Machu Picchu  is the site of an ancient Inca city, high in the Andes of Peru. Located at 2,430 metres (8,000 ft), this UNESCO World Heritage site is often referred to as "The Lost City of the Incas", is one of the most familiar symbols of the Incan Empire, and is one of the most famous and spectacular sets of ruins in the world — a visit to Peru would not be complete without it.
These remarkable ruins were only rediscovered in 1911 by the American archaeologist Hiram Bingham. Perched dramatically 1000 ft above the Urubamba river, Machu Picchu is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is also the end point of the most popular hike in South America, the Inca Trail.
The story of Machu Picchu is quite a remarkable one; it is still unknown exactly what the site was in terms of its place in Inca life. Current researchers tend to believe that Machu Picchu was a country resort for elite Incans. At any given time, there were not more than 750 people living at Machu Picchu, with far fewer than that during the rainy season. The Incas started building it around AD 1430 but it was abandoned as an official site for the Inca rulers a hundred years later at the time of the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire.
One thing that is clear is that it was a remarkably well hidden place, and well protected. Located far up in the mountains of Peru, visitors had to travel up long valleys littered with Inca check points and watch towers. Remarkably, the Spanish conquistadors missed the site, and Bingham only located the site by chance. On a wet day in 1911, he traveled up the slopes with a few companions from his expedition. On meeting local peasants, they told him about ancient ruins that covered the area. To Bingham's amazement, he had found the lost Inca city of Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu was declared a Peruvian Historical Sanctuary in 1981 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. Since it was not plundered by the Spanish when they conquered the Incas, it is especially important as a cultural site and is considered a sacred place.
Machu Picchu was built in the classical Inca style, with polished dry-stone walls. Its primary buildings are the Intihuatana, the Temple of the Sun, and the Room of the Three Windows. These are located in what is known by archaeologists as the Sacred District of Machu Picchu. In September 2007, Peru and Yale University reached an agreement regarding the return of artifacts which Hiram Bingham had removed from Machu Picchu in the early twentieth century.
Flora and fauna
Visitors to Machu Picchu typically leave from Cuzco, either on a day trip, or overnighting in Aguas Calientes, which allows you to visit the park early or late in the day and avoid the worst of the crowds, and on sunny days, gives you a nice window of reprieve from the beating sun. Don't forget sunblock.
There are 3 ways to reach the ruins themselves: arrive on foot via the multiple day Inca Trail trek, or walking or taking a bus from Aguas Calientes.
If arriving from Aguas Calientes, prepare to spend a lot of time waiting in lines throughout the day.... you'll be in line for the bus, which drops you off at the end of the often long line at the entrance. You'll queue up again if interested in scaling up Wayna Picchu or the Temple of the Moon, and then just when you thought it was all over, you'll be in line for a bus back down to town which, even in low season, can be as much as a couple of hours wait. This is when you may want to reassess how much energy you have left, and maybe start walking back down.
- Repairs to the train service that took place in early 2010 have now completed, and there should not be any issues on the rail road to Machu Picchu. It is also possible to get to Aguas Calientes by traveling through Santa Maria and Santa Teresa. This alternate route involves walking (1 or 3 hours) and crossing a river in an "oroya", a basket riding over a cable to the other side.
From Aguas Calientes frequent buses leave to the ruins (US$7 each way) starting at 5:30am. There's often a queue, so if you're intent on being on the first bus up, you should arrive at least 90 minutes early. The journey takes around 1/2 hour to slowly wind around the switchbacks and up to the park.
Hiking the Inca Trail is a great way to arrive as you first see the city through the Sun Gate (instead of arriving from below as you do from Aguas Calientes). Both the four-day and two-day hikes are controlled by the government. Travelers should be fit enough to walk for days and sleep in tents.
From Aguas Calientes it is also possible to walk along a similar 8 km route that the buses run, which will take about 1-2 hours up, and around an hour back down. This route is mainly stairs, connecting the switchbacks that the buses take. It is a strenuous and long hike but is very rewarding, recommended to start around 4 a.m. to make it to the top before sunrise. The descent is fairly easy, just take care when the steps are wet. Keep alert for the bus drivers that rarely brake for pedestrians.
Visiting Machu Picchu isn't cheap. The entrance fee is currently S/128.00 and rising steadily; students with an ISIC card pay S/61. With the train ticket to Aguas Calientes at US$98 return and a night's accommodation it easily adds up to over US$200.
Be sure to bring your passport, as it may be requested upon entry and, more importantly, there's a popular stamp booth as you exit where you can prove to your friends you've been there.
Only small packs are allowed in the park (no more than 20 litres), but there is a luggage storage at the entrance mostly used by Inca Trailers. If your pack is checked, any food you carry may be confiscated.
There are no vehicles of any kind in the park, bring some comfortable walking shoes, especially if you plan to do any of the hikes such as Wayna Picchu. No walking sticks are allowed. The main ruins are fairly compact and easily walkable.
Take your time walking around the site, there are many places to see and explore. Although it is not necessary, taking a guided tour does provide a deeper insight into the ancient city, its uses, and information on the geography of it. Keep in mind that relatively little is known about the history and uses of the ruins, and some of the stories told by the guides is based on little more than imaginative hearsay.
- Sun Gate (Inti Punku) – if you've just arrived via the Inka Trail, this will be your first experience of the ruins. Others can backtrack from the ruins along the trail and up the hill. From here you can see back down each valley offering excellent views. It's a fairly strenuous hike (probably 1-1.5 hours each way) but well worth it. If you catch the first bus from Aguas Calientes and head straight here you may be able to reach it in time for sun to peak over the mountain and through the gate.
- Temple of the Sun – Near the summit of the main city, the stonework on the temple is incredible. Look closely and you will see that there are a variety of stone walls throughout the city. Most are rough stones held together with mud, the common stone walls found throughout the world. But many buildings or parts of buildings are done with the more distinctive and impressive closely-fit stonework. The temple is the absolute pinnacle of this technology. Observe it from the side, descending the stone staircase in the main plaza.
- Intihuatana – A stone carved so that on certain days, at dawn, the sun makes a certain shadow, thus working as a sun dial. From Quechua: Inti = sun, huatana = to take, grab: thus grabing (measuring) the sun. (pronounce 'intiwatana')
- Temple of the Three Windows –
- Main Temple –
- Temple of the Condor – The tour guides will try to tell you that this was a temple, but look closely: between the wings of the condor is a chamber with grooves cut in the stone to secure manacles, a walkway behind where a torturer may walk to whip the prisoner's backs, and a scary looking pit to let the blood of prisoners drain. Clearly the condor was a symbol of cruel justice, but a sanitized version is told for the benefit of middle-aged tourists and their children.
If you got some energy in you, there's a few great hikes involving a bit of legwork. Do make sure that you've taken the time to acclimatize to the elevation either in Cuzco or Aguas Calientes for a couple days before exterting yourself to much, especially on Wayna Picchu.
- Wayna Picchu Towering above the north end Machu Picchu is this steep mountain, often the backdrop to many photos of the ruins. It looks a bit daunting from below, but while steep, it's not an unusually difficult ascent, and most reasonably fit persons shouldn't have a problem. Stone steps are laid along most of the path, and in the steeper sections steel cables provide a supporting handrail. That said, expect to be out of breath, and take care in the steeper portions, especially when wet, as it can become dangerous quickly. There's a tiny cave near the top that must be passed through, and is quite low and tight of a squeeze. Take care at the peak, it can be somewhat precarious, and those afraid of heights may want to hang out just below.<br>
<br> The entire walk is through beautiful landscape, and the views from the top are stunning, including birds eye views over the whole site. There's also a few ruins near the top. If visiting these ruins, you'll see a second way to start making your descent down the mountain, along some very steep and shallow steps.... these steps are a bit dangerous if wet, but the hike may be well worthwhile. This hike is one of your best bets for getting away from Machu Picchu and Wayna Picchu crowds. <br> <br> Access to Wayna Picchu is limited to 400 visitors per day. You must sign in at the entrance gate, and take note of your number, as you're required to sign out upon your return. The first 200 numbers are released at 7:00am, and are often gone in less than an hour on busier days. The second 200 are available at 10:00am. All visitors must arrive back at the checkpoint before 4:00pm. Get here early if you're intent on climbing it, and note that large tour groups are able to reserve numbers and jump the queue, so don't be miffed when you're in line and a guide saunters past with 20 people in tow.
- If you have some time at hand, or long for a sparkle of solitude, you can also walk to the Moon Temple (Templo de la Luna) and the Great Cave (Gran Caverne). It's a long walk and adventurous hike involving several ladders. Some may find that the sites aren't really rewarding, but unexpected wildlife can be seen (wild spectacled bears have been reported). This hike is also quite interesting because partway through you leave behind the mountain terrain and enter a more conventional forest. The caves can be reached either by hiking down the trail from the peak of Waynapicchu (which includes some semi-harrowing but fun near-vertical descents) or by the split from the main Waynapicchu trail (look for the sign that says Gran Carvern). Remember that it is much easier to descend from Waynapicchu than to ascend from these temples. Be sure to bring plenty of water and snacks for this long hike. The hike from the summit to the caves and back to the checkpoint takes about two more hours.
Officially, you are not allowed to bring any food or water bottles into the park, and must check these in at the luggage storage at the entrance. In practice, however, bags are rarely searched, and most people have no problem getting a small bottle of water and some snacks in with them, which you'll definitely want, especially if you're planning to stray from the central set of ruins. Buy these beforehand, as they're much more expensive at the site itself. Don't even think of leaving a shred of trash behind you.
The concession stand near the entrance of the site is pitiful in its offerings and gets very busy at lunchtime. Once in the site, it's not possible to buy food or drinks.
- Tinkuy Buffet Restaurant Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge +51 84 21 1039/38 http://machupicchu.orient-express.com 11:30AM-3:00PM US$33, S/.96.00A casual and very expensive lunch buffet. The food is decent, and it's very popular at lunch time.
- Tampu Restaurant Bar Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge 5:30AM-9:00AM, Noon-3:00PM, 6:30PM-9:30PM Open to hotel guests only, also high prices.
Due to the fact that this is a protected park, further construction in the area is nearly impossible. Thus, there is currently only one very expensive hotel at the site itself. Almost everyone who wants to overnight near Machu Picchu books a hotel in nearby Aguas Calientes.
- Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge +51 84 21 1039/38 firstname.lastname@example.org http://machupicchu.orient-express.com US$800+ in high season, US$400+ in low seasonThis superbly over-priced hotel is the only option for sleeping at the park. There are two equally expensive restaurants on site, and 2 suites that have partial views of the ruins. It's located just outside the ticket booth.
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