All was abandoned less than a hundred years after it was built, during the Spanish Conquest, although it’s clear the Spaniards never found it. The desertion might have been caused by a smallpox endemic. The city sat quietly between the mountains Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu, and let the untamed vegetation shroud it from knowledge. The structures and sacred rocks remained undisturbed for centuries.
It was rediscovered internationally in 1911 when American historian Hiram Bingham stumbled upon it in a search for another Incan city. When he came near the site, farmers were using the terraces as vegetable gardens. One of them told him of ruins on the mountaintop, and an eleven-year-old boy led him there. The ruins were so overgrown they were difficult to make out. He returned to excavate the following year, discovering artifacts and structures of spectacular workmanship. There is so much to see and appreciate at Machu Picchu, it’s clear why it was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
23 km (23-minute drive) from Aguas Calientes
Hours of Operation:
Daily 6:00 am to 5:00 pm (last entry 4:00 pm)
Phone: +51 84 582030
S/. 126 or US$50 for Machu Picchu, S/. 150 or US$60 for addition of Huayna Picchu, S/. 148 for addition of museum
Purchase tickets in advance at Machu Picchu Cultural Center in Aguas Calientes or Instituto Nacional de Cultural (INC) offices in Cusco
Guided Tour Information
To preserve the architectural integrity of Machu Picchu, there’s a limit to how many people can be on the mountain at a time, so try to reserve tickets far in advance. Come as early as possible to avoid the crowds, although lunch is a good time to come, because most people head down the mountain to eat. Just bring your own sack lunch with food from Aguas Calientes. Local guides offer tours at S/.150 per person, with a discount in groups of six to ten at S/. 30 per person. Look for ones from Dircetur, the tourism department of Cusco, for good expertise. Prices can vary for other guides, so agree on a price before hiring.
Exploring Macchu Picchu
The Inca built about 200 buildings on terraces, accessed by stone stairways. The only possible issue with the city was its location on two fault lines. If there was an earthquake, any buildings built with mortar would have fallen apart. But the Inca were masters of a stabilizing technique called ashlar, shaping large stones to fit together perfectly without the use of mortar.
The residential area is in the lower, eastern region, where there are warehouses and lower-class homes. The nobility lived over a slope. The amautas (wise ones) lived in reddish-colored homes, and ñustas (princesses) had trapezoid-shaped rooms. The upper west region was reserved for religious and ceremonial purposes. All of the main structures are in the same zone: the Intihuatana, the Temple of the Sun, and the Room of the Three Windows. They’re dedicated to the sun god, Inti, the Inca’s greatest deity.
The Intihuantana is a ritual stone that points directly at the sun’s location during the winter solstice. The name translates to “hitching post of the sun” because the Inca believed it secured the sun to its path through the sky. On the eastern side, the Inti Mach’ay cave was used to celebrate the Royal Feast of the Sun during the December solstice. The window was designed to allow sunlight in only around the solstice. Before sunrise, noble boys would enter the cave and be initiated into manhood through an ear-piercing ritual. The Temple of the Sun is a massive tower likely used as an astronomical observatory. The rocks forming the Temple of the Condor symbolize the wings of a condor, while the altar symbolizes its head. While there’s evidence of human sacrifices at the altar, most sacrifices concerned animals, water, or dirt.
The Inca Trail
Many people reach Machu Picchu at the end of the Inca Trail, a four-day hike to explore the many ruins spread over the Sacred Valley. If you’re still in a hiking mood after climbing up to Machu Picchu, the mountain Huayna Picchu towers over the city, rewarding travelers with a stunning perspective after about an hour-long hike.
Find beds, thermal baths, massage parlors, and wood-fired pizza in Aguas Calientes–a good way to relax after hours of hiking and exploration. There’s also a museum about 20 minutes out that exhibits the history of Machu Picchu and its inhabitants. It’s a hike in itself, but if you’re up for it, stop by the museum on your first day, explore Machu Picchu the next, and if you’re sore the next morning soak in the town’s thermal baths before catching a train through the Sacred Valley.
Interested in touring Peru and visiting the Machu Picchu? We offer five different tours that explore this region.
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