7,000 feet above sea level and cradled between the Peruvian Andean mountain range, the grand city of Machu Picchu, `Machu Pikchu´ in Quechua, which means `Old Peak´ rises above the Urubamba Valley below, 80 kilometers northwest of Cuzco. The grand pre-Columbian Incan construction is also known as the 'The Lost City of the Incas', and is one of the most well- known symbols of the Inca Empire. Machu Picchu was declared a Peruvian Historical Sanctuary in 1981 and a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983, it is one of the most legendary and impressive sets of ruins in the world and a valuable tourist attraction.
The Incas started building Machu Picchu at around 1430AD, but was deserted 100 years later as an official site, at the time of the Spanish Conquest.
In 1911 an 11 year old boy guided Yale professor Hiram Bingham, who was actually looking for Vilcabamba, the last Incan hideout, up a steep mountainside where he first caught sight of the 'lost city' of Machu Picchu and made it in to the history books. The purpose of Machu Picchu is still a mystery, though the main theory is that it was used as a retreat for Incan rulers. It is believed that no more than 750 people lived there at a time, and less so in the rainy season.
It was so well hidden that the Spanish conquistadors completely missed it though the locals always knew of its existence. In September 2007, Peru and Yale University came to an arrangement concerning the return of the relics which Hiram Bingham had taken from the site.
On his original trip to Machu Picchu Hiram Bingham walked 6 days. These days many recreate his steps and trek to the site on the famous Inca trail, an exciting and authentic experience. There are a few different ways to get there:
To visit the citadel you must purchase a ticket in advance. You cannot buy it at the entrance.
In Peru the wet season lasts from November (or December) until the end of March. The months of September, October, November and December have a nice average temperature. The dry season is May to September. The warmest month is September. The coolest month is July and also the wettest month is January. June is the driest month.
The busiest time is during the dry season (May-September), especially during June to August. The least busy time is in February, when the Inca trail is closed. The busiest time of day is during the hours of 10am to 2 pm.
The flora and fauna in the area are plentiful and diverse. Common plant life consists of pisonayes, q’eofias, alisos, puya palm trees, ferns, and more than 90 types of orchids. The wildlife in the reserve comprises of the spectacled bear, cock-of-the-rocks or `tunqui’, tankas, wildcats, and an array of butterflies and insects unique to the area.
There are lots of interesting places to discover and explore. Taking a guided tour gives you a better understanding of the city.
Sun Gate (Inti Punku) - On the Inca trail you arrive via the sun gate, so it’s the first thing you lay eyes on. If not you can make your way back along the trail and up the hill. From here you get a superior vista of each valley. It’s a rather arduous trek(1-1.5 hours each way) but definitely worth it. Try and get the first bus from Aguas Calientes in time to catch the sun coming over the hill and into the gate.
Temple of the Sun – The stonework on the temple is marvelous. It is the best example of the unique and extraordinary closely-fit stonework of the Incas. If you examine it from the side, you see it descending the stone staircase in the main plaza.
Intihuatana – A stone carved in a way where on specific days at dawn you can make out shadows. The name is taken from the Quechua words, sun (inti), and to take (huatana) Temple of the Condor – Between the wings of the condor is a chamber with grooves cut into the stone to secure hand shackles. The torturer may have stood here to whip the prisoner, and the pit is where the victim’s blood would drain! The condor was a symbol of cruel justice.
Temple of three Windows – In the royal sector. The buildings in this area are large with huge rock lintels weighing up to three tons, typical of imperial Inca architecture. This temple along with the principle temple and the Intihuatana, constitute what Bingham called the Sacred Plaza. He believed that these mountains (previously five) depicted the three mythological caves, from which the Ayar brothers, children of the sun, stepped into the world. Pieces of broken pottery were found here, suggesting that pots would have been smashed as part of ritual.