I have always held a fascination for ancient cultures and civilizations. Although their rich history is interspersed with rituals that can be shocking to modern people because of their brutality or departure from logic, there is something about history, so ancient and so deep, that draws one in.
Peru is the home of one of the world’s most ancient civilizations – the Incas. They thrived in Machu Picchu, which was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 and declared among the New Seven Wonders of the World. It now welcomes over a million visitors annually.
The Inca Empire arose in the Peruvian Highlands in the 13th century. The civilization thrived until the late 1500s, when it was finally conquered by the Spaniards. The Incas called their empire Tahuantinsuyu, which means Land of the Four Quarters.
At its peak, the empire covered not only a large part of Peru, with its center in Cusco, but also regions of Ecuador and Chile. The Incas are also called the Children of the Sun, as they worshipped the sun god. They are known for being excellent stone workers, building roads and magnificent buildings despite the often treacherous terrain of the mountain regions of the Andes.
Here’s what you should know about Machu Picchu.
One of the most popular natural landmarks of Macchu Picchu is the Huayna Picchu. The hike up the trail can take a little less than two hours and would take you through an Inca tunnel. The views from the top are majestic, to say the least.
If you are an avid mountaineer who wants to go for a hike on a path less traveled, choose the Salcantay trek over the Inca Trail. Salcantay is the highest peak of the Willkapampa Mountain Range, and it offers majestic views unmarred by the flock of tourists that are characteristic of the more popular Inca Trail.
Intihuatana is a carved rock pillar standing on top of Intihuatana hill. Inca astronomers used the angles of Intihuatana to predict the solstices. Its simplicity and craftsmanship make it a highlight of the complex.
Located almost at the end of the Inca Trail stands the restored ruins of Phuyupatamarka, or Town Above the Clouds. It boasts of an enchanting series of ceremonial baths. There is also a ridge on which travelers can set camp for the night to wake up in time to catch the sunset at the Sun Gate.
Intipunku, also known as the Sun Gate, lies at the end of the Inca trail. This place can be reached after an hour’s hike from Phuyupatamarka, and it is best known for its breathtaking view of the sunrise.
Some of the most notable temples in Machu Picchu are the Temple of the Sun, the Temple of the Three Windows, and the Temple of Condor. All three buildings showcase the stone masonry that the Incas are best known for. The views from these temples make it easy to imagine why the Incas chose to settle in the area.
How to Get to Machu Picchu
Cusco is the launchpad from which you can reach Machu Picchu. Travelers often opt to fly in to Cusco and then take a train. The train station is located in the neighboring town of Poroy, and from there, you can take a train going to Aguas Calientes, a trip that would take three and a half hours.
Alternatively, if you plan on visiting the Sacred valley first, you can ride the train to Aguas Calientes from Ollantaytambo.
From Aguas Calientes, you can choose to hike towards the Machu Picchu, which would take approximately 90 minutes. If you are not up for the exertion, you can opt to take the shuttle which leaves every couple of minutes starting from 5:30am.
Machu Picchu is definitely a must-add to any traveler’s bucket list because of its wondrous sights and rich history. It takes a lot of effort to reach Machu Picchu, and often, you’d find yourself huffing and puffing out of exertion when hiking the trail, but the scenic panoramas are well worth the effort you would invest in getting there.