A landscape built by titans in a fit of megalomania.
Is there anybody who can't identify this photograph as the ruins of Machu Picchu?
Every year during the dry season between May to September multitudes of visitors from all over the workd stand in awe of the spectacular ruins of the Lost City of the Incas. What they feel now must only be a fraction of the awe Hiram Bingham felt when he discovered the ruins stumbling across them accidentally in 1911.
Overgrown with vegetation and almost impossible to reach the ruins then hid what we now see: a tremendously fascinating archaeologically important site with palaces, temples, plazas, dwellings, steps and terraces. It is situated at an altitude of 2,400 meters (some 8,000 ft.) above sea level. Its climate is semi-tropical and the mist that often hangs over the peaks gives it a mystical, ethereal ambiance. The Incan city is laid out in such a way that the Northern half tends to be agricultural steppes and high ritual areas while the southern end/side tends to be agricultural steppes and domestic residences.
Update: February 2003
Long thought to be a ceremonial and religious site, recent archaeological conjecture by Yale archaeologists Richard Burger and his wife Lucy Salazar, and University of California anthropologist John Howland Rowe now suggests that Machu Picchu was used instead by the Incan hierarchy as a vacation spot, a country retreat to get away from the stress and bustle of Cuzco. Either way, it's a destination not to be missed!
Machu Picchu is an architectural wonder with the Incan trapezoidal building techniques very evident. The walls of the buildings are of varying heights and though much of the ruins have been excavated one can wonder what lies yet to be discovered.
Once there, the traveler can find a quiet spot to contemplate but The Inca Trail to Machu Picchucan be daunting. The usual flow of tourists from other countries is through Lima and on to Cusco by national airlines. Once in Cuzco the ancient capital of the Incas the norm is to allow a day or two to acclimatize to the altitude to prevent altitude sickness or soroche. Do try the traditional welcome cup of coca leaf tea to help you get used to the 3379 m. (11,150 ft) altitude.
If you don't want to drink coca tea, follow the suggestions in Acclimatize to the Altitude.
While in Cuzco you'll have plenty to see. Buy a tourist ticket which is valid for the length of your trip. It covers admission to the many archaeological sites, temples and other places of interest in Cuzco or Qosco in Quechua.
From Cuzco, most travelers take the 6:00 AM train to Aguas Calientes located on the Urubamba river at the base of Machu Picchu. There is the local non-tourist train which is always busy, crammed with residents about their business as well as travelers. There are also the tourist trains. You'll see vendors selling coca leaves with a bit of stone. Chewing them together is a centuries-old practice to make working in higher altitudes easier. The Incas used it; so do their modern day descendants and savvy tourists. I've done so more than once when climbing various Andes peaks.
Aguas Calientes, named for the thermal springs, is a bit of a boom town built on the tourist trade and as such is not highly recommended as a destination in itself, but there are reasonable places to stay if you plan to stay more than one day at Machu Picchu. You may want to soak in the hot springs after touring the ruins. If you want to be right onsite, you can stay at the more expensive Hotel Las Ruinas, located at the base of the ruins. (photo). You'll be glad you did for you can stay later in the afternoon to watch the sunset after the bulk of the tourist groups leave to catch their return rides and in the morning you'll be there to see the ruins at dawn and before others arrive about 10:00 AM.
From the train station, buses travel up the steep mountain road, named for Hiram Bingham, with thirteen hairpin curves . It doesn't seem so bad going up, but once you can look down at the road, you may be a little more uneasy about the return trip. Be prepared for weather changes with layered clothing you can add as the temperature drops. The climate is mostly temperate throughout the year with temperatures between 8 -11 C. There are two seasons: rainy between November and March and dry and warm between April and October. However, during June July and August the temperature can drop to freezing.