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Machu Picchu is the site of an ancient Inca city, high in the Andes of Peru. Located at 2,430 metres (8,000 ft), this UNESCO World Heritage site is often referred to as "The Lost City of the Incas", is one of the most familiar symbols of the Incan Empire, and is one of the most famous and spectacular sets of ruins in the world — a visit to Peru would not be complete without it.
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Points of Interest in Machu Picchu
Take your time walking around the site, there are many places to see and explore. Although it is not necessary, taking a guided tour does provide a deeper insight into the ancient city, its uses, and information on the geography of it. Keep in mind that relatively little is known about the history and uses of the ruins, and some of the stories told by the guides are based on little more than imaginative hearsay.
- Sun Gate (Inti Punku) – if you've just arrived via the Inca Trail, this will be your first experience of the ruins. Others can backtrack from the ruins along the trail and up the hill. From here you can see back down each valley offering excellent views. It's a fairly strenuous hike (probably 1-1.5 hours each way) but well worth it. If you catch the first bus from Aguas Calientes and head straight here you may be able to reach it in time for sun to peak over the mountain and through the gate.
- Temple of the Sun – Near the summit of the main city, the stonework on the temple is incredible. Look closely and you will see that there are a variety of stone walls throughout the city. Most are rough stones held together with mud, the common stone walls found throughout the world. But many buildings or parts of buildings are done with the more distinctive and impressive closely-fit stonework. The temple is the absolute pinnacle of this technology. Observe it from the side, descending the stone staircase in the main plaza.
- Intihuatana – A stone carved so that on certain days, at dawn, the sun makes a certain shadow, thus working as a sun dial. From Quechua: Inti = sun, huatana = to take, grab: thus grabing (measuring) the sun. (pronounce 'intiwatana')
- Temple of the Three Windows –
- Main Temple –
- Temple of the Condor – The tour guides will try to tell you that this was a temple, but look closely: between the wings of the condor is a chamber with grooves cut in the stone to secure manacles, a walkway behind where a torturer may walk to whip the prisoner's backs, and a scary looking pit to let the blood of prisoners drain. Clearly the condor was a symbol of cruel justice, but a sanitized version is told for the benefit of middle-aged tourists and their children.
- Fountains – As a testament to Inca workmanship, these 500 year old spring fed fountains still function to this day. It is speculated that these provided drinking water to the city or were for ritual bath purposes.
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About Machu Picchu
These remarkable ruins were rediscovered by the scientific world in 1911 by the American archaeologist Hiram Bingham, who was led to the site by locals. Perched dramatically 1000 ft above the Urubamba river, Machu Picchu is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is also the end point of the most popular hike in South America, the Inca Trail.
The story of Machu Picchu is quite a remarkable one; it is still unknown exactly what the site was in terms of its place in Inca life. Current researchers tend to believe that Machu Picchu was a country resort for elite Incas. At any given time, there were not more than 750 people living at Machu Picchu, with far fewer than that during the rainy season. The Incas started building it around AD 1430 but it was abandoned as an official site for the Inca rulers a hundred years later at the time of the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire.
One thing that is clear is that it was a remarkably well hidden place, and well protected. Located far up in the mountains of Peru, visitors had to travel up long valleys littered with Inca check points and watch towers. Remarkably, the Spanish conquistadors missed the site. However, many people are said to have knowledge of the ancient city as it was referred to in some text found in the 20th century. However, it was not until Bingham that Machu Picchu was scientifically discovered (he was on a trip sponsored by the Yale University, actually looking for Vilacamba, the last Inca hideout).
Machu Picchu was declared a Peruvian Historical Sanctuary in 1981 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. Since it was not plundered by the Spanish when they conquered the Incas, it is especially important as a cultural site and is considered a sacred place.
Machu Picchu was built in the classical Inca style, with polished dry-stone walls. Its primary buildings are the Intihuatana, the Temple of the Sun, and the Room of the Three Windows. These are located in what is known by archaeologists as the Sacred District of Machu Picchu. In September 2007, Peru and Yale University reached an agreement regarding the return of artifacts which Hiram Bingham had stolen from Machu Picchu in the early twentieth century.
If you got some energy in you, there's a few great hikes involving a bit of legwork. Do make sure that you've taken the time to acclimate to the elevation either in Cuzco or Aguas Calientes for a couple days before exerting yourself too much, especially on Wayna Picchu.
- Wayna Picchu. Towering above the north end Machu Picchu is this steep mountain, often the backdrop to many photos of the ruins. It looks a bit daunting from below, but while steep, it's not an unusually difficult ascent, and most reasonably fit persons shouldn't have a problem. Stone steps are laid along most of the path, and in the steeper sections steel cables provide a supporting handrail. That said, expect to be out of breath, and take care in the steeper portions, especially when wet, as it can become dangerous quickly. There's a tiny cave near the top that must be passed through, it is quite low and a rather tight squeeze. Take care at the peak, it can be somewhat precarious, and those afraid of heights may want to hang out just below. The entire walk is through beautiful landscape, and the views from the top are stunning, including birds eye views over the whole site. There's also a few ruins near the top. If visiting these ruins, you'll see a second way to start making your descent down the mountain, along some very steep and shallow steps.... these steps are a bit dangerous if wet, but the hike may be well worthwhile. This hike is one of your best bets for getting away from Machu Picchu and Wayna Picchu crowds. Tickets to Wayna Picchu have to be reserved beforehand - ask the tour company with which you are going to Machu Picchu to reserve this for you. You have to pay to climb Wayna Picchu: ~15$.
- If you have some time at hand, or long for a sparkle of solitude, from Wayna Picchu you can also walk to the Moon Temple (Templo de la Luna) and the Great Cave (Gran Caverna). It's a long walk and adventurous hike involving several ladders. Some may find that the sites aren't really rewarding, but unexpected wildlife can be seen (wild spectacled bears have been reported). This hike is also quite interesting because partway through you leave behind the mountain terrain and enter a more conventional forest. The caves can be reached either by hiking down the trail from the peak of Wayna Picchu (which includes some semi-harrowing but fun near-vertical descents) or by the split from the main Wayna Picchu trail (look for the sign that says Gran Carverna). Remember that it is much easier to descend from Wayna Picchu than to ascend from these temples. Be sure to bring plenty of water and snacks for this long hike. The hike from the summit to the caves and back to the checkpoint takes about two more hours. To properly take in Wayna Picchu, the Moon Temple, and the Great Cave you should plan on a 4-5 hour round trip.
- Sun Gate (Inti Punku) – Those arriving to Machu Picchu via the Inca Trail will pass through the Sun Gate, for others the path to the Sun Gate can be found to the South East of Machu Picchu.
- Machu Picchu Mountain – This is the mountain on which Machu Picchu is located and you can walk to the summit. Like Wayna Picchu you will have spectacular views, however there is no additional fee to hike to Machu Picchu Mountain. The path to Machu Picchu Mountain can be found along the path to the Sun Gate. Machu Picchu Mountain is among the least visited sites at Machu Picchu, which will give you the opportunity to get away from the tourist crowds. For the round trip you should plan on 2.5-3 hours.
- Inca Bridge. Historically there were two paths into Machu Picchu. The Inca Trail is one of the paths, the other is through the Inca Bridge. This bridge (logs/drawbridge) is built across a sheer cliff which would control access to the city. The walk to the Inca Bridge is short and can be found to the South West of Machu Picchu.
Officially, you are not allowed to bring any food or water bottles into the park, and must check these in at the luggage storage at the entrance. In practice, however, bags are rarely searched, and most people have no problem getting a small bottle of water and some snacks in with them, which you'll definitely want, especially if you're planning to stray from the central set of ruins. Buy these beforehand, as they're much more expensive at the site itself. Don't even think of leaving a shred of trash behind you.
The concession stand near the entrance of the site is appropriately overpriced given their captive audience. Once in the site, there are no food or drinks for sale, though it is possible to leave and return.
- Tinkuy Buffet Restaurant, Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge, ☎ +51 84 21 1039/38. 11:30AM-3PM. A casual lunch buffet. The food is decent and the restaurant quite busy at peak times. A discounted train + buffet ticket is available on certain trains from Peru Rail. US$36.
- Tampu Restaurant Bar, Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge. 5:30AM-9AM, noon-3PM, 6:30PM-9:30PM. Open to hotel guests only, also high prices.
This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Machu Picchu on Wikivoyage.