Famous Explorers of Peru

The characters of our article are all recognized international personalists in their fields ( natural history, science, and archaeology ), and natural adventurers. We want to honor those men who helped us Peruvians to see the immense wealth of our own county, to understand it better and love it more, and for their contributions with their discoveries and investigations to discover the treasures of Peru to the world.

Watch full event on Youtube

Alexander Von Humboldt

Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt was born in the city of Berlin , on September 14, 1769. German and French descent, Born into a noble and wealthy family, he had the opportunity to access an excellent education that he perfected at the universities of Frankfurt (1787) and Göttingen (1789-1793). He met great personalities of his time such as the naturalist and geologist Georg Forster, who had participated in the Cook’s expedition around the world, he motivated him to continue mineralogy studies, which he began in 1792.

In 1799 he obtained permission from Spain (King Charles IV) to explore its colonies, in the company of French scientist Aimé Bonpland, leaving for America on June 5, 1799. And returning in July 1804.

During the trip, Humboldt made many scientific observations on climate, astronomy, and magnetism in the area. He explored Chimborazo at 6300 masl, the mountain believed to be the highest on the continent (The highest mountain in South America is the Aconcagua in Argentina at 6962 masl. )

Humboldt arrived to Peru in August 1802, touring the north of the country and finally arriving in Lima that same year.  The coast of Peru surprised him very much, he wrote:  “How different this coast of Peru without any green, without trees, without rain from Ica to Piura, so different to Guayaquil, where nature, hot and humid climate has produced vegetation with the most luxuriant majesty”.

He discovered the maritime current that has his name,  also known as the Peruvian Current, and collected data not only on the flora, fauna, and mineralogy of Peru but also on its history and geography. During his stay in Lima, he cultivated the friendship of men of science such as Hipólito Unanue

At Callao, the main port for Peru, Humboldt observed the traffic of Mercury and studied the fertilizing properties of guano, rich in nitrogen, the subsequent introduction of guano into Europe was mainly  due to his writings.

Humboldt and his companion Bonpland left Peru to never return on December 25, 1802.

Antonio Raimondi

Born on September 19, 1824, Raimondi is known as the most illustrious Italian man in Peru.

It was in the botanical garden of Milan where he took courses on natural history, where he first heard of Peru, presaging his trip to this country.

He wrote in his book “El Peru” 1874: “One day, while I was, as usual, in the Botanical Garden of Milan, I witnessed by a rare chance the cutting of a gigantic Cactus peruvianus, which, having risen like a monstrous chandelier to the roof of the conservatory, covered a large part of it. The mutilation of this patriarch of the cacti, which was one of my favorite plants, caused me a vague regret as if it had been an animated and sensitive being, and this strange circumstance turned into my first sympathy for Peru, an omen without a doubt of my future trip to this country”, 

He arrived in Peru disembarking in the port of Callao on July 28, 1850. Since 1851 he served as a professor of natural history. He was one of the founding teachers of the Faculty of Medicine of the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos in 1856. And later dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences.

He was captivated by the natural resources of Peru, from the 40 years that he lived in it, to the 19 years he traveled through almost all of its territory in order to learn more about its nature and its inhabitants. He financed his first expeditions with his own resources. Until he got an assignment in 1858, money he used to travel to practically unknown regions. 

Raimondi’s most outstanding work is “El Perú”, published in six volumes between 1875 and 1913, in which, in its preface, he directly encourages and advises all Peruvians to study the natural wealth of Peru, a fact that makes him virtue, for many historians and writers, as a true Peruvian.

Raimondi’s popularity is uniquely represented by the attribution of a famous phrase “Peru is a beggar sitting on a golden chair.” However, the researchers indicate that such a phrase comes from the popular heritage and not from the pen of Antonio Raimondi, nor from any other writer or researcher. So, this attribution is due rather to the fact that Raimondi’s work has been well disseminated but very little read within Peru, since the aforementioned phrase is not mentioned in any text written by Raimondi.

Another phrase from the Italian-Peruvian sage that should become at least as popular as the previous one is “In the book of destiny for Peru, a great future is written.”

Antonio Raimondi was always highly recognized by scientists and naturalists. Proof of this is that the scientific names of some animal and plant species (such as the colossal Andean species Puya raimondii that grows up to 5 meters) were dedicated to him.

The Estela de Raimondi, an ironing prehispánica lithic piece carved about 3500 years ago, receives this name because it was found accidentally by Antonio Raimondi on one of his trips in the house of peasants who used it for domestic purposes (as a table).

He died in the city of San Pedro de Lloc, in the department of La Libertad, on October 26, 1890, where he spent his last months trying to recover his delicate health.

Hiram Bingham 

Although Bingham was not a trained archaeologist (he was a historian). Yet he rediscovered the largely forgotten Inca city of Machu Picchu during Bingham’s time as a South American professor at Yale. 

In 1908 he participated the First Pan American Scientific Congress in Santiago de Chile. On his way home via Peru, a local prefect convinced him to visit the pre-Columbian city of Choquequirao.

Bingham published an account of this trip in:  Across South America; an account of a journey from Buenos Aires to Lima by way of Potosí, with notes on Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, and Peru, this was his first visit to Peru

After this expedition, Bingham was very disappointed to find no treasure and returned to Lima where he returned to the United States.

The turning point in Hiram Bingham’s explorations came in 1910, when a friend of his, Edward S. Harkness, read the draft of the book of his last voyage. He was so impressed that he suggested a new expedition to find the last refuge of the Incas, the mythical Vilcabamba.

Bingham was thrilled by finding unexplored Inca cities, and organized in 1911 the Yale-Peruvian Expedition one of its objectives was to search for the last capital of the Incas. Guided by locals, he rediscovered and correctly identified both Vitcos and Vilcabamba (the last defense bastions of the Incas during the Spanish conquest), he did not correctly recognize Vilcabamba as the last capital, instead appointed Machu Picchu as the “Lost City of the Incas” and last capital.  Decades later, Bingham was rectified by the Andean explorer Vince Lee, whose detailed research proved that Vilcabamba was indeed the Incas’ last capital.

On July 24, 1911, Melchor Arteaga led Bingham to Machu Picchu, which had been largely forgotten by everybody except the small number of people living in the immediate valley, and Cusco’s explorers that arrived here even in early 1901. Bingham returned to Peru in 1912, 1914, and 1915 with the support of Yale and the National Geographic Society

In The Lost City of the Incas (1948), Bingham writes how he came to believe that Machu Picchu housed a major religious shrine and served as a training center for religious leaders. Modern archaeological research has since determined that the site was not a religious center but a royal estate that Inca leaders and their entourage repaired during the Andean summer. Bingham’s exposure helped immensely to the upcoming scientific investigations that follow his exploration of the site.


Bingham is considered responsible for illegally extracting 46,332 Inca archaeological pieces, property of Peru, and taking them to Yale University, in the United States, a country that still retained them unilaterally.

366 museum-quality objects were returned by Yale University in 2011, the collection includes the totality of fragments resulting from the excavations, which will be kept in storage to be studied by local and international researchers.


Thanks to his publications Machu Picchu has become one of the major tourist attractions in South America.

Bingham has been cited as one possible basis for the character Indiana Jones.

Learn more about Peruvian History and historic sites of Peru on our Youtube Channel