Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

If you were to sit down to make a list of the top tourist destinations in all the world, you would undoubtedly have to include Machu Picchu. The journey of a lifetime, a dream travel destination, one of the top archaeological sites on the planet. These are just a few of the possible ways to describe Machu Picchu in Peru. Try as you might, you could never justify it in words, and as amazing as it looks in photographs, there is simply no match for seeing it in person. Machu Picchu tourism is one of Peru’s proudest industries, and thankfully the country sees fit to share its crown jewel with anyone who is fortunate enough to make the trip. Whatever your expectations for Machu Picchu Peru are, they are sure to be blown away when you finally get there, as nothing can truly prepare you for its intoxicating power. Set at around 8,000 feet in the Andes Mountains, Machu Picchu is a special place that demands your attention. Once it has you snared in its web of intrigue, you are pretty much helpless to fight it. Plan a trip to Machu Picchu, and you will not only be treating yourself to an adventure with few rivals, but you will also become quite the envy of your peers.

Before you get to Machu Picchu, it helps to learn at least a little bit about it before you go. You can find an article about the history of Machu Picchu in this guide, which should help you gain insight into its days as a Inca city for the elite. Since approximately 95% of the Incan population lived in and around the Andes Mountains, cities like Machu Picchu were generally reserved for those of a more rich and noble blood. The city probably saw around 500 citizens at its zenith, and while it still remains a mystery as to how and why it actual fell, war, smallpox, and Spanish invasion are all plausible theories. While the Spanish managed to capture and control the majority of Inca Empire settlements, including nearby Cusco, Machu Picchu’s well-hidden location kept the Spanish from ever finding it. Had the Spanish found Machu Picchu when they arrived in the 1500’s, Machu Picchu tourism as we know it probably would not exist. The impressive ruins might have been lost to the world, much as they were for hundreds of years.

Machu Picchu was probably built around the year 1450 AD, and it only thrived for approximately 100 years. Once abandoned, the site survived only within the knowledge of locals who knew about its existence. Machu Picchu would live in lore until its rediscovery in 1911. Hiram Bingham, a Yale archaeologist and academic, was exploring the area when he found the ruins with the help of a local farmer. Coincidently, Bingham also found thousands of Inca artifacts upon his discovery of the ruins, over 4,000 of which he exported. Conflict as to who should have the rights to the Inca artifacts have led Yale and Peru to agree for their return home, where they will eventually be housed at a museum in Cusco. Due to the fact that it had remained in obscurity for hundreds of years, Machu Picchu has been preserved and appears today much like it would have during its heyday. Among the most impressive characteristics of Machu Picchu is the technique that was employed to build it. It is still a general mystery as to how the Inca managed to move the large rocks that they used to construct the city, especially when you consider how it is perched almost precariously over the Urubamba River valley. You will likely stand in awe upon examining how these rocks were so expertly joined without the use of cement or mortar. Much like the surviving city walls in Cusco and Ollantaytambo, the rocks of Machu Picchu were painstakingly carved until they perfectly fit the stones around them.

Machu Picchu tourism peaks from June to August, and if you are visiting during these months, you can expect to share the site with about 3,000 other visitors. The cost to enter is under $50, and if you are interested in hiring a guide, it is a great way to gain insight into what you are looking at. Most people who visit Machu Picchu come by way of train from Cusco. The train has 3 different levels of train service, and the trip takes about 3-4 hours. The views of the Urubamba River and Andes Mountains along the way are priceless. If you want to go in style, you might consider booking the Hiram Bingham-class trip, which costs around $500. It includes entry into Machu Picchu, as well as a guide and a gourmet meal each way. The train eventually takes you to the town of Aguas Calientes, which is the general base town for Machu Picchu tourism. Aguas Calientes is a good place to meet other tourists, and it has a nice selection of hostels and hotels. If you have room in the budget, staying at the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge is surely the way to go. Though it costs more than $600 for one night in a standard room, you have the kind of access to the ruins that you could only dream about. After all, getting to Machu Picchu before all the other visitors arrive is an experience like no other. The Sanctuary Lodge is the only hotel at Machu Picchu, and while rooms don’t have a view of the ruins, they do boast dramatic glimpses of the surrounding mountains.

If you want to hike along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, there are two general options for excursions, one lasting two days, and the other lasting four days. The trails begin near the town of Ollantaytambo, and the train stops along the way if you want to stop here to view the city’s own impressive Inca ruins. Travel agencies in Cusco offer one-day package trips that include train transportation and usually a guide and an arranged lunch at the Sanctuary Lodge. These one-day tours cost around $100 and are good for those who don’t have a lot of time. Once you arrive at the town of Aguas Calientes, you can walk up to the ruins, though you might save your energy for climbing Huayna Picchu once you get there. You can also take the bus, which costs around $15 round trip. These buses go all day, usually starting at 6:30 am and stopping at dusk. Before or after your trip up to the ruins, you can dine at one of the small and friendly Aguas Calientes restaurants. Once you are at the site, the only place to eat is the Sanctuary Lodge, which has a pricy, but convenient buffet.

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