Machu Picchu stands as a unique testimony to the Inca civilization built in the 15th century, along with archaeological sites and ruins of the valley of the Urubamba (Ollantautaybo, Sayacmarca, Runcuracay, Huiñay Huayna, Phuyupamarca, Intipucu, etc.).It is considered one of the greatest human achievements in terms of architectural, artistry and land use. It was presumed as the “Lost City” that coddled retreating Incan rulers based on its isolated location. It was archaeologically unearthed way back 1911 through Hiram Bingham’s accidental “stumbling” on it.
The magnificence of this ancient Incan ruins made it one of the world’s seven wonders. Rising above the Valley of Urubamba and embedded in the midst of a tropical forest in the mountainous area between the Amazon Basin and the Peruvian Andes, it has an elevation of about 7,000ft (2,430m) above sea-level. The rich biodiversity and the incredulous height, terraces, giant walls and ramps that all seem to have been naturally carved in continuous rock slopes didn’t escape UNESCO’s attention either; it was named a World Heritage Site in 1983.
What can you look forward to when you visit Machu Picchu?
Machu Picchu is really compact making it easy to explore in less time – a day would be fine, but a few days would be perfect if you want to explore the ruins leisurely and if you want to hit the trails.
Some spots that you shouldn’t miss are:
- The Sun Temple: Inside is the most revered structure in Machu Picchu, the tower of Torreon. It is designated the highest position throughout the city, the citadel, where important events – sacred rituals, astrology and religious sacrifices – were held. This used to be inaccessible to ordinary folks. Each year during the winter solstice (21 June in the southern hemisphere) a ray of light shines through a window, creating an enigmatic rectangle upon a block of granite.
- The Royal Tomb (Mausoleum): This is located underneath the Sun Temple. This honored site has elaborate and bejeweled architecture and design along with what lies under – a cavern believed to be a crypt reserved for the dead Incan aristocrats, called the Royal Tomb (Mausoleum). Together with the Sun Temples, this is among the most visited in Machu Picchu being the special place believed to have energizing powers.
- The Sacred Plaza: This is the site among the ruins where the excellent Incan stonemasonry and craftsmanship are showcased. It bears the finest architectures at Machu Picchu – the Temple of the Three Windows and the Chief Temple said to be the most captivating section of the ruins. The jumbling in a corner was due to earth movement and not a human flaw for theirs is a fine workmanship that can withstand time and shattering natural forces.
- The Intihuatana Stone: “Hitching Post of the Sun” is a fascinating carved rock that mimics the sacred peak of Huayna Picchu. “Saywa or Sukhanka stone” are its monikers; it is also a “Sundial” designed to snag the sun at the two equinoxes. These rocks are important ritual centers for Incan ceremonies and rites. Intihuatana Stone is symbolically to the spirits of the four mountains upon which Machu Picchu is built.
If you are a day tripper, there are five noteworthy but often unnoticed sights that reward the most adventurous travellers.
- Temple of the Moon: This “Templo de la Luna” is set in the most impressive 679-feet Mt. Huayna Picchu. It features the finest masonry in Machu Picchu highlighting the signature Inca trapezoids and double-jamb doorways. It is pushed into complex of caverns and mountain rocks making them not so visible from the outset that are thought as crypts
- Intimachay: The name is a recent coinage that means “cave of the sun” so named because for 49 weeks each year, no light makes it to its deep recesses. Sunlight amazingly peeks 10 days before the solstice in December and 10 days after illuminating the deep parts of the cave. While it was largely unappreciated in the past, recent scholars are discovering its impressive significance.
- The Intipunku: This is also called the “Gate of the Sun” believed to be once an entry to the old Inca settlement made daunting by its high stone columns. In the mornings, this is heavily misted; if you have to elbow your way up, choose midday when you can find the best shots of Machu Picchu. Thus, it is not surprising that it is the “tail end” of almost every Inca trail.
- Mt Machu Picchu: The Machu Picchu citadel is flanked by Mt Huayna Picchu in the north and Mt Machu Picchu in the south. The pinnacle of Mt Machu Picchu is less crowded most of the time; one reason is its elevation. It is about 1,640 feet and it takes about 90 minutes to get to the peak to marvel at the incredible way the Incam civilization has been “almost naturally” integrated in its surroundings.
- The Rock Quarry: This large space is located between the Temple of the Sun and the Sacred Plaza. You won’t miss it being a vast space littered with granite chunks. This site is believed to be the “workshop” of the stoneworkers where the rough cut stones are transformed into intricate pieces.
Hit the Trails
Travellers who are passionate to stay for a few days to join a multi-day hike stand to have a most unforgettable journey in Machu Picchu. There are several areas or points of interest that would help you decide which trail to follow or tour to join. The most popular is the classic Inca trail that explores the spectacular ruins in the Sacred Valley. A four-day walking tour will take you the opportunity to get a glimpse of the cloud forests, landscapes and, of course, the complex ruins in the region. There are also old cathedrals, churches, markets, plazas and other rewarding cultural attractions down the trail you’ll love to experience.
This wonder is the most visited destination in Peru. Unlike Hiram Bingham who needed to mount an expedition to see the Incan ruins, you only need to take some time off your busy schedule and put in a little extra effort to explore on your own. A domestic flight from Lima to Cusco, and an hour’s bus ride is all it takes to bring you back in Inca’s time.