Anticipation of future explorations inspires this week’s article about a mystical destination…
Machu Picchu and the Trail of the Incas
The name Machu Picchu conjures up a mystical and exotic feeling, as one imagines the well-known images of this abandoned ancient city nestled in a valley between two mountain tops on the eastern slopes of the Peruvian Andes.
Machu Picchu is an ideal destination for those who seek solace in nature as well as for history, art, culture, and architecture enthusiasts. Consequently, it is no wonder that Machu Picchu was declared as one of the new seven wonders of the world in 2007 in addition to being a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Machu Picchu and its Ancient History
Machu Picchu is a remarkable testimony of the tangible heritage and legacy of the mighty Incas civilization that dominated western South America in the 15th and 16th century. It is believed to have been built in the 1450s.
Historians believe the city was abandoned about a century later around the time Spanish forces began decimating the Inca Empire. However, the city is not in absolute ruins and has no evidence of being attacked.
This leads some scholars to speculate that it was abandoned because of an epidemic. The lost city was practically undiscovered for centuries until Hiram Bingham brought attention to it in 1911. No one but the local peasants knew about the ancient city before that.
The Structure of Machu Picchu
The city/site/citadel of Machu Picchu has about 150 to 200 structures comprising houses, baths, vast terraces for agriculture, and separate places of worship amongst other structures. Every structure is made of walls constructed of huge stone rocks.
Some of the notable structures include the Sun Temple, also known as the tower; the structure was used for ceremonies during the June Solstice. The site also has traces of large fires. The Sacred Plaza, comprised of other important holy structures, was supposedly the centre of all ceremonial activities of the Incans. Another key area is the pyramid-like hill with its flanks covered with terraces made for agriculture; it also has long ladders reaching its top where the famous ritual stone called Intihuatana sits.
Mysteriously, the true purpose of the site is not yet known. It could have been a holy place of worship, a city for coronation, a hidden capital, a royal retreat or maybe something else entirely.
The Trail of the Incas
If you prefer a more active adventure when planning to visit Machu Picchu, the Trail of the Incas, which is approximately a four-day, three-night hike, is a test for your body as well as a visual treat with beautiful views of cloud forests, jungle, and breath-taking sceneries every step of the way.
The Trail of the Incas is one of the several beautiful trails that go up to the grand site of Machu Picchu, and the fact that this ancient trail was laid down by the Incans themselves is just one of the reasons for its popularity.
The trail is only a short stretch of the vast network of the legendary Inca roads throughout the country. You will witness remains of Inca engineering such as tunnels, stones, and paving along the way. One ascends two mountain passes before the trail drops down to Machu Picchu. It is only a 45km or 28 mile long hike but the fact that it is steep for the most part makes it challenging. The highlight for those who hike the trail is to enter Machu Picchu via the famous Sun gate at sunrise.
Traveling to Machu Picchu
The most intriguing travel destinations are never directly accessible and so is the case with Machu Picchu which is located atop Aguas Calientes.
Visitors usually fly into Lima, Peru, and then travel to the town of Cusco. Cusco is the nearest city to Machu Picchu, and acts as the gateway for travelers. With an altitude of 11,152 feet above sea level, travelers require time to acclimate to the higher altitude before continuing on to Machu Picchu, which is actually at a lower elevation of 7,972 feet above sea level, which is still significant. From Cusco there are options to travel to the famed site via train or by tour minivans. Because of the complexity of traveling to the location, most visitors take part in an organized tour that choreographs the entire journey from Lima to Cusco to Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu is open for visiting all year round with May through October more popular since it’s the dry season. Access to the site of Machu Picchu is limited, and one cannot the visit the place without being with a registered operator or without a proper license; these permits must be reserved many months in advance. After the coronavirus epidemic, only 75 visitors are allowed to enter the site per hour.
Machu Picchu definitely deserves a high spot on your bucket list as the entire process of visiting is an extraordinary experience.