Machu Picchu | Visiting ” the Lost City of the Incas”
At 2430m altitude above Urubamba River, surrounded by Peruvian Andes stands Machu Picchu, the most spectacular archaeological site in South America. Although the exact purpose for which the citadel was built and abandoned an estimated 100 years after its construction remains unknown, Machu Picchu was most likely a religious sanctuary and a residential area for the Inca ruler Pachacuti. Considered a symbol of the Inca culture, architecture, and engineering, in 2007 the ruined city was declared one of the 7 Wonders of the Modern World.
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After 1500, Machu Picchu remained hidden from the outside world until 1911. It was discovered by mistake through an archaeological expedition led by Hiram Bigham, a professor at Yale that hoped to find Vilacamba, another Inca citadel.
What you need to know before visiting Machu Picchu
Our itinerary in Peru included visiting Lima, Cuzco, Aguas Caliente, and the archaeological sites Pisac, Ollantaytambo, and Machu Picchu. We chose a local agency to handle our reservations, and a guide accompanied us throughout our trip.
Without our guide Richard, we would not have been able to find many hidden treasures within the spectacular sanctuary. Just as his ancestors, we made offerings of coca leaves to the Sun god, while he played traditional Andean music at his flute. We learned about the history of the Incas and discovered iconic hiking trails around the city.
How to get to Machu Picchu
Due to its surreal landscapes between the mountains and amazing history, Machu Picchu is one of the favorite destinations for many travelers visiting Peru. Aguas Caliente is the village located at the base of the mountain where the sanctuary was built. Known also as Machu Picchu Pueblo, it is located on the banks of the Urubamba River, and can only be reached by train from Ollantaytambo. From here you can get to the site by bus, the journey taking almost 30 minutes on a serpentine road. Buses run from Aguas Caliente up to the entrance from 7 am, and depart every 10-20 minutes, so don’t forget that the citadel tends to get crowded very quickly.
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The adventurous way to get to Machu Picchu is by following the Inca Trail for 4 days on foot.
Inca trail or Camino de Inka
One of the most beautiful trekking routes in the world is located in the Peruvian Andres, along some ancient Inca cities and absolutely spectacular landscapes between the clouds. The road built by the Incas through the mountains, for reaching from Cuzco to Machu Picchu citadel, has become in recent years one of the most appreciated experiences in Peru.
To reduce the negative impact of tourism on the original structures, a limited number of access permits are offered for sale only once a year and can be purchased just through a travel agency. From Cuzco to Sun Gate or Inti Punku ( the entry point to Machu Picchu) is 88km, and the route can only be followed with a group of qualified guides, so if you decide to go on the Inca Trail, you must plan your trip early.
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Keep in mind that the highest part of the road reaches 4200m altitude, so in order to avoid the altitude sickness, book several days for acclimatization in Cuzco.
The ancient buildings of Machu Picchu
At the top of a mountain surrounded by a cloud forest vegetation, the Inca civilization left behind about 200 buildings and agricultural terraces, visited annually by 1,5 million tourists.
Located at 500m above the Urubamba River, it was recently discovered that the Machu Picchu citadel is positioned at the intersection of two tectonic plates. For millions of years, their movement has led to significantly changing the structure of the mountain. So, when its strategic location was chosen by the Incas, it is possible that all the stone blocks were already on the site. To move and perfectly overlap and interlock them, they could have used llamas and ropes.
The technique used to join mortar stone blocks is called Ashlar. Because of it, Machu Picchu is one of the best-preserved archaeological sites in Peru. The city is divided into residential areas, sanctuaries, squares, platforms, walls, terraces, and alleys and is built from hundreds of tons of granite blocks. They were cut, polished, and perfectly combined by a civilization that archaeologists have no evidence that they ever had discovered the wheel.
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Due to the advanced engineering techniques of the Incas, Machu Picchu survived for 500 years abandoned in an area prone to earthquakes and heavy rains.
Inca Bridge is the place where the Incas took refuge in the Andes when they abandoned Machu Picchu. It can be reached within a 30-minute walk from the citadel, at the end of a narrow path along the mountain. The view over the Urubamba River and the Peruvian Andes saw through the cloud forest is absolutely amazing, especially since not many tourists come to visit this hidden trail.
Because it was abandoned soon after the fall of the Inca Empire, Machu Picchu was never found by the Spanish conquistadors. Yet, how an entire city managed to vanish without a trace in the mountains, makes this bridge one of the great mysteries of the Incas.
Over the past centuries, the bridge returned to its original condition, thriving with vegetation and wildlife. Today most of the old road has been destroyed, but it can still be observed from place to place to the other side of the mountain. This incredible narrow path, exposed and difficult to travel is the reason why most of the valuable Inca artifacts were left behind in the citadel until they were discovered by Hiram Bingham.
Intihuantana is a religious construction carved from a single stone block, located in the highest area of the citadel after climbing around 70 steps. Twice a year, the sun stands almost directly above the altar creating no shadow at all. It is similar to a compass that functions as a clock to indicate the autumn and spring equinox. Because it was believed that Intihuantana has the power to keep the sun in place, the Incas held here important religious ceremonies for prosperity.
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Compared to other similar constructions found in South America, Intihuantana from Machu Picchu is the only one cut at a 13-degree angle. The advanced knowledge used by the Incas to create this astronomical observatory at Machu Picchu will remain a mystery.
Temple of the Sun
One of the most important religious constructions that can be found in all the Inca archeological sites is the Temple of the Sun. But the one from Machu Picchu is unique due to its circular structure with trapezoidal windows. In the center, there is an altar of carved stone, where private religious ceremonies were held. Beneath the temple is a crypt where the archeologists have discovered mummified bodies.
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The trapezoid windows of the Temple of the Sun are positioned to capture the sun shines directly into the temple twice a year, during the summer and winter solstice.
Temple of the Condor
From an artistic point of view, the Temple of the Condor is the most impressive construction from Machu Picchu, demonstrating how great the Incas were working with rudimentary tools. The Andean condor is the largest flying bird in the world and very important for the Inca civilization. Because it was believed that this bird had the power to gather the clouds and bring the rain, the condor was considered a symbol of power and fertility.
In front of the temple is carved in granite the head and the beak of a condor, and the entire wall from the entrance depicts the open wings of the spectacular bird.
With an unfinished aspect that suggests the construction was never completed, the Main Temple consists of two lateral walls and one rear wall. Located in an open area, it is believed that the temple was used for important ceremonies, attended by many people.
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Archaeologists believe that this was a dedicated space for the mummified remains of former Inca emperors. The inside of the temple was decorated with sculptures and valuable little artifacts that were left behind until Hiram Bingham discovered the city.