Uncovering Inca Mysteries in Machu Picchu

Good day to all of you. I hope it is sunny and bright on your side of the Cloud!

I am struck by how many of my friends have Machu Picchu on their travel wish-lists. It is not one of the easiest places to see, but it is well worth the effort!

Machu Picchu is a royal citadel built about 1450 AD for King Pachacutec as a rural getaway from his capital in Cusco. At the time it was built, it had about 750 inhabitants but today it receives about 1.4 Million visitors annually.

Machu Picchu was never a “lost city” to the local inhabitants of the region. It was not, however, invaded by the Spanish Conquistadores who did not know that it existed. In 1911, Hiram Bingham, an archaeologist from Yale University, was looking for the lost city of Vilcabamba. The Incas moved their capital there from Cusco after the invasion of the Spanish. Instead of finding Vilcabamba, Bingham was led to Machu Picchu when he asked local guides to show him any nearby interesting ruins.

Machu Picchu has many awe-inspiring sites to see including:

Machu Picchu - Intihuatana

Intihuatana – stone aligned with the sun!

  • Intihuatana – a ritual stone associated with an astronomic clock that points to the sun in a precise way each winter solstice.
  • Temple of the Sun – known as “Torreon” in Spanish, this beautifully sited temple is on the most prominent spot in the complex.
  • Room of Three Windows – this interesting building is close to the Temple of the Sun and commands an impressive view over the site and valley.
  • Royal Complex – this includes the palace as well as a royal tomb.
  • Intimachay – a cave used on the Summer Solstice for initiating Inca boys into manhood. This site is rarely visited by tours but is a gem. The interior of the cave is illuminated for less than three weeks per year because of its special, eastern-facing construction. The construction is unique and the finest on the site.
Machu Picchu - Temple of the Moon

The Temple of the Moon is Cool!

  • Temple of the Moon – this may not be a temple dedicated to the moon but it is impressive! It is reached via a narrow and slippery path from the far side of the Huayna Picchu mountain. It is quite a trek but worth a visit!
  • Museo de Sitio Manuel Chavez Ballon – this offers a glimpse of artefacts and discusses the importance and context of the site

Here’s a pro-tip: there are not many explanatory signs at Machu Picchu. While this is great because it doesn’t impact the view, a visit to the Museum will answer many of your questions about the function of the site. The museum is not easy to find because it is at the end of a dirt road at the base of the Machu Pichu site.

Machu Picchu controls visitors to preserve the site from degradation. Controls include:

  • A maximum of 5,000 tickets to the site are available per day and no more than 2,500 visitors can be on the site at one time.
  • Only 400 people per day are permitted to climb Huayna Picchu mountain (the one in all of the pictures that looks like a rhino horn).
  • No walking sticks, poles or umbrellas are allowed on the site. If you require walking assistance because of a handicap, you must use rubber covers to protect the terrain.

Here’s another pro-tip: While many want to climb Huayna Picchu, nearby Machu Picchu Mountain has no restrictions, is twice as tall (1640 feet, 500 meters) and offers better views. Just ensure that you are in good shape – it’s practically all stairs the entire route.

Machu Picchu - Cusco Airport

Cusco can be a challenge for landing!

Reaching Machu Picchu isn’t as hard as it was when Hiram Bingham found it, but it can still be a daunting trip. The easiest way to fly into the region is via the capital, Lima with a connection to Cusco. There are some international flights into Cusco but almost all of these are from the region because Cusco Airport is over 5000 meters high and thus requires special performance aircraft.

Once in Cusco, you can take a train or bus to Aguas Calientes, which is close to the site of Machu Picchu. You can also walk a portion of the Inca trail but the minimum requirement for hiking is five days and requires you to sleep in a tent. There are three trains from Cusco to Aguas Calientes; Inca Rail, Peru Rail and the Belmond Hiram Bingham Train. The last train is very luxurious, including elegant dining, but is also expensive. In fact, you’ll find that all forms of transport including air, rail and bus are relatively expensive to reach Machu Picchu. The twenty minute bus from Aguas Calientes to the site is US$24 but you can walk up to the site for free if you are sufficiently fit.
Machu Picchu - Train to Aguas Calientes

You’ll take a train from Cusco or hike!

Here’s another pro-tip: the hotels will tell you that the walk from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu is a ‘moderate’ walk requiring about 90 minutes. Unless you are exceptionally fit, this is not accurate. It is a brisk walk for at least two hours and it can be trying if you’re not reasonably fit.

In the late 1990s and up until today, there have been exclusive resorts and hotel properties built to host visitors. The hotels include the impressive Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, the less formal El MaPi Hotel which has a younger vibe and the excellent Belmond Sanctuary Lodge – which is right at the entrance to the site and thus allows easy access. All of these hotels have good restaurants but they are also pricey. In fact, site entry tickets, souvenirs and food are all expensive but you are paying to visit an exclusive location!

Machu Picchu - Cusquena

The local beer, Cusquena, is excellent!

Aguas Calientes offers several nice cafes and restaurants. I recommend trying the traditional Peruvian Ceviche; it is a lowland dish but quite fresh and tasty in local restaurants. Wash down your meal with Pisco Sours, the national drink of Peru, or one of the excellent local beers. Food is tasty, clean and uses the best produce of the region.

Here’s a final pro-tip: Take good rain coverage, an excellent pair of walking boots and prepare for the trip because it can rain any time and the climbs can be physically taxing

If you are able to visit Machu Picchu, have a fantastic time at one of the most incredible sites in the world!

Love,

 

Isabella

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Isabella’s Checklist

What to see: Intihuatana, Intimachay and Museo de Sitio Manuel Chavez Ballon (https://www.machupicchu.org, https://www.peru.travel )

Where to stay: Intihuatana, Intimachay and Museo de Sitio Manuel Chavez Ballon (https://www.machupicchu.org, https://www.peru.travel )

Where to party: It’s not really a party place, but try the Pisco Sours and the Local Beers in local bars in Aguas Calientes

Where to eat: The many cool locally-owned restaurants in Aguas Calientes or the nice restaurants in the hotels 

What to buy: local souvenirs made by indigenous peoples – particularly the brightly woven textiles

Machu Picchu is an incredible site!
Isabella’s Checklist

What to see: Intihuatana, Intimachay and Museo de Sitio Manuel Chavez Ballon (https://www.machupicchu.org, https://www.peru.travel )

Where to stay: Intihuatana, Intimachay and Museo de Sitio Manuel Chavez Ballon (https://www.machupicchu.org, https://www.peru.travel )

Where to party: It’s not really a party place, but try the Pisco Sours and the Local Beers in local bars in Aguas Calientes

Where to eat: The many cool locally-owned restaurants in Aguas Calientes or the nice restaurants in the hotels 

What to buy: local souvenirs made by indigenous peoples – particularly the brightly woven textiles

Machu Picchu is an incredible site!

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