Inca Gold: The Treasure of the Llanganatis

The Backstory – Conquest of the Incan Empire

In 1532 the Spanish Conquistador, Francisco Pizarro led 183 cold and hungry soldiers up the spine of the Andes and began his conquest of the Inca Empire. The empire was in a state of turmoil caused by a civil war between two brothers, Atahualpa and Huascar.

Victory had recently gone to Atahualpa, the brother who controlled the northern half of the empire. Lucky for Pizarro, the long civil war had weakened the Inca’s army allowing the Spaniards to easily captured the newly appointed Emperor at his capitol city of Cajamarca.

With Atahualpa as their hostage, the Spaniards began sacking the city, stripping sacred religious objects from the temples of the sun and moon.

Atahualpa, seeing that the Spaniards’ valued gold and silver so highly, made Pizarro an offer he couldn’t refuse. In exchange for his freedom, The Emperor promised to fill his massive prison cell with gold – as high as Pizarro could reach his hand – and the two adjoining rooms with silver.

Pizarro agreed to the bargain and for the next three months the treasure streamed in as promised, borne on the backs of Inca peasants – hundreds of beautiful, handcrafted gold artifacts from the far corners of the Inca empire – all of which Pizarro melted down into ingots for transport back to Spain.

The ransom continued to pour in – but by now the Incan people were growing restless. The imprisoned Atahualpa still had a great deal of influence over his warriors – so to head off a possible uprising Pizarro broke his bargain and had the Inca emperor executed. Atahualpa was garroted on August 29, 1533, then burned at the stake.

Atahualpa burned at the stake
Atahualpa burned at the stake

This was a classic case of killing the golden goose. What Pizarro didn’t know was that at the very moment of Atahualpa’s murder, a caravan of 60,000 men was on its way to Cajamarca. The caravan, led by the the Inca general Rumiñahui, was carrying 750 tons of worked gold with which to pay the balance of Atahualpa’s Ransom.

When Rumiñahui learned that Atahualpa had been murdered, the furious general, diverted the treasure caravan into a mountainous region of Ecuador called the Llanganates, then, somewhere in this unforgiving wilderness, he stashed the vast horde of treasure to keep it safe from the marauding Spaniards.

Ruminahui continued fighting against the Spanish, and though he was eventually captured and tortured, he never revealed the location of the treasure.

Over the next forty years the Inca Empire was decimated, its people enslaved – and the Treasure of Llanganates was all but forgotten.

Where’s the Treasure?

Well, if I knew that I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this, would I? No one (alive) knows the exact location of the treasure, but I can give you a general Idea to get you started.

According to legend, the treasure lies somewhere in the the Llanganates Mountain Range. Today this area is encompassed by the Llangantes National Park. This huge reserve (219707 hectares) is located smack-dab in the center of Ecuador and boasts some of the most treacherous terrain and extreme weather conditions in the country.

Map of Ecuador with Treasure location
Click to Enlarge

Situated at an altitude between 1,200 and 4,512 meters, with temperatures ranging between 5 to 24 degrees centigrade; It rains, sleets, or snows so frequently that thick cloud banks shroud the volcanic peaks of the Langanates throughout most of the year.

On the ground, dense fog obscures the rocky cliffs and the land is saturated in mud – not a place for the feint of heart! If you want to launch your own expedition then go between December and January when the weather is the most hospitable.

Trail of Clues

Many generations of adventurers have sought Atahualpa’s gold, but the mountains of the Llanganates have refused to surrender their secret. Here is a short timeline of clues that may lead you to the treasure:

Several decades after the death of Atahualpa, an impoverished Spanish adventurer named Valverde marries an Inca princess from the area. She is said to have led him to the treasure, because Valverde becomes unaccountably wealthy and returns to Spain, supposedly having removed only a small amount from the hoard.

When he lay dying Valverde writes an itinerary which has come to be know as Valverde’s Derrotero – Valverde’s Path. The document describes various Llanganates landmarks which will lead one to the treasure. On his death, Valverde bequeaths the document to King Charles V of Spain.

King Charles sends Valverde’s Derrotero to provincial authorities in Latacunga, a town near the Llanganates mountains. These officials then undertake an expedition and apparently stumble onto something extremely promising. But their leader, a Franciscan monk named Father Longo, mysteriously vanishes one night. The hunt is abandoned for the next hundred years.

In the late 1700s, a miner named Don Atanasio Guzmán, who worked the old Inca mines in the Llanganates, manages to draft a detailed treasure map. But before he can claim his prize he too disappears in the mountains. The treasure is forgotten until….

Guzman's Treasure Map
Guzman’s Treasure Map (click to enlarge)

1860 when a British botanist named Richard Spruce, while doing research in the archives at Latacunga, stumbles upon Valverde’s Derrotero, and the map drawn by Guzman. Spruce publishes this information in the Journal of Royal Geographical Society in 1860. This article, entitled Notes of a Botanist on the Amazon and Andes, rekindles the treasure fever. The accumulated weight of Guzmán’s map, Spruce’s notes, and a translation of Valverde’s Derrotero into English sets off a small stampede of English-speaking explorers.

In 1886, working with Spruce, a pair of treasure hunters from Nova Scotia reportedly solve the riddle of Valverde’s Derrotero and find the treasure. Their names are Captain Barth Blake and Lieutenant George Edwin Chapman.

Blake makes maps of the region and sends letters to a friends. In one of the letters Blake writes…

It is impossible for me to describe the wealth that now lays in that cave marked on my map, but I could not remove it alone, nor could thousands of men….There are thousands of gold and silver pieces of Inca and pre-Inca handicraft, the most beautiful goldsmith works you are not able to imagine, life-size human figures made out of beaten gold and silver, birds, animals, cornstalks, gold and silver flowers. Pots full of the most incredible jewelry. Golden vases full of emeralds.

So, why didn’t Blake and Chapman claim the treasure? Because Chapman didn’t survive the journey out of the mountains and Blake fell overboard on a trip to North America to sell the gold they’d taken from the cave.

The Curse of Atahualpa’s Gold

You’ve already read about some of the victims of the treasure’s curse; Father Longo, Guzman, Chapman and Blake. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg:

  • In the mid-1930s a Scotsman named Erskine Loch mounted two disastrous treasure hunts in the Llanganates. During the first expedition, porters deserted Loch and violent rains dogged him for 37 out of 39 days.On his second trip, Loch’s party ran out of food and fell to hallucinations. “The country ahead,” Loch wrote in his book, Fever, Famine, and Gold, “had spur after spur of precipitous rock faces descending into raging torrents below. Everything we stood upon, everything we clutched gave way under us.” Soon after the book’s publication, Loch shot himself.
  • Yet others kept coming – and dying. In the 1920s, an American known in local accounts as “Colonel Brooks” established a bank in Ecuador and then got the treasure bug. On his first trip into the mountains his porters mutinied.Later Brooks decided to take his wife to the Llanganati for a “romantic getaway”, but they were promptly greeted by torrential rains. She died of pneumonia, and he ended up in a madhouse in New York – muttering wildly, one imagines, about gold and silver and emeralds.
  • Bob Holt was an American geologist from Arizona who had worked with various oil and gold-mining companies in Ecuador during the 1960s. On his first treasure expedition into the Langanati Holt slipped and fell on a sharp broken tree trunk. It stabbed him directly through the heart.

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226 thoughts on “Inca Gold: The Treasure of the Llanganatis

  1. Hi all iv been dredging for 40+ years some hard rock at any rate i would like to share this thought todays modern mining spetrogram imaging and satilite imaging that much Gold today cant be hid 750tons no lake no cave that much Gold will send off a sighnature it cant be hid mining co. use theses modern skills to day happy hunting its my hope next year to dredge in ecuador with an ecuadorian Harold

  2. searching it for a while and Llanganates is realy hard terrain to locate something only hope to find something worthy is high tec devices I guess.And by the way I from turkey and recently someone else found a pirate treasure that hidden in a cave. Pirates in black sea capture a vassal that caries taxes from crimea i to ensure golds safety pirates hide it into a cave in Ordu Turkey but soon after they encounter with ottoman navy and theit boat sank.Some local folks found it that makes me belive in such things

  3. come on guys its been to quiet latly i read 1 intry abouve
    basicly this is what it said its hard to believe as ruthless as
    spanardswere torture/ would it be all incas remain loyal
    perhaps the Royalty BUT the rest hard to believe Harold but perhaps just a loyal few were involed HMMM

  4. What? Quiet! Lots have been said Ovr the years. You find out anything new? I say hit that 1st river. Filter the river bank. And forget about some so-called Myth Treasure. Makes for good reading tho. I’ve read 4 books about it already. Gonna get me another. Enjoy. And GLTA

  5. hI GOOD TO SEE U ON do u dredge i hope i got about 40 years under my bealt on that subject and some hard rock ur rite about the treasuure it does make fun reading were are u out off im in Indiana play music hear and mexico my dredge partner is inca in otoval were both waiting on a sale of property in otoval then were of to dredgein ecuador thatnk for getting on Harold

  6. Yea. I dredge, and Highbank up here in AK. The best spot is at one of the Radar Sites I work at in the Summer. Wish I could join you down here. Maybe Ina couple yrs when I retire. Till then take it easy. Drop a line sometime. Caio !

  7. Dear All,
    I need your help with research for my book. Does anyone have any information at all on Colonel Edward C Brooks or more importantly his wife Isabela, an Ecuadorian by birth, who died in the Llanganatis in 1912 looking for the gold. I can’t even find a photo of her. Would anyone in Quito be willing to do a search for me? Thank you.

  8. Speaking of inca stuff a month ago I was hiking a mountain in Quito and I became friend of a man who ancestros are Inca and he showed the inca water tunnels that were built by the Incas and a sacred water fall where the Incas used that place for spirual weddings but I am curios to enter those Inca water tunnels and see where it will lead anybody want to joined for the adventure

  9. i have read some comments to the like i would give it over to the goverment or to ecuador people this load could do my garden some good Harold

  10. Dear All

    I am planning to visit Equador in the near future.I plan to trek in the mountains to some sites in trail of the legendary treasure,,,,,I have a couple of questions.
    –Can I treasure hunt as a tourist?If No what are the rules and requirements of getting a permit and who gives it?(please post a link)
    -If a permit is needed can I apply and get it once I enter as a tourist with a tourist visa?

    thanks in advance!


  11. If the derrotero is a guide to the hiding place of tons and tons of worked gold, plates, pitchers, golden statues of animals and birds, pots of emeralds, etc, why was Valverde so excited about finding small flakes of gold at the bottom of a bog? So excited in fact that he completely forgets to tell us where the Inca loot is!

    Valverde’s guide is not telling us where the Inca treasure is, it is simply telling us about a good place to pan for gold or a ‘lost mine’.

    This was fairly well known in Ecuador in the 1730s – I have a map from that time that shows the Llanganates marked with the words ‘Lost Gold Mine’!

    Worth finding, sure, but it is not a king’s ransom in treasure.

  12. Dear Curicocha

    thanks.But how do you explain the quick riches of Valverde? According to the legend he became part of the high society of those days in short time.


  13. Probably panning for gold in his gold-rich bog. In those days gold had more buying power than today, a relatively small amount meant a good living. Nobody would pan for gold (it is very hard work)if a cave or lake full of tons of worked gold was there for the taking. Valverde, if he existed, was not part of ‘high society’ or there would be records of him. There are none. A lot of the archives of Seville are on-line and if you can read old Spanish you can study them. There is no record of Valverde, priest Longo, the derrotero, the cedula real or anything referring to this treasure. There IS a 16th century reference to a Quito priest being granted by Cedula Real one sixth of lost Inca treasure he claimed to have discovered, but sadly it doesn’t specify where this treasure was supposed to be. So, lost Inca treasure and priests and cedulas real ARE real enough, but Nothing has ever been found to back up any of the Valverde stuff.

  14. the spaniards were ruthles im hard presed if in fact the
    incas did hide there treasure they would torture the general
    population some would brake so did it get hid hhhhhhhhmmm

  15. There are far more treasures out there than you can imagine….and there are/is some book(s) out there that can start you off on a search without having to browse through google for a year.

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