On any tour to Peru or South America, you will want to travel to the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu. Located high in the Andean mountain range, the site was hidden from invaders for many centuries only being formally discovered in 1911. There are many theories about the site and what is was used for, most of which are mythological or false, what we know to be certain is that the true history of the site is still unknown and may never be confirmed. So when was Machu Picchu discovered? You may ask there. Well, there are several theories, it is said that three men, Enrique Palma, Gabino Sanchez and Agustin Lizarraga set foot on the site on 14 July 1901 and left their names carved into a rock at the site.
However, the story we recognise today is very different; Hiram Bingham is the man who showed the site to the world and is regarded as being the person who discovered Machu Picchu. Born in Hawaii in 1875, his parents were missionaries and he wanted to follow in their footsteps. He began studying at Yale in 1894 and had a strong interested of South American history. He married a heiress and luckily for the world, he used her money for his expeditions.
In 1906, he led an expedition to trace the routes of the Simon Bolivar, through Venezuela and Columbia in the 1820s. In 1909, he explored historic South American routes from Buenos Aires to Lima, all the way through to Cusco. It was in 1911 when he led an expedition to Peru in search of the lost city of Vilcabamba, the last known refuge of the Inca Manco Capac who had fought against the Spanish in the 1530s.
With a party of only seven he set out on foot to the lost city, until he came across a village and a farmer named Melchor Arteaga. Arteaga told Bingham about the ruins in the nearby mountains, called Machu Picchu, meaning Old Mountain in Quechua.
They climbed for a few hours until they reached a hut with a local farming family, where a small 11 year old boy from the family, showed the American the rest of the way to Machu Picchu. He marched into the ruins and said that this was an unexpected sight, confronted with stone terraces, walls of ruined houses of the finest quality Inca stonework. The ruins were overgrown by trees, bamboo thickets and tangles of vines covered in moss, the scene took his breath away.
He believed that this was the lost city of Vilcabamba, a statement which he maintained until his death in 1956. He returned many times to Machu Picchu after 1911 and took thousands of photos and artefacts from Machu Picchu back to the United States for study causing much discussion between the Peruvian and the American governments. After the First World War, he went into politics in the American state of Connecticut. He was not an archaeologist so many of his theories were proven wrong, the real Vilcabamba was discovered by American explorer Gene Savoy, in 1964, with Machu Picchu believed to have been the mountain retreat of the Inca Pachacutec, thought to be abandoned after his death in 1472.
Bingham removed around five thousand items from the Machu Picchu site, although he claimed that he never found any real treasures of gold or silver, only coming across items of copper, stone and pottery, making their value minimal but scientifically priceless. Legend has it, that there is another city called Paititi and it is here that the Inca´s hid all of their gold from the Spanish.
Hiram Bingham wrote a book called The Lost City of the Incas, which you can still find today in bookstores and online if you are interested in a more detailed story of the discovery of Machu Picchu.
Today, the Inca site is a mecca for tourists who plan to visit Machu Picchu; people come to Peru from all over the world to see the site for themselves and delve into the Inca legends. There are many ways to travel to Machu Picchu. Firstly, there is the train; there are many different services from which you can choose, from budget friendly trains to the luxury Machu Picchu, Hiram Bingham train with its observation coach, lunch, delicious cocktails and much much more. The train leaves from Cusco every day and on the Hiram Bingham, you are certain to arrive at Machu Picchu in luxury and style.
Another option to Machu Picchu is the four-day Inca Trail hike. This challenging yet rewarding hike is not for the faint of heart. Whilst day one of the hike is quite breezy, day two of the hike features a climb up to around 4000 meters. However, rest assured there are many periods of rest and the reward of the journey is well worth the time and effort. Along the hike, you will pass ruins; walk through cloud forests, camp at sacred sites, so whilst the Inca trail is not an easy journey, it is one that is highly immersive and allows you to experience Machu Picchu in a very unique way that is surely something to remember for a lifetime. July is the best month to hike Machu Picchu, the weather is dry and the nights are cold. However, this is also the high tourist season so expect the trail to be crowded and you will need to book months in advance to secure your space in July for the Inca Trail.
To discover when Machu Picchu was discovered, book a luxury tour and come to Peru, cross Machu Picchu off of your bucket list. A trip where dreams are made of!