Machu Picchu

Tucked away in the rocky countryside northwest of Cuzco, Peru, Machu Picchu is believed to have been a royal estate or sacred religious site for Inca leaders, whose civilization was virtually wiped out by Spanish invaders in the 16th century.

The site stretches over an impressive 5-mile distance, featuring more than 3,000 stone steps that link its many different levels. On our Peru Safari 15 night tour we will take the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, to see its towering stone monuments and marvel at the mysterious splendour of one of the world’s most famous manmade wonders. Machu Picchu is a “must see” on any travellers bucket list and here is why it should be on yours too.

Machu Picchu is a mystical Incan citadel set in an incredibly beautiful location, set high in the Andes Mountains in Peru, above the Urubamba River valley. It was built in the 15th century, and was later abandoned for reasons that are still unclear. It is renowned for its complex architecture, its intriguing buildings that play on astronomical alignments, and of course for its stunning panoramic views.

Machu Picchu, as a city, is tangible evidence of the Inca Empire at the very peak of its power and achievement—a citadel of cut stone fit together without mortar so tightly that its cracks still can’t be penetrated by a knife blade.

This hugely impressive city of palaces and plazas, temples and homes may have been built as a ceremonial site, a military stronghold, or a retreat for ruling elites. The fact is, we still don’t truly know.

The awesome location is certainly well suited. The ruins lie on a high ridge, covered with the tropical forests of the upper Amazon Basin and surrounded on three sides by the turbulent Urubamba River some 2,000 feet below. The sites remoteness and inaccessibility, amazingly meant it was never found by the conquering Spaniards, despite their efforts and was a closely guarded secret.

Archaeologists are still trying to uncover clues to the mysteries hidden here high in the Andes. Machu Picchu appears to lie at the centre of a network of Inca cities and interconnecting trails between those cities, that stretched the length of the empire.

Many landmarks both man-made and mountainous appear to align with astronomical events such as the solstice sunset. The Inca had no written language, so they left no real record of why they built the site, or how they used it before it was abandoned in the early 16th century.

What remains impressive is how the site’s buildings, walls, terraces, and ramps reclaim the steep mountainous terrain and make the city blend naturally into the rock escarpments on which it is situated. The 700-plus terraces preserved soil, promoted agriculture, and served as part of an extensive water-distribution system that conserved water and limited erosion on the steep slopes.

The Inca’s achievements and skills are all the more impressive in light of the knowledge of what they lacked, that perhaps knowledge we would take for granted. When Machu Picchu was built over 500 years ago the Inca had no iron, no steel, and no wheels. Their tremendous effort apparently benefited relatively few people—some experts maintain that fewer than a thousand individuals lived here, and were thought to have been part of the Inca elite.

It is amazing that Machu Picchu remained hidden to the world after it was abandoned and the thick jungle reclaimed it, for hundreds of years until the early 1900’s.

In 1911, a Peruvian guide led a US explorer and university professor, Hiram Bingham, up a steep mountainside and into the history books as the first Westerner to lay eyes on the “lost city” of Machu Picchu. While indigenous peoples knew of the site, Peru’s Spanish conquerors never did—a fact which aided Machu Picchu’s isolation, and its superb preservation, over the centuries.

It sits 7,970ft (2,430 meters) above sea. The site’s excellent preservation, the quality of its architecture, and the breath-taking mountain vista it occupies has made Machu Picchu one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world today. It covers 80,000 acres and is overlooked by the steep sugar loaf shape of Mount Wayna Picchu, (which we offer as a part of our Machu Picchu tour as an exciting climbing option early in the morning).

Today Machu Picchu is far from isolated. In fact it’s a must-see for any visitor to Peru and the draw that compels many people to travel to Peru. Machu Picchu’s management challenge is preservation of the site, while making it accessible to all those who hope to experience an incredible part of Inca history. Access is becoming increasingly controlled and limited, with daily quotas and permits (we organize all this in advance for you on our tours).

How to Get There

On his first trip to the site Hiram Bingham walked for six days. Today many choose to follow in his footsteps by hiking to the ruins on the legendary Inca Trail. It’s an experience like no other and we offer a 2 day/1 night hiking option via the Inca Trail into Machu Picchu as part of the 15 night tour. However, there is an easier route and our Vista Dome train journey from Cusco takes only a couple of hours.

When to Visit

Mountain archaeologist and National Geographic Explorer Johan Reinhard offered this tip on how to escape the crowds that typically fill the site by midday. “I traditionally climb to the top of the nearby peak with a pack lunch and wait till the crowds are gone,” he wrote in National Geographic Traveller. We often do it the same way on our tours. The peak of Wayna, is a great way to take in the magnificence of the site below, although it isn’t for the faint hearted!

How to Visit

For the fit, there is simply no substitute for traveling to Machu Picchu the way the Inca themselves did—on foot. Today the Inca Trail winds through the mountains and along the path of the ancient royal highway. More than 75,000 people make the trip each year and along the way experience some of the associated sites that were part of the Inca network in this area.

It’s no longer possible to do the trek independently. Due to heavy use (and subsequent environmental impact) the trail has become heavily regulated. Visitors must sign up with an organized group to tackle either the classic four-day route or our recently added Peru Safari two-day option.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983 and designated one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007, Machu Picchu is Peru’s most visited attraction and South America’s most famous ruins.

Increased tourism, the development of nearby towns and environmental degradation continue to take their toll on the site, which is also home to several endangered species. As a result, the Peruvian government has taken steps to protect the ruins and prevent erosion of the mountainside in recent years. As a positive sign though is that the site was recently exempted from World Heritage Sites on the in-danger list of UNESCO

You can take in this incredible experience as part of our 15 Night Overland adventure or on your own Private Peru Tour with Peru Safari. Check out our Overland trip to Machu Picchu by clicking onto

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