Machu Picchu is an ancient city in South America, in Cusco Region in Peru. It is often called “the city of heaven” or “the city of light”, as it was built at an altitude of 2450 meters high.
The city was designed as a mountain sanctuary during the time of two great Incas: Pachacutec Inca Yupanqui (1438 ñ 71) and Tupac Inca Yupanqui (1472 ñ 93), a century before the Spanish took over the Inca Empire. In 1532, all inhabitants have disappeared in mysterious ways. It’s true that at that time, the Spanish conquered the land, but many historians believe that a large number of inhabitants died before that, from smallpox, a disease that was brought there by travelers.
Machu Picchu or the “Lost City of the Incas” can’t be described as a big city thanks to its small size. It had about 200 buildings, most of which were warehouses, temples, homes and administrative buildings. Most of the buildings were built of stone blocks well finished. Nearly 1,200 people lived in the city and suburbs and they all worshiped Inti, the Inca Sun God. Most residents were farmers, who planted grains on the nearby terraces.
The city was forgotten for more than 400 years, until 1911, when the ancient settlement was discovered by American archaeologist Hiram Bingham, accompanied by his guards and a boy who guided them. At first, he believed that he had found the ruins of the legendary city of Vilcabamba, which was highly sought by the Spanish as the Incas supposedly buried there their gold.
Machu Picchu has a well-defined structure. It is located in the Peruvian Andes, 70 km away from Cusco and 600 meters above the Urubamba Valley, which is also known as the Sacred Valley of the Incas. The walls were bricked of stones that weight 50 tonnes each. They were processed and merged so well and very accurately that no knife blade could go through them.
In the west of the city, you can find the main temple with an old shrine where it is believed the Incas offered their sacrifices. In front of this shrine there is a residential neighborhood that is formed of two-storey houses, united by narrow streets, which lead to the terrace above the abyss.
During the Spanish Conquest, the city was not damaged at all, as the Spanish conquistadors couldn’t get there. Still, Machu Picchu remains a big mystery to many people, even to experts. For example, Hiram Bingham believed that it was the traditional birthplace of the Incan “Virgins of the Suns”, while American scientists John Howland Rowe and Richard Burger convinced various archaeologists that the city was an estate of the Inca emperor Pachacuti. Furthermore, explorer Johan Reinhard believed that Machu Picchu was a sacred religious site.
One thing is certain: to build a city in such a dangerous area was more than complicated and it needed some special skills. Just think about the fact the massive backing walls and the terraces with stairs are still standing, after 500 years, protecting the city from rain and mudslides.
Nowadays, Machu Picchu is still considered, by the successors of the old civilization in the Andes, a symbol of their connection with the past, a part of history that has survived all invasions and disasters. Thousands of visitors each year hike the famous Inca Trail to experience this spectacular wonder.
Important Information for Your Machu Picchu Visit
Stricter rules have been implemented at Machu Picchu since 2017 to manage the daily influx of tourists. All visitors must be accompanied by an authorized guide. The site has a daily capacity of 2,500 tourists and will have more prominent directional arrows to control the flow. The opening hours for Machu Picchu, Huayna Picchu/Wayna Picchu, and Cerro Machu Picchu have changed, with two entrance times available at 6:00 AM and 12:00 PM.
To reach Machu Picchu, you can take a 30-minute bus ride from the touristy mountain town of Aguas Callientes, with frequent departures. Hiking the Inca trails is another option, with the classic, one-day, and Mollepata trails taking four, one, and five days respectively. A solo hike to Machu Picchu via Hidroelektrika takes 2.5 hours one way, and involves following the train tracks. To make the most of your visit, plan to catch the 7 AM van from Cusco to Hidroelektrika and return by 11 AM to catch the 2 PM van back to Cusco.
Wear comfortable, suitable footwear for hiking as many steps at the site are stone and uneven. If trekking the Inca Trail, bring a warm sleeping bag as temperatures can drop significantly at night.