Somewhere You Must See Before You Die

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by catsholiday on January 11, 2010

If you were asked to write a list of places you MUST see in the world I believe this would be on most people’s list. It was certainly on my list; it is a destination of a lifetime, a dream come true and one of the most fascinating archaeological finds of recent times. Everyone interested in travel recognises the picture postcard view but nothing prepares you for your own first sight of Machu Picchu when you see it for yourself the first time.

Machu Picchu was made a World Heritage site by Unesco in 1983 and on July 7th 2007 it was voted as one of the New Seven Wonders of the world. Conservation experts are now becoming concerned about the damage that is being done to the site because of the number of tourists visiting the site.

This ancient Inca city set in the Andes Mountains of Peru is about fifty miles northwest of Cusco. The city is built high on the top of a ridge overlooking the Urabamba river gorge. The mountains are shrouded in cloud which sometimes hides the surrounding peaks and at other times just cover them in a light fluffy mist. These mountains are not bare rocks but are covered in dense rain forest and bush vegetation which had buried the city of Machu Picchu until Hiram Bingham, assisted by local villagers from the area, uncovered it the ruins in 1911. This cover of vegetation has meant that we are able to enjoy Machu Picchu as it is today, a fairly well preserved Inca city.

Machu Picchu means ‘Old Peak’ and the city was built on this mountain between 1460 and 1470 AD by Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui. It seems a strange place to build a city because of its altitude of 8,000ft and so some archaeologists believe that is unlikely to be an administrative or military city but believe it could have been a royal or religious place of retreat. There are about 200 buildings most of which are houses but there are also some temples, and storage places. It is believed that, at its busiest about 1000 people lived in or around the city and most of these were priests, women and children judging by the mummies that were found in the area. The city, it appears, only thrived for about 100 years and it is not known why it fell into decline. Fortunately the Spanish conquerors in the 1500s did not find it otherwise it would probably have been destroyed like so many other Inca cities of the time.

The buildings are carefully planned and built with Inca precision. The huge, granite blocks are carefully carved and fit together snugly without the use of any mortar or other joining ingredient. They have been built to withstand the earthquakes known to happen in the area. The blocks are of different sizes and shapes yet despite only using basic stone or bronze tools these blocks still fit so cleanly together that even a knife blade cannot slide between them. The houses had steeply thatched roofs and doors in the shape of a trapezium but very few had windows. Some were single story and other had a second level.

Crops grown in this area included potatoes and maize which were planted on terraces because of the steep slopes. This prevented erosion and helped with irrigation. These terraces are still there and today in order to keep the grass short there are llamas freely roaming around the site. They have been introduced deliberately for this purpose. There were also alpacas introduced by they have died out as the weather in this area is too hot for them.

We caught the train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes very early so we arrived in Aguas Calientes for 10am. The train was reserved seating and there were 4 people to a table which was at right angles to the window. The views of the river and countryside as we went along were a constantly changing picture through the window. As we climbed higher the train had to switch back along another line in order to climb as it was too steep to go up on the same line – a sort of zigzagging upwards. We had a table with a crisp white cloth laid for breakfast. We were offered fruit juice, coffee, tea or coca tea with a bread roll with cheeses and cold meats.

On arrival at Aguas Calientes station we walked on through the bustling market full of colourful craft and souvenirs stalls. The stall holders were very pleasant and quite happy for us to look and not buy. We were almost running through the market and up the hill in order to get an early –ish bus up to Machu Picchu so we didn’t stop and look until later.

We then caught the bus ( about $15US return trip) up to Machu Picchu up the Hiram Bingham Highway – a gravelled track that zigzags rapidly up the mountain perilously close to the edge at times, until finally you arrive at Machu Picchu just outside the Machu Picchu sanctuary Lodge.
You go along through the turnstiles and follow the path round until you get your first magical glimpse of the famous sight of Machu Picchu ruins with Huayna Picchu behind. It was raining and the sort of misty look all added to the atmosphere. There really are few words to do justice to the description – you just have to be there. It isn’t really the fact that it is such a well-preserved Inca town it has more to do with the mountains surrounding the place, the clouds and the rarefied atmosphere. Whatever it is this place has it in abundance.

What is really amazing to me is that you can walk anywhere at all – very few areas are roped off. There are some very hairy, scary pathways and steps and those with a fear of heights were struggling a little in some places. Health and safety isn’t an issue – you are just expected to be sensible yourself; I think if I had had young children with me I would have been very nervous. In fact there were very few children there at all; the age of most people was considerably older. There were quite a few fairly elderly folk who did amazingly well scrambling up and down the steps. It is not easy at altitude, let me tell you. After about 10 high steps you are finding it quite difficult to breathe and need to stop for a few minutes to recover. It makes you very aware of breathing and you need to drink gallons of water to stop yourself becoming dehydrated which can cause altitude sickness if you are not careful.

We climbed up to the Guard House above the main city ruins for the obvious viewpoint and took several photos. The sun came out for us at this time and so we were lucky enough to enjoy the area in both rain and sun. We had a guided tour which was interesting as our guide was able to tell us historical facts and beliefs as well as pointing out things like the acoustics in one building that archaeologists believe may have been a music room; the Sacred rock carved in the same shape as the mountain behind; the Sun temple with all the careful astronomical features built in a round shape; the Intihuatana stone which is constructed to point directly at the sun during the winter solstice. We also saw the Condor temple but I think you needed a good imagination to see the shape on the floor joined to the wings of the rocks behind!!
The last bus goes down from Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes at 5.30 but as there is a constant queue it is a good idea to leave a little before that as you may end up having to walk the trail back down to Aguas Calientes where most of the hotels are situated. There is one hotel at the site, The Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge and I do know the prices are really high – about $800US for a fairly standard room for one night!
If you want to avoid the crowds the choose a time outside July and August when about 3,000 visitors enter the sight each day, we went in October and we were able to wander around quite easily and get photos without hoards of other people in them. Entry cost about $50US per person for the entire day.

A truly wonderful day that is very difficult to describe the majesty, the awe and wonder of this sight. Words can’t really do it justice but I hope I have given a taste of the place. Enjoy the photos and take a look at the third site below for a virtual tour. lovely photos and more information about the site. a virtual tour of the site
Machu Picchu Inca Archaeological Site
Above The Urubamba Valley
Cusco Region, Peru

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