Machu Picchu is believed to have been built by the king Pachacuti as an Incan royal estate about the middle of the 13th century. Located on top of a narrow ridge and surrounded on three sides by the Urubamba River it reachs over 8,000 ft. Although other individuals have mentioned visiting Machu Picchu before, it was “officially” discovered by Hiram Bingham, a Yale University historian, in 1911.
Since its discovery, it has attracted attention as a mysterious, mystical, magical place with its spectacular granite edifices, dense vegetation and mists. There are stories that it was built by or for extraterrestial beings and has connections with celestial activity. Certainly anyone who is interested in archeology would jump at the chance to visit. Machu Picchu is a destination of many spiritual tours to sacred places and of people just interested in seeing something magnificent. Nature lovers can find an abundance of flora and fauna and hikers can take on the Inca Trail, the old way to approach the estate.
While it sounds like a journey for only the most adventurous, you can actually take a bus to the site entrance. Travelers generally fly into Lima or La Paz and take a short flight to Cusco. Then you can take a train to Aguas Calientes at the foot of Machu Picchu. Buses depart at various times (when they are full) on the 15-minute journey up to Machu Picchu. There is one hotel located at the site, Santuary Lodge, that also has a restaurant. Machu Picchu is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is thus protected. Only so many visitors are allowed to enter each day, so you might want to book a tour that includes all the tickets you will need.
These are just some of the highlights of the site:
This structure has a beautiful curved wall and surrounds a sacred stone. It was determined that a ledge on the rock was carved in such a way that it bisects the sunlight passing through the eastern window at sunrise on June 21, the winter solstice. The area also contains the Priests’ House, several fountains and a natural cave that Bingham called the Royal Mausoleum or Tomb. The western wall is a long, straight, beautifully formed stone structure.
To the northwest of the Temple of the Sun you climb a series of impressive staircases, each step carved out of a boulder, until you come to the top. Here is located the Intiwatana stone on the highest point of the “urban” area. The sacred stone was sculpted out of the peak into a smooth eleglant shape with a wedge-shaped protuberance on top. Misnamed by Bingham as a “place to which the sun was tied,” it was thought to be a kind of sundial, but it’s now believed that is not so. From this location you can view all the holy mountains and it was undoubtedly involved in religious ceremonies of the highest kind. One anthropologist makes a case that the stone was associated with mountain worship.
In the eastern urban sector lies the Temple of the Condor named for the symbol of power and majesty to the Andean people. A flat stone carving of the bird in one chamber is positioned in front of rocks that resemble swooping wings. This is a complex temple with many levels, grottos and subterranean caves and fantastic rock formations. There are even guinea pig hutches carved into the rock walls to house these animals that are still considered a delicacy today.
For more information check out these resources:
The Machu Picchu Guidebook: A Self-Guided Tour by Ruth M. Wright and Dr. Alfredo Valencia Zegarra
Machu Picchu, Unveiling the Mystery of the Incas by Richard L. Burger and Lucy C. Salazar
Andes. Machu Picchu a Flying Monk DVD
Machu Picchu Adventures the Sacred Valley a Rick Hunt DVD
Ghosts of Machu Picchu a PBS DVD