
- Hiram Bingham's search for Vitcos
- Peru Guide images of the area
- St. Petersburg Times, "Empires of Mystery"
- Images of Vitcos' reconstruction