Machu Picchu (Peru) Travel guide

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Machu Picchu

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Machu Picchu (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈmatʃu ˈpitkʃu], Quechua: Machu Picchu [ˈmɑtʃu ˈpixtʃu], “Old Peak”) is a pre-Columbian 15th-century Inca site located 2,430 metres (7,970 ft) above sea level.[1][2] Machu Picchu is located in the Cusco Region of Peru, South America. It is situated on a mountain ridge above the Urubamba Valley in Peru, which is 80 kilometres (50 mi) northwest of Cusco and through which the Urubamba River flows. Most archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was built as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438–1472). Often referred to as the “City of the Incas”, it is perhaps the most familiar icon of the Inca World.

The Incas started building the “estate” around 1400, but abandoned it as an official site for the Inca rulers a century later at the time of the Spanish Conquest. Although known locally, it was unknown to the outside world before being brought to international attention in 1911 by the American historian Hiram Bingham. Since then, Machu Picchu has become an important tourist attraction. Most of the outlying buildings have been reconstructed in order to give tourists a better idea of what the structures originally looked like.  By 1976, thirty percent of Machu Picchu had been restored.The restoration work continues to this day.[5]

Since the site was never known to the Spanish during their conquest, it is highly significant as a relatively intact cultural site. Machu Picchu was declared a Peruvian Historical Sanctuary in 1981 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.  In 2007, Machu Picchu was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in a worldwide Internet poll.

Machu Picchu was built in the classical Inca style, with polished dry-stone walls. Its three primary structures are the Intihuatana (Hitching post of the Sun), 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 almost reached an agreement regarding the return of artifacts which Yale has held since Hiram Bingham removed them from Machu Picchu in the early 20th century. In November 2010, a Yale University representative agreed to return the artifacts to a Peruvian university.

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Machu Picchu History

Machu Picchu stands 2,430 m above sea-level, in the middle of a tropical mountain forest, in an extraordinarily beautiful setting. It was probably the most amazing urban creation of the Inca Empire at its height; its giant walls, terraces and ramps seem as if they have been cut naturally in the continuous rock escarpments. The natural setting, on the eastern slopes of the Andes, encompasses the upper Amazon basin with its rich diversity of flora and fauna.

Machu Picchu bears, with Cuzco and the other archaeological sites of the valley of the Urubamba (Ollantautaybo, Runcuracay, Sayacmarca, Phuyupamarca, Huiñay Huayna, Intipucu, etc.) a unique testimony to the Inca civilization. Cuzco and the old villages still retain traces of land occupation from the Inca Empire to preserve, in a more global manner, an archaeological heritage which has become susceptible to the effects of urbanization. Furthermore, Macchu Picchu is an outstanding example of man’s interaction with his natural environment.

Standing 2,430 m above sea level, in the midst of a tropical mountain forest in an extraordinarily beautiful setting, Machu Picchu was probably the most amazing urban creation of the Inca Empire at its height. Its giant walls, terraces and ramps seem as if they have been cut naturally in the continuous rock escarpments. The natural setting, on the eastern slopes of the Andes, encompasses the upper Amazon basin with its rich diversity of flora and fauna.

Machu Picchu covers 32,500 ha in some of the scenically most attractive mountainous territory of the Peruvian Andes. As the last stronghold of the Incas and of superb architectural and archaeological importance, Machu Picchu is one of the most important cultural sites in Latin America; the stonework of the site remains as one of the world’s great examples of the use of a natural raw material to provide outstanding architecture which is totally appropriate to the surroundings. The surrounding valleys have been cultivated continuously for well over 1,000 years, providing one of the world’s greatest examples of a productive man-land relationship; the people living around Machu Picchu continue a way of life which closely resembles that of their Inca ancestors, being based on potatoes, maize and llamas. Machu Picchu also provides a secure habitat for several endangered species, notably the spectacled bear, one of the most interesting species in the area. Others animals include: dwarf brocket, the otter, long-tailed weasel, pampas cat and the vulnerable ocelot, boa, the Andean cock of the rock, and the Andean condor.

The natural vegetation is of humid and very humid lower montane forest of the subtropical region, mainly with genera and ferns of the Cyathea and palms.

Set on the vertiginous site of a granite mountain sculpted by erosion and dominating a meander in the Rio Urubamba, Machu Picchu is a world renowned archaeological site. The construction of this amazing city, set out according to a very rigorous plan, comprises one of the most spectacular creations of the Inca Empire. It appears to date from the period of the two great Incas, Pachacutec Inca Yupanqui (1438-71) and Tupac Inca Yupanqui (1472-93). The function of this city situated at least 100 km from the capital, Cuzco, has not been formulated which are not verifiable given the absence of written documentation and sufficiently explicit material evidence.

Without making a judgement as to their purpose, several quite individual quarters may be noted in the ruins of Machu Picchu: a quarter ‘of the Farmers’ near the colossal terraces whose slopes were cultivated and transformed into hanging gardens; an ‘industrial’ quarter; a ‘royal’ quarter and a ‘religious’ quarter. Inca architecture reveals itself here in all of its force with the titanic earthen works which multiplied the platforms, levelled the rocky relief, constructed ramps and stairways and literally sculpted the mountain whose cyclopean constructions appear to be a prolongation of nature.

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Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu -

Machu Picchu weather

Machu Picchu lies just above the cloud forest of the Andes’ eastern mountains, at 2,350 m.a.s.l. Dry   season runs from May to October, while November to April sees the rainy season. A sub-tropical climate, It gets strong sunshine during the day, though it gets quite cool in the shade and, specially, at night, when temperatures can drop to around 8ºC (48ºF).

Machu Picchu average temperatures are quite mild, rarely rising above 30°C (86ºF) nor dropping below 11°C.

The dry season runs from May to October (winter in the southern hemisphere) and is usually considered the best period for visiting Machu Picchu. Nights though get the coolest during this period, particularly in July and August.

The rainy season, from November to April, brings heavy rains, with most precipitations coming down in January and February. It’s usually clear and dry most mornings with outbursts of heavy rain in the afternoons. During this period, some roads might be closed by landslides or flooding, in particular those leading to villages off the beaten track.

However, don’t take the climate differences between the dry and rainy seasons too seriously, that is, as if one was the “good” season and the other the “bad” one. You could well get more pleasure during the wet season, with less tourists around and a more mystic atmosphere.

“To my surprise -wrote Johan Reinhard for National Geographic-, I later found that it didn’t matter whether the weather was perfect or Machu Picchu was shrouded in mist. In perfect weather you see clearly how its well-planned architecture blends with the spectacular scenery of the surrounding peaks and gorges. Misty conditions wrap the stone engineering in a soft cloak of magic and mystery.

Peru on a Budget
Find here some great tips for traveling to Machu Picchu on a budget, Cusco on a budget, Lima on a budget, and the Sacred Valley of the Incas on a budget. Furthermore, check the best hotels in Aguas Calientes (a.k.a. Machu Picchu Town).

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Thing to do in Machu Picchu

Nearby the ancient hidden city of Machu Picchu is the bustling modern city of Cusco. Located near historic Inca sites, Cusco is a great place to find lodging and schedule tours and activities.

Inca Trail

One of the most sought-after hiking expeditions is the famous Inca trail. It is considered a trekking endeavor not for the faint of heart. Those who choose to attempt the climb will be rewarded with aesthetically enticing sights of scenic mountains shrouded in mist, exotic jungle foliage, dense rainforests and incredible ruins of the lost Inca civilization. The successful climb results in reaching the “summit” of Machu Picchu, one of the most important cultural sites in the world.

Exploring Machu Picchu

Known as one of the “new seven wonders of the world,” once a person is at Machu Picchu, there are certain things that cannot be missed. One such site is the Temple of the Sun, an ancient structure used for astrological observation. Another is one of the most architecturally impressive structures on site, The Temple of Three Windows. A third of Inca importance is a structure only accessible by stone staircase, the Intiwatana. By using a prism, angles, sunlight and shadows, this site served specifically to measure time.


Machu Picchu is one of the world’s most popular trekking destinations. Surrounding the “lost city of the Incas” are even more summits and peaks to conquer. One trek recommended by avid climbers is Huayna Picchu. Though the trails are steep, and sometimes arduous, there are cable ropes along the way to help climbers, and the destination is worth the effort. At the top of the peak is one of the most incredible views of the ruins below.

For the adventurer, Machu Picchu is a dream destination. It is a place where the imagination can run wild. Like a storybook fairytale, this ancient city is mysterious and one of grandeur. It is a site to be traversed, explored and appreciated.

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