Wander around in the best kept Inca city in the world
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Machu Picchu is the absolute highlight of Peru. This old Inca city is located at an altitude of 2,430 meters. The ruined city is one of the seven new wonders of the world and definitely worth a visit.
The Andes Mountains have long kept Machu Picchu out of world history. The Spaniards frantically searched for the City of Gold, but without success. Because of this, it is the most important remnant of the Inca civilisation.
But it has also left many questions unanswered. For instance, what was the role of the city? And why it was built in this particular spot? This is also the region of one of the most well-known hiking trails in the world, the Inca Trail.
In this article I'll try to give all the well known, but also not well known attractions of Machu Picchu. Including some excursions to really experience this amazing place.
I'll also include information how to avoid most of the other tourists. Because that is unfortunately necessary for this city on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The name Intipunku means the Sun Gate. This point is higher than Machu Picchu. This gives it an exceptional view of the city and the surrounding mountains. This is where most of the photos of the city are taken. It's actually the end of the Inca Trail, because the city is right here in front of you. It is still unclear what the purpose of the solar gate was. It may also have been nothing more than just the entrance to the city.
If you walk the Inca Trail, you will pass Intipunku. From this spot, you have a sublime view of the city and the surrounding mountains. However, if you don’t walk the Inca Trail you can still walk to this lookout post. You will see the sun lift the city out of the dark in the early morning. Try to capture this with your camera.
Intihuatana is located on top of a hill in the shape of a large monolith. Scientists think this is the usnu, the sacrificial altar found in all Inca temples. It may also have been used for rituals around the sun. Remarkably, the Incas have placed the stone in such a way that the sun on March 21 and September 21 does not give shade to the stone. According to the Incas, the stone contains a lot of sacred energy. Visitors who pray to Intihuatana are granted knowledge and visions. But only to those who are pure in heart.
The remarkable Watchman's Hut overlooks the agricultural part of Machu Picchu. Just after the entrance you will see this small building standing on a hill. You can clearly see how the terraces have been cultivated, but the most special thing is the overview of the entire city. Also look close to the hut, where there is a remarkable stone. According to archaeologists, it was used as a sacrificial altar. First explorer Bingham found a group of skeletons near the stone.
The Incas in Machu Picchu perfected terracing. What was earlier with the Moche Indians between 500 and 1000 AD. was to be seen. This made development and even agriculture possible on these hills. A large part of the city therefore consists of agricultural terraces. The water was led over all terraces via ingenious canals. Even now you can imagine how the drainage system must have worked.
This temple is named after its three large, trapezoidal niches. The Inca could look out over the surrounding mountains from the inside. This building probably had a ceremonial function. But which one is unknown, entirely in the style of Machu Picchu. It is clearly visible that remarkably large stones are used, as is characteristic of the Inca style.
The Urban Sector shows mainly simple houses, they probably belonged to local craftsmen. These houses were made of blocks of granite and attached to each other with cement (made of clay, among other things). The small windows that you can see here and there are also tapered, just like in many other places in Machu Picchu.
The City Wall is found along all the buildings. The immense chunks of granite stand out, as with the other Inca monuments that have been found. Scientists still wonder how it is possible that a people who did not know the wheel (just like iron, by the way) could transport these kinds of stones. They were probably placed on tree trunks and slowly rolled to their destination. Quite a job in this mountain environment.
This massive semicircular tower with windows is reminiscent of the Temple of the Sun (the Koricancha) in Cuzco. That is why it many people think this tower must be a Temple of the Sun as well.
The evidence is in the sunrise during the summer and winter solstices, which is the longest and shortest day of the year. Then exactly the sun falls in the windows. After which the Incas could predict, for example, the planting and harvesting. The tower is also called El Torreón.
This intriguing building is located right next to the Temple of the Sun. Due to the fine workmanship and location of the temple, scientists believe it was a palace of an Inca princess, although nothing else is known about this. Remarkable is the window on the second floor that is exactly opposite the window in the Temple of the Sun. It is not entirely clear why.
Under the Palace of the Princess, a space has been carved into the rock, which, according to explorer Bingham, could have been a royal mausoleum. Even now, the shape looks a bit like a tomb. Although there is no real evidence for this, because bodies have never been found here. It is one of the many mysteries surrounding Machu Picchu.
In this temple you can see how skilled the Incas were at working stones. The Temple of the Condor shows (as the name implies) a condor in flight. The millions of old rock formation has been worked by the Incas to resemble a bird with spread wings. On the lower part of the temple you can also see the head and neck. Although you also need some imagination for this. A mummy has been found in a small niche, but its meaning is unclear.
The Incas also built a number of complexes on the Huayna Picchu mountain. Including the Temple of the Moon. Remarkably enough, at the back of the mountain. At the top you can also see some buildings and small terraces. This place in particular gives scientists the idea that Machu Picchu was (also) an astronomical observatory. Even though a rock can be seen here, which is carved in the shape of an altar. So it has also been a place of sacrifice.
Aquas Calientes is the closest village to Machu Picchu. The distance is only 6 kilometers. The village is often referred to as Machu Picchu Pueblo today. The village is located around hot springs. It is remarkable that the Spaniards have (probably) discovered these sources, but not Machu Picchu. In the village you can get all kinds of information about trips, excursions and of course food, drinks and a place to sleep.
Many tourists are only here for a few hours. A shame, because Machu Picchu and its surroundings have a lot more to offer. As you can see below. And don't forget to photograph a llama in Machu Picchu.
Officially it is prohibited, but guests of the Sanctuary Lodge are able to visit the great city at night. After all, the city is at walking distance, so sunset and sunrise are easy to experience from here. Besides, it will be less crowded. When the sky is clear, the moonlight will give the city its very own atmosphere. It is more than worth the costs of the luxury hotel.
Some scientists believe the Incas were capable of building Machu Picchu in the shape of a condor. This, despite the extremely difficult location and the differences in altitude. The figure of an enormous bird of prey with wings spread out, including the neck and head is only visible from higher locations.
One of the best locations is the top of Huayna Picchu, but it is also visible from the Intipunku. You decide for yourself whether this is a coincidence or not. Keep in mind that the Inca capital Cuzco, has the shape of a mountain lion …
When the sun rises over the mountains in the morning of December 21, the rays drop precisely in the windows of the Temple of the Sun. Is there anything better than waiting for this moment, while the landscape awakens? This phenomenon is becoming more and more popular, so slowly more people are joining this.
The location is almost unreal. Between the steep mountains with the splendid names Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu lies a complete city, neatly draped across a couple of hills, at an altitude of 2,438 meters. It is situated between lavish vegetation, with the Urubamba River flowing down in the valley.
In the middle there is a large, 40 hectare block of houses, temples, storage buildings, irrigation terraces and stairs. It is a human masterpiece and standing on the Huayna Picchu you can see that the whole was built in the shape of an enormous condor, the largest bird in the world. At least, this is what some people claim.
Machu Picchu was for centuries untraceable to humans, but Machu Picchu is now almost overrun. The old Inca trail (the now famous Inca Trail) protected the city for a long time, but nowadays you can even take a bus to the old city.
As of July 1, 2017, new rules apply to Machu Picchu. This is to better regulate the access flow. Machu Picchu is very popular in the morning, only 35% of the visitors go in the afternoon. Every visitor must adhere to the new rules.
The name speaks for itself: Machu Picchu means Old Mountain in Runa Simi, a language referred to as Quechua by those who don’t speak it. The Incas proved they had vision, building the city in the mountains the way they did. At the time, Machu Picchu could only be reached by way of a 160 kilometer pathway out of Cuzco, the Inca capital. The path runs straight through the mountains, which is why the Spaniards believed it to be just a connecting route.
In fact, this is understandable, because in those days, the Incas had over 20,000 kilometers of hiking paths, running through the mountains, across the plains, along the coast and through parts of the dense rain forest. The paths ran through an enormous region connecting Colombia, western Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, central Chile and northern Argentina with each other. An unprecedented achievement.
For a long time it was believed that American historian Hiram Bingham was the first human being after the Incas to have seen the city, during an expedition in 1911. Bingham studies the Inca trails in the city’s surroundings and stumbles on it by coincidence. At first, he doesn’t realise this is a city, as everything is overgrown with plants and grass. The find of what possibly is the Lost City, becomes instant world news and places the Inca civilisation on the map, all in one go.
However, the story appears to be different. In June 2008, an American amateur archeologist claimed that not Bingham was the first human after the Incas, but the German gold-digger and trader Augusto R. Berns. According to the archeologist, it is apparent from both American as well as Peruvian documents, that Berns discovered the city in 1867.
In fact, the German plundered it, surprisingly enough, with the consent from the Peruvian government. The civil servants did demand ten percent of the winnings, though. Scientists are surprised, this possibly means that the city was much richer than was initially thought.
Scientists assume the city stems from the 15th century and that this area was inhabited until the arrival of the Spaniards in 1532. It’s not clear what really happened to the city and why it was eventually left behind, deserted. Scientists disagree on the purpose the city served, but considering its location at high altitude in the mountains, it probably wasn’t just an ordinary city.
Machu Picchu consists of two parts, each of them lying around a hill. One part was probably used for residential purposes, while the other was intended for ceremonies. Many tourists come here with a guide, to try and understand the complexity of the city, but also to experience its riches. Machu Picchu is often included in a tour of Peru, where it is often scheduled for just half a day, while you actually need a full day at least. In fact, you really should see a sunset and/or sunrise here.
The most accepted theory is that Machu Picchu served as a kind of leisure estate for royalty and nobility and that the blood-thirsty Spaniards indirectly destroyed the city by killing all the people in high positions. The city is sometimes also seen as a religious place where the gods were worshipped. Some believe this to be the Lost City, about which many legends arose through the ages, a city of gold. But where is all that treasure?
Others claim this was a fort that served to protect the Inca Empire. However, because of the location, this is almost impossible. The city may also have been the terrain of workers who cultivated coca leaves here; it is surrounded by many age-old plantations. Still, the question remains: why was it deserted? Recent research proved that the city had been one huge observatory, possibly for the Sun-Worship, although it might just as well have been for the three essential components of life (Sun, Water and Earth). Scholars have not come up with much more than that.
Scientists continue to look for evidence. All things considered, it is also very well possible the city was not inhabited for more than 100 years and that it was rather insignificant. Possibly, the entire Inca civilisation did not even exist for over 100 years. What does this say about all that the Spaniards destroyed on their raids through South America? Or will there be more remarkable discoveries in the future?
The dry season runs from April to October. In fact, this is the only time to visit the city. Throughout the rest of the year you can expect so much rain that roads are blocked and the area is inaccessible. There will also be limited visibility due to the constant clouds.
The months April and May are relatively quiet when tourists are concerned. July and August can be extremely busy. However, during these summer months you stand the best chance of having nice weather. Which means the best views. In September it is again quieter at Machu Picchu.
Most tourists take the train to Machu Picchu. They get off in the town of Aquas Calientes, simply because the train does not go any further. The mountains are too steep. From the city, take the bus up to the entrance.
Or, you can hike the Inca Trail. So that you automatically end up at Machu Picchu. There is another option: The Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu. it's an alternative Inca Trail, which I personally like more.