The White Rock


Hugh’s first book, The White Rock: An Exploration of the Inca Heartland,
which is now considered a classic, was the result of a twenty-year long quest
to explore and understand the Peruvian Andes in the area beyond Machu Picchu.


White Rock cover


     Reviews of
The White Rock


The White Rock is the long-awaited definitive travel book on Peru. 
John Hemming, author of The Conquest of the Incas


It is a measure of Hugh Thomson’s skill as a writer, historian and explorer that The White Rock is such a pleasure.
Justin Marozzi, The Spectator 


Engrossing… the sort of book that fires the armchair traveller with a desire to follow in its author’s footsteps, not just because it is passionate about its subject … but also because it tells of some quite heroic exploration by Thomson himself.
Geoffrey Moorhouse, New York Times Book Review see the whole review


In The White Rock, the whole continent becomes a plot with suspense and a cast of outrageous characters…This is Bruce Chatwin with cojones.
Andy Martin, The Independent


Thomson has a great ability to find both local colour and a human heart in characters who, to other eyes, might be merely ridiculous or dull… I’ll look forward to all his future stories if they’re even half as well told, as vivid and funny and human, as this one.
Alan Peter Ryan, Washington Post


The White Rock has a moral depth and intellectual integrity most similar work lacks.
Rhode Island Providence Journal


It is Thomson’s generosity of spirit which stands out and makes this a great book…a work that is both accessible and academically rigorous.
Isabel Cockayne, Eastern Daily Press


see more reviews


At the age of 22, Hugh led his first expedition to the Peruvian Andes in search of a ruin that had been carelessly lost again after its initial discovery.  This was his introduction to the curious and confusing world of Inca archaeology.

He has since travelled to many of the more obscure Inca sites, both in the cloud-forest and in the jungle.  The White Rock tells of his adventures and of the history of Inca exploration this century, a story of driven men who hacked their way into the unknown with machetes.

The White Rock is also the story of what these explorers managed to find, the remnants of a great civilisation that is still only partially understood.  The Incas left no written history and almost all that we know about them comes from the often biased accounts of Spanish conquistadors and from the work of archaeologists.

By journeying right across the Andes and talking to many leading experts in the field, Hugh Thomson builds up a compelling picture of the old Inca empire of Tahuantinsuyo and of the pleasure palaces that their Emperors built at its centre, before the world of the Incas was swept away by the Spanish Conquest.

Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson


From the Introduction:

‘As a powerful mythopoeic base on which to build fantasies of confrontation with an alien culture, the Inca world has few rivals.  But just as the lure of the Inca myth has increased, so any actual understanding of the Incas themselves has become obscured, let alone of the true nature of exploration in the Andes.

 The White Rock is an attempt to present a clear-sighted view of that Inca culture, drawing on my journeys throughout the Inca heartland near Cuzco and across the vast empire they created.  Along the way I travelled to some of the most remote Inca sites and talked to leading archaeologists and explorers working in the area.

 As I did so, I became more and more aware of the discrepancy between popular preconceptions about the Inca and the actual evidence on the ground.  Deciphering that evidence is complicated by the fact that the Incas left no written history and almost all that we know about them comes from the often biased accounts of Spanish conquistadors and from the suppositions of archaeologists.  Inca studies, compared to Egyptology or our knowledge of the Classical World, are still in their infancy.

 The very familiarity of Machu Picchu causes problems and can lead us to forget how little we still know about the people who built the place.  Few visitors to Peru travel beyond it.

 I have taken Chuquipalta – ‘The White Rock’ of the title, deep in the Vilcabamba – as being emblematic of that hidden and lost Inca world which is rarely visited and which I have tried to explore.’


The White Rock
  1. Jan Reed
    February 28th, 2011 at 05:09 | #1

    Love your writing, so engaging, although a little hard on us tourists! Just a gal from Liverpool UK, living in Austalia since ’75, and at age 52 in 2009 joined an Intrepid tour to Peru, of course to walk the trail. But the country blew me away. Lucky to have a couple of homestays on the Island of Taquile and Sibayo. Have read more on my return of this fascinating country that took me way out of my comfort zone and left me wanting more, of which your book has provided. Cheers Jan

  2. Lesley
    February 27th, 2012 at 17:08 | #2

    Just reading White Rock, amazing book I feel I am could almost be there as it is so well written. It has certainly corrected a few of the things I thought I knew about Peru, for example I was told that Machu Pichu was where the indians escaped to and hid from the conquistadors for many years. Can’t wait to read more of your other work.

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