Spanish conquistadors roamed and pillaged South America from the beginning of the 16th century well into the 19th, but never knew about this architectural wonder hidden in the mountains.
Local Indians knew about this pre-Columbian site at 2430 metres above sea level located above the Urumamba Valley but never mentioned it to strangers and certainly not to invaders.
Hiram Bingham, an American archaeologist, is credited with the discovery of Machu Picchu ruins in 1911. Local Indians most likely helped him, but never got any credit.
After the discovery, Machu Picchu garnered a lot of publicity among archaeologists and became famous, but remained inaccessible to tourists in general well into the middle of the 20th century.
Event today, the ordinary tourist must devote some time to reach it at considerable expense.
The Peruvian government helped build train tracks from Cuzco, and with it launched a tourism industry in an attempt to help locals economically. UNESCO’s recognition of the historic importance of Machu Picchu helped spread and popularity.
Machu Picchu was built as an estate of the Pachacuti Empire (1438 – 72) and people referred to it as “the lost city of the Incas”.
High in the mountains on a relatively small plateau, Inca-style buildings were built, using polished, dry-stone walls. Stones were so well fitted that time and climatic conditions failed to displace any. The walls are still as solid as they were centuries ago.
Construction workers were so highly skilled in mortar less wall building that buildings withstood earthquakes and other natural disasters. A detailed tour and study would require a few days.
These days, tourists don’t enjoy the luxury of time, and the site tires people because of the altitude.
Intihuatna, the temple of the Sun’s stonewall is very intricate requiring close study to appreciate the skill of stonecutters, and the Room at the Three Windows constitute the Sacred District, inhabited by “wise” people.
Machu Picchu’s other districts are – the market, residential area, and agricultural section that was carved from the mountain side by building terraces. Incas were agriculturally advanced enough to breed potato species that could grow on such altitudes.
There were also separate districts for the poor and nobility.
Reaching Machu Picchu requires time and stamina. First you must fly from Lima to Cuzco (There are daily flights).
You should stay at Cuzco for at least one day to acclimatize to the altitude. (Drink mate or coca tea). Then travel on to Aguas Calientes. You can stay in the small hotel and early in the morning take the first bus to Machu Picchu or use the Inca trail to hike to the site. The hike will take at least two days and participants must be sufficiently fit to endure difficulties on teh way.
If you stay at Aguas Calientes and take the bus, make sure to take the first of the day as later queues at the gate are long and take up precious time.
You can also take the train from Cuzco early in the morning and visit Machu Picchu, but your time on the site will be limited to a few hours.
This is what most tourists do, but those interested in archaeology prefer to stay at Aguas Calientes and travel by bus to the site.
The best time to visit is May to the end of September, although tourists visit throughout the year.
In 2010, 500 000 visited Machu Picchu. It is important to take a sandwich and water to the site. What is available inside is very expensive and the choice is limited.
Machu Picchu’s location, ingenuity and layout offer inspiration, and those interested in archaeology will forever remember their visit.