The enigmatic Machu Picchu, meaning the 'Old Peak' in Quechua, the ancient language of the Incas, is one of the most astounding legacies of the ancient Peruvians. Declared as a World Heritage site by the UNESCO in 1983, Machu Picchu became one of the Seven Wonders of the World in 2007. Without a doubt, this place is truly a jewel of all Inca settlements, a landmark destination in Peru, South America.
Machu Picchu is located about 7000 feet above the sea level. It is nestled on a tiny hilltop between the Andean Mountain Range soaring majestically above the Urabamba Valley. Although deemed as a 'lost city,' Machu Picchu was rediscovered by archeologists in 1911.
Located about 100 km from Cusco, the capital of the ancient empire of the Incas, this ancient 'Ilacta' town was built around 1400 when Pachacuti ruled the Inca empire. The city is about 2400 meters above sea level in the Peruvian cloud forest.
Built of granite stone, the entire city of Machu Picchu is surrounded by gardens and fountains, bearing the ruins of altars, astronomical observatories, palaces, baths, temples, storage rooms and about 150 houses and Inca trails made of cobble stone - all in a remarkable state of preservation.
Often observed as the most beautiful ancient sites of the world, legends and myths indicate that Machu Picchu was revered as a sacred place from early times. Evidences suggest that Machu Picchu seems to have utilized by the Inca as a secret ceremonial city.
This extraordinary city which is invisible from below and completely self contained is surrounded by agricultural terraces sufficient to feed its population, watered by natural springs. As a wonder of architectural and aesthetic genius, Machu Picchu structures are carved from gray granite of the mountain top, each block weighing not less than 50 tons and yet precisely sculpted and fitted with such exactitude!
Inca trail Machu Picchu
The ruins of Machu Picchu are steeped in beauty and mystery. A traveler planning to visit Machu Picchu can either go by train from Cusco so as to arrive at the bottom of the Machu Picchu Mountains or trek along the famous Inca Trail.
The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is the spectacular ancient road that the Incas took to get to the revered citadel of Machu Picchu. The journey is about 45 km long with archeological delight all the way including Patallacta, Runkuraqay, Sayaqmarca, Phuyupatamarca, Wiñay Huayna, Intipata, Killapata and Chaskapata, aside from Machu Picchu itself.
The discerning traveler walks through valleys, woods and Andean gullies. The official point of departure to Inca Trail is Kilometer 88 on the railroad track, linking Cusco with Quilabamba. Normally groups of about 15 people get together and embark on the trail. The crystalline waterfall beckons the traveler before they finally reach the citadel of Machu Picchu.
Climbing their way through the Inca Trail, many hikers are transferred to an ancient era across the Funerary rock hut, temples, fields, terraces and baths. A state of seamless and elegant green paradise makes the traveler experience something extraordinarily magical, to say the least.
No wonder then that the Inca Trail in Peru is one of the world's most famous hiking trails. Right from the Sacred Valley of the Urubamba River to the breathtaking ruins of Machu Picchu, this 45 km trail takes about three to five days to complete. Winding through high altitudinous mountain ranges of the Andes and trekking in the dense subtropical forest, the Inca Trail requires that the traveler is in good physical condition.
The awesome altitude which rises in excess of 12000 feet may stun an unprepared hiker. And he has to further get acclimatized to the decrease in oxygen levels which should take a minimum of two days in Cusco. Heavy hiking gears and an experienced guide are recommended during the trail across the stunning views and photo finish scenery.
Machu Picchu Tours
A tour to the mysterious ruins of Machu Picchu promises to be intriguing. Machu Picchu is separated into three areas - agricultural, urban and religious. These structures are arranged in such a manner that the function of the buildings matches the form of their surroundings. While the agricultural terraces take advantage of the natural slopes, the lower areas contain buildings to be occupied by farmers and teachers and some of the important religious areas are situated at the crest of the hills, overlooking the lush Urubamba thousands of feet below.
Waterfalls and hot springs: The Mandor waterfalls are etched in the tourist's memory with the lush forest surrounding the town of Machu Picchu. The Hot Springs pose a relaxing experience with different pools of mineral waters at varying temperatures. This natural sauna in Machu Picchu is located on Av.Pachacutec just about eight minutes walk from the main square. This spring being one of the main natural resources for medical therapy, is ideal for treatment of ailments such as rheumatism. The waters relax, remove stress and toxins and enhance metabolism; among other properties.
Agricultural terraces: The southeastern part of the Machu Picchu citadel is the infinite succession of agricultural terraces extending horizontally which presents terraces of different shapes and sizes. The agricultural sector divided into upper and lower half, presents five sections and forty terraces in the upper half and seven sections and four major fields including eighty terraces in the lower half. The terraces seem almost sculpted to harmonize with nature.
The Funeral Rock: Archeologists found human remains in the funeral rock and stones with grooves at the top. The granite type rock used in rituals has carved steps to accommodate a reclining human body suggestive of offerings that were made here.
The Guard Post is found before the main gate. This consists of a three walled building. This seems to be the ideal place to shoot photographs of the Urubamba valley views.
The Temple of the Sun which is a semicircular construction on solid rock seems to have had incrustations of precious stones and gold of yore. The Sun Temple was a highly protected complex in the Inca times with only the priests allowed to use the temple. Even the magnificent entrance to the temple made of double wooden door had a locking system containing stone rings. The general population could attend only public ceremonies in open areas or plazas both in Machu Picchu and Cusco. Several ceremonies in honor of the Sun God were performed on the carved stone alter in the center of the temple.
The Intihuatana or the 'sun's hitching post' located on the top of the 'sacred hill' performed two functions; one for measuring time and the other to serve as an altar. A polished monolith stands at the center with series of flat surfaces surrounding it. The stone in the center was used to make astronomical measurements.
Interestingly, between the Sun Temple and the Royal Palace lies the 'Fountain Street'. About sixteen liturgical pools with water sources known as paqchas were found here. The Incas considered water as a special deity and fountains and reservoirs were worshipped by them.
The Main temple which is located north of the Sacred Plaza is close to the Three-Windowed Temple. It is a 'wayrana' type temple, with only three walls built with rectangular stones. The temple consists of seven trapeze shaped niches on the central wall and five on each side wall. A Chamber of Ornaments adorns the back side of the temple. While the deity worshipped in the main temple remains unknown, it is considered by some to be Wiraqocha, the invisible chief Andean God.
A Royal Mausoleum or Royal Tomb is strangely cave roofed by an enormous sloping slab of stone which supports the Sun Temple. The mummies of the Inca ancestors seem to have been kept here, worshipped and offered tributes. On the ground, a carving represents the three levels of the Andean Religious World.
The Palace of the Nusta within the Sun Temple complex is known as Cloister of the Nusta (princess). The Sacred Plaza on the west of the quarry is the biggest one. This was the site of the popular ceremonies including the Sun Festivities.
The Three-Windowed Temple is a partially covered stone which must have been its central column, and some guides describe this as a sacrificial altar. While some evidences suggest that the temple originally had five windows, two of them currently do not exist. On the western side, carved stone figures represent the three levels of the Andean world namely, the Hanan-Pacha (spirituality), the Kay-Pacha (materialism) and the Ukju-Pacha (inner life). The Dry Moat which served to protect the Citadel of Machu Picchu reflects the Inca's architectural planning concerns.
Machu Picchu Adventure travel
This place affords different trekking options depending upon individual physical demand and length. Other than the Inca Trail, hiking and trekking choices include routes of Ausangate, Salcantay and Choquequirao, among others.
Trekking in the mountain range of Vilcabamba where the massif of Salcantay should suit hikers with love for solitude. This silent area has many a snow capped mountain of great height such as Tucarhuay which is 5910 meters above sea level, Veronica, 5682 meters above the sea level and Haucayhuilca which is 5361 meters above sea level. No doubt then the trek is bound to be exhausting interspersed with interesting forays into deep valleys and gullies. After reaching a high pass it is possible to see an amazing 'pyramidal' view of Salcantay. The Apurimac River with an impressive canyon can be viewed from the road.
For the wild adventurer canoeing is a must. While canoeing the Urubamba River one can also visit some archeological points too. The most recommended route for canoeing would be along the Urubamba or Vilcanota rivers in the Sacred Valley. A three day excursion should include 'Huambutio-Pisaq,' Urubamba, the 'Frog's Mouth' and 'Rapids of Huaran.'
Hotels in Machu Picchu
Right at the top of Machu Picchu at 8200 feet above sea is the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge, close to the actual ruins themselves. Yet another hotel, the Hatuchay Tower offers satellite services, panoramic elevator and electric power generator, with suites, Jacuzzi and internet parlors. The strategic setting of such hotels goes to enhance the mystical and mysterious ruins of the city of Machu Picchu.
The hotels are designed and maintained with a keen sense of beauty. Andean architecture complimented by the exquisite handicrafts of the local artisans goes to adorn these hotels. Adope hand made bricks, eucalyptus wood and cut stones are used in the construction of these hotels.
Machu Picchu Galapagos Islands
While the Andean city of Machu Picchu is astonishingly colorful with its archaeological sites, Ecuador's Galapagos Islands are widely renowned for their wildlife experience unmatched by any other destination in the world. While both Machu Picchu and Galapagos are within two hours flying distance, they make for signature travel experiences.
The Galapagos Islands boasts of giant tortoises, green sea turtles and eagle rays gliding beneath the transparent surface of a mangrove lagoon, marine iguanas resting atop one another in a large heap, waved albatross, young sea lions snorkeling mask with its nose, tiny penguins hopping from rock to rock, blue footed boobies showing off their feet to potential mates, and magnificent frigate birds trying to outdo themselves, all these and much more!
Probably the best time to plan a hiking adventure to Machu Picchu should be after May. Peru's dry season begins in May and lasts till September. For those who prefer solitude, October through April, which is the wet season, should be a better option. The visitor should also be aware that the climate of Machu Picchu varies widely due to its topography and geography. It can range from mild to warm and humid, hot in the daytime and cool at nights.