Machu Picchu is located 130 kilometers from the city of Cusco in the canyon formed by the Urubamba River, on the slopes of the mountain known as “Machu Picchu”, which in Quechua means “old peak”. However, the city was not originally known by this name, its original name is unknown as it has been lost in time.
This archaeological complex, which is one of the wonders of the world, remained hidden in the mists and thick vegetation of the tropical forest until 1911, when its existence was made public by the American explorer Hiram Bingham. It was a sacred city where selected individuals lived who almost certainly belonged to the Inca nobility and the priesthood. The Spanish never found the site, for the last refuge of the Incas was based at Vilcabamba rather than at Machu Picchu.
All the evidence we have seems to indicate that Machu Picchu was abandoned by all of its inhabitants. What is certain is that in the area surrounding the citadel there exists a number of other impressive citadels which were also abandoned, all of them with the same characteristics, with ceremonial shrines, agricultural terraces, military sectors and royal palaces. These sites include Wiñay Wayna, Sayacmarca and Phuyupatamarca on the Inca highway to Machu Picchu, and Choquequirao to the northwest.
The city of Machu Picchu was divided into two sectors; the agricultural sector and the urban sector. The agricultural sector was composed of terraces which surrounded the site, particularly on the southern edge of the complex. The urban sector was separated from the agricultural sector by a ditch and wall which ended at a guarded entrance where access was controlled and highly restricted.
The urban sector is composed of ceremonial edifices including the famous Temple of the Sun, together with royal palaces and the renowned Inti-huatana, which crowns the pyramid that stands to the north of the Sacred Plaza.
Hiram Bingham studied the site in detail and also carried out excavation work, during which he uncovered the remains of 173 individuals, the majority of which (150) were women.
The urban sector concentrates a large number of buildings which served as dwellings. They face away from the city (to the east), facing the mountain known as Putucusi, and these buildings are set at a number of different levels. These buildings have two floors and they are constructed from finely finished stonework. The second floor had a wooden base and the roof was supported by wooden beams which were secured to cavities in the walls by ropes, The roof was covered with thatch made from the coarse and water resistant local highland grass known as ichu.
The wood used in Inca constructions was brought from the tropical forest and was highly-prized. When the Incas abandoned the site, they took a number of things with them, including the wood used in construction, to rebuild their empire elsewhere.
The urban sector is composed of a series of streets, passageways and stairways which linked the buildings to each other, so that in some cases to arrive at one building it was necessary to pass through a series of other rooms.
The name Machu Picchu means old or Ancient Mountain. With many legends and theories surrounding the position of the site, most archeologists agree that its sacred geography and astronomy were factors that influenced where the Inca Pachacuti decided to build this citadel at 2492m.
The Discovery of Machu Picchu
Never discovered by the Spanish conquerors, for many centuries the site of Machu Picchu lay forgotten, the only knowledge of the site remained kept by local Indians and settlers, until it was found on July 24th, 1911 by the US explorer Hiram Bingham. It was a fantastic find, not least because the site was still relatively intact, without the usual ravages of either Spanish conquistadores or tomb robbers. Accompanied only by two locals, Bingham left his base camp around 10:00 am. After resting at a small hut, he received hospitality from a local peasant who described an extensive system of terraces where they had found good fertile soil for their crops. Bingham was led to the site by an 11 -year-old local boy, Pablito Alvarez, but it didn’t take him long to see that he had come across some important ancient Inca terraces over a hundred of which had recently been cleared of forest for subsistence crops. After a little more exploration, Bingham found the fine white stonework and began to realize that this might be the place he was looking for.
Origins of Machu Picchu
Bingham first theorized that Machu Picchu was the lost city of Vilcabamba, the site of the Incas last refuge from the Spanish conquistadors. Not until another American expedition surveyed the ruins around Machu Picchu in the 1940s, did serious doubts begin to arise over this assertion.
Meanwhile, it was speculated that Machu Picchu was perhaps the best preserved of a series of agricultural centers that served Cusco in its prime. The city was conceived and built in the mid-fifteenth century by Emperor Pachacutic, the first to expand the empire beyond the Sacred Valley towards the forested gold-lands. So, Machu Picchu represents to many archeologists, the most classical and best-preserved remains in existence of a citadel used by the Incas as both a religious temple site and an agricultural center.
Located in the high Andes mountain range the Sacred Valley of the Inca´s also borders the nearby Amazon Rainforest. Travel 80 km east of Cusco, and here you will find Machu Picchu. Built on the side of a mountain, with Huayna Picchu located on the mountain’s front. Surrounded by high peaks with lush vegetation, Machu Picchu overlooks the Urubamba River, which flows through Aguas Calientes the town below.
Machu Picchu is located in the Andes Mountain range at 7,970 ft (2430 m) above sea level. Not only is Machu Picchu available for hikes but as is Huayna Picchu (8,920 ft / 2,720 m) and Machu Picchu Mountain (10,100 ft / 3,080 m).
Located in the Andes Mountains and upper Amazon basin, the mild subtropical climate of Machu Picchu is more humid than Cusco and the Sacred Valley. Day temperatures are warm and tend to cool off later at night.
Machu Picchu & Altitude Sickness
Altitude sickness is a common health concern for folks going to Machu Picchu. Everyone reacts differently, but severe reactions to high elevations are rare and hard to predict. Many travelers only experience minor symptoms, such as shortness of breath, headaches, loss of appetite, or nausea, as a result of the altitude. Cusco and the Sacred Valley are at higher elevations than Machu Picchu.
What weather to expect at Machu Picchu
In the morning and at night, the temperature can be cool so bring a good jacket whilst during the middle of the day, it can be warm so dress in layers.
Average Daily Temperatures
- Day: 65-82 F (18-28 C)
- Night: 50-65 F (9-17 C)
- Dry: April to October
- Rain: November to March
NB: In the highlands of Peru, there is the rain season and dry season, but at any time of the year, you can expect to see rain, so always come prepared.
When is the best time to visit Machu Picchu?
- Travel during shoulder months (April, May, September, and October) for smaller crowds and generally good weather.
- The most popular time to visit Machu Picchu is during the dry season (April to October) when sunny blue skies are more common. June, July, and August tend to be the busiest months at Machu Picchu.
- Traveling to Machu Picchu during the rain season (November-March) has benefits too. Of course, there’s a higher chance of showers, but the ruins aren’t as crowded and flowers are in bloom.
The Temple of The Sun
The Temple of The Sun, also known as the Torreon, is a wonderful, semicircular, walled, tower-like temple displaying some of Machu Picchu’s finest granite stonework.
Constructed to incorporate polyhedrons and trapezoidal window niches, the temple’s carved steps and smoothly joined stone blocks fit neatly into the existing relief of a natural boulder that served as some kind of altar and also marks the entrance to a small cave. A window off this temple provides views of both the June solstice sunrise and the constellation of the Pleiades, which rises from here over the nearby peak of Huayna Picchu. The Pleiades are still a very important astronomical Andean symbol relating to crop fertility: locals use the constellation as a kind of annual signpost in the agricultural calendar, providing information about when to plant crops and when the rains will come.
The Royal Tomb
Below the Temple of the Sun is a cave, despite the fact that no graves or human remains have ever been found there, the cave is known as the Royal Tomb. In fact, it probably represented access to the spiritual heart of the mountains, like the cave at the Temple of the Moon.
The Funerary Rock
Retracing your steps 20m or so back from the Temple of the Sun and following a flight of stone stairs directly uphill, then left along the track towards Intipunku , brings you to a path on the right, which climbs up to the thatched guardian’s hut. The Ibis hut is associated with a modestly carved rock known as the funerary rock and a nearby graveyard where Hiram Bingham found evidence of many burials, some of which were obviously royal.
The Sacred Plaza
Arguably the most enthralling sector of the ruins, the Three-Windowed Temple part of the complex based around the Sacred Plaza, is located back down in the center of the site, the next major Inca construction after the Temple of the Sun. Dominating the southeastern edge of the plaza, the attractive Three-Windowed Temple has unusually large Windows looking east towards the mountains beyond the Urubamba River valley. From here, it’s a short stroll to the Principal Temple, which ernt its name through its fine stonework of the three high main walls, the most easterly of which looks onto the Sacred Plaza.
A minute or so uphill from the Principal Temple, along an elaborately carved stone stairway brings you to one of the jewels of the site, the Intihuatana, also known as the “hitching” post of the sun”. This fascinating carved rock, built on a rise above the Sacred Plaza, is similar to those created by the Incas in all their important ritual centers, but is one of the very few not to have been destroyed by the conquistadores.
This unique and very beautiful survivor, set in a tower-like position, overlooks the Sacred Plaza, the Río Urubamba and the sacred peak of Huayna Picchu. The Intihuatana´s base is said to have been carved in the shape of a map of the Inca Empire, though few archeologists agree with this. Its main purpose was as an astro-agricultural clock for viewing the complex interrelationships between the movements of the stars and constellations. The Intihuatana appears to be aligned with four important mountains: the snowcapped mountain range of La Veronica lies directly to the east, with the sun rising behind its main summit during the equinoxes. Directly south, sits the father of all mountains in this part of Peru known as Salcantay, which is a few days’ walk away. To the west, the sun sets behind the important peak of Pumasillo during the December solstice and due north, stands the majestic peak of Huayna Picchu. The rocks evidently kept track of the animal cycles, with its basic orientation northwest to southeast, plus four vertices pointing to the four directions.
If you don’t have the time or energy to climb Huayna Picchu or visit the Temple of the Moon, head back to the guardian’s hut on the other side of the site and take the path below it, which climbs gradually for thirty minutes or so, up to Intipunku, the main entrance to Machu Picchu from the Inca Trail. This offers an incredible view over the entire site, with the unmistakable shape of Huayna Picchu in the background.
Machu Picchu Pueblo
Many people base themselves at tile settlement of MACHU PICCHU PUEBLO (previously known as Aguas Calientes), connected to Machu Picchu by bus, in order to visit the ruins at a more leisurely pace. It’s warm, humid climate and surrounding landscape of towering mountains covered in the cloud forest make it a welcome change from Cusco. The town’s explosive growth has reached the limits of the valley here; there’s very little flat land that hasn’t been built on or covered in concrete. Not surprisingly, this boom town has a lively, bustling feel and enough restaurants and bars to satisfy a small army.
The Thermal Baths
The main attraction in these parts – apart from Machu Picchu itself- is the natural thermal bath, which is particularly enjoyable after a few days on the Inca Trail or a hot afternoon at Machu Picchu. You can find several communal baths of varying temperatures right at the end of the main drag of Avenida Pachacutec, around 750m uphill from the town’s small plaza.
The ‘temple’ derives its name from the massive solidity and perfection of its construction, the damage to the rear right corner is the result of the ground settling below this corner rather than any inherent weakness in the masonry itself.
A scenic but level walk from the Hut of the Caretaker takes you right past the top of the terraces and out along a narrow, cliff-clinging trail to the Inca drawbridge. In under a half-hour’s walk, the trail gives you a good look at the cloud-forest vegetation and an entirely different view of Machu Picchu. This walk is recommended, though you’ll have to be content with photographing the bridge from a distance.
Wayna Picchu is the steep cone-shaped mountain at the back of the ruins. At first glance, it would appear that it’s a challenging climb, but it’s not technically difficult – although the ascent is steep. The path zigzags up the side of the mountain and lands at a small set of Inca constructions at the top.
Part of the way up, a marked path plunges down to your left, continuing down the rear of Wayna Picchu to the small Temple of the Moon. The trail is easy to follow, but involves steep sections, a ladder and an overhanging cave, which is a bit tricky to get past. The descent takes about an hour and the ascent back to the main Wayna Picchu trail is longer. But it’s spectacular: the trail drops and climbs steeply as it hugs the sides of Wayna Picchu before plunging into the cloud forest. Suddenly, you reach a cleared area where the small, very well-made ruins are found. From here, another cleared path leads up behind the ruin and steeply onward up the backside of Wayna Picchu.
Temple of The Cóndor
The Temple of the Condor is situated in the eastern part of the urban sector of the city and its name derives from the resemblance between its design has with the form of the Andean condor. It would seem that this area of Machu Picchu served as a prison or punishment cells. In the interior of the structure there exists a series of subterranean cells, and above a design resembling the wings of a condor, there is a series of Windows which appear to have been cells, with holes drilled into their sides where the hands of prisoners would have been tied.
Anywhere you go in Peru and in Machu Picchu, the official language is Spanish. In all of the hotels in the area, the staff will speak some English and other languages, as well as the staff on the trains to and from Machu Picchu.
Money in Peru
Nuevo Sol is the currency of Peru. The currency comes in coin being 10, 20 and 50 centavos then 1, 2 and 5 sole coins. Notes are 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200 Sol notes. Peru is full of ATM machines that give you dollars or soles. Some larger stores and restaurants will accept US$.
Tipping in peru.
To show your appreciation for good service feel free to tip. If you take a tour with a guide or a trek, it is recommended to tip.
But only tip if you feel that you have received good service.
The Incas believed in nature and the elements and used this as part of their daily life in their construction and religion. At Machu Picchu, many structures are built with these beliefs and the spirits in mind. The Incas had no written language but many of the practices have been maintained by their descendants. The Inca´s built a system of roadways in and around Machu Picchu and one notable pathway was from Machu Picchu to Huayna Picchu believed to be a place of worship for the important priests. At the top of Huayna Picchu, a rock formation called Throne of the Inca, which faces Salcantay- a mountain in the Andes-was believed by the Incas to be the protector of the people and their animals and crops.
Located at the checkpoint of Huayna Picchu is the Sacred Rock, this stone mirrors the shape of Putucusi Mountain. Today the local people still respect the rock, giving offerings of coca leafs.
Returning to Machu Picchu is the Temple of the Condor, in the shape of a bird, as the temple is believed to have been built to help the dead pass over into the afterlife. Today the people of Peru still believe that birds help them pass on to the next life.
How to get to Machu Picchu
If travelling all the way to Machu Picchu from Poroy near Cusco, Ollantaytambo or Urubamba by train you’ll get off at Machu Picchu Pueblo station, located in the nearest town to the ruins. You walk through a craft market area from the station and over a footbridge. Below the bridge, you’ll see the ticket office and buses. It’s from here that you can catch one of the buses to the ruins.
From Machu Picchu Pueblo
The office selling bus tickets to Machu Picchu is within a few minutes’ walk of the railway station; just go through the market stalls and cross the Km Aguas Calientes by a footbridge. Tickets can be bought just below this from a small window, where there’s usually a queue to help identify it, and where buses usually depart. The first bus leave at 5.20am and continue every 10 minutes or so according to demand until about 4pm, returning continuously until the last bus at 5.30pm.
From Machu Picchu Pueblo
It’s possible to walk from Machu Picchu Pueblo to the ruins, but it’ll take one and a half to three hours, depending on how fit you are and whether you take the very steep direct path or follow the more roundabout paved road.
Book a Tour Guide
Our professional tour guides cover the main sights and will give you an insider’s perspective on the myths and legends of the Incan city. Balance it out with some free time to explore the site on your own.
Hike the Inca Trail
Trekking Peru’s most famous trail is at the top of many travellers’ bucket lists. You can feel the real sensations of freedom and peace as you follow in the footsteps of the Incas and get a chance to experience the dramatic ups and downs of this sacred pilgrimage through the Andes.
Climb The Sun Gate
Inti Punku, or the Sun Gate, is the fascinating entrance to Machu Picchu from the Inca Trail. From here, you can appreciate the beautiful scenery of Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu Mountain. According to historians, this entrance was used as a gate to control the number of people entering the citadel. During solstice, on December 23, the sun comes through this door and illuminates each ancient stone.
Hike The Wayna Picchu Mountain
The famous Wayna Picchu Mountain is a daunting but rewarding task. Meaning “young peak” in Quechua, Wayna Picchu can only be climbed by 400 visitors a day and you will need between 45 to 90 minutes to climb the 500 meters to the summit. Once you get to the top, you’ll have a strong feeling of freedom, that you’re on top of the world and can almost touch the sky. The entirety of Machu Picchu lies under your feet, revealing the splendid shape of a condor, one of the sacred animals from Inca cosmology. Further on from the summit, other mysteries are yours to explore. These include caves where mummies found their final resting place. Your spirit will float while the wind tickles your skin before facing the steep cliffs on your way down once again.
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