Deep in the remote mountains of central Ecuador, the largest undiscovered treasure in Latin America waits to be found. This ancient horde of Inca gold comes complete with a vengeful curse, multiple treasure maps and a trail of dead adventurers. With an estimated value of over two billion dollars, this stash of Inca Gold tops my list of lost treasures.

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

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.


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

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.










Valverde’s Derrotero


(Translated from Spanish)

Once in the town of Pillaro, ask for the farm of Moya, and sleep a good distance above it; and ask there for the mountain of Guapa, from whose top, if the day be fine, look to the east, so that thy back be towards the town of Ambato, and from thence thou shalt perceive the three Cerros Llanganati, in the form of a triangle, on whose declivity there is a lake, made by hand, into which the ancients threw the gold they had prepared for the ransom of the Inca when they heard of his death.

From the same Cerro Guapa thou mayest see also the forest, and in it a clump of Sangurimas standing out of the said forest, and another clump which they call Flechas (arrows), and these clumps are the principal mark for the which thou shalt aim, leaving them a little on the left hand. Go forward from Guapa in the direction and with the signals indicated, and a good way ahead, having passed some cattle-farms, thou shalt come on a wide morass, over which thou must cross, and coming out on the other side thou shalt see on the left-hand a short way off a jucal on a hill-side, through which thou must pass.

Having got through the jucal, thou wilt see two small lakes called “Los Anteojos” (the spectacles), from having between them a point of land like to a nose.

From this place thou mayest again descry the Cerros Llanganati, the same as thou sawest them from the top of Guapa, and I warn thee to leave the said lakes on the left, and that in front of the point or “nose” there is a plain, which is the sleeping-place. There thou must leave thy horses, for they can go no farther.

Following now on foot in the same direction, thou shalt come on a grat black lake, the which leave on thy left-hand, and beyoud it seek to descend along the hill-side in such a way that thou mayest reach a ravine, down which comes a waterfall: and here thou shalt find a bridge of three poles, or if it do not still exist thou shalt put another in the most convenient place and pass over it. And having gone on a little way in the forest, seek out the hut which served tho sleep in or the remains of it.

Having passed the night there, go on thy way the following day through the forest in the same direction, till thou reach another deep dry ravine, across which thou must throw a bridge and pass over it slowly and cautiously, for the ravine is is very deep; that is if thou succeed not in finding the pass which exists.

Go forward and look for the signs of another sleeping-place, which, I assure thee, thou canst not fail to see in the fragments of pottery and other marks, because the Indians are continually passing along there. Go on thy way, and thou shalt see a mountain which is all of margasitas (pyrites), the which leave on the left-hand, and I warn thee that thou must go round it in this fashion (The Valverde mark). On this side thou wilt find a pajonál (pasture) in a small plain, which having crossed thou wilt come on a cañon between two hills, which is the way of the Inca.

From thence as thou goest along thou shalt see the entrance of the socavón (tunnel), which is in the form of a church-porch. Having come through the cañon, and gone a good distance beyond, thou wilt perceive a cascade which descends from a offshoot of the Cerro Llanganati, and runs into a quaking-bog on the right hand; and without passing the stream in the said bog there is much gold, so that putting in thy hand what thou shalt gather at the bottom is grains of gold.

To ascend the mountain, leave the bog and go along to the right, and pass above the cascade, going round the offshoot of the mountain. And if by chance the mouth of the socavón be closed with certain herbs which they call “salvaje”, remove them, and thou wilt find the entrance. And on the left-hand side of the mountain thou mayest see the “Guayra” (for thus the ancients called the furnace where they founded metals), which is nailed with golden nails. And to reach the third mountain, if thou canst not pass in front of the socavón, it is the same thing to pass behind it, for the water of the lake falls into it.

If thou lose thyself in the forest, seek the river, follow it on the right bank; lower down take to the beach, and thou wilt reach the cañon in such sort that, although thou seek to pass it, thou wilt not find where; climb, therfore, the mountain on the right-hand, and in this manner thou canst by no means miss thy way.