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Travel Stories Blog

The Secrets of Peru: Machu Picchu

Posted October 23, 2017

There is something special about visiting a historical site that makes the journey as important as the destination. Just as it takes a bit of effort to ascend to the top of Machu Picchu that cradles this "lost city," it will also take time and determination to unlock the secrets of Machu Picchu. Realistically, we will probably never fully grasp everything there is to understand about this whimsical corner of the world, but let's look at some unique Machu Picchu facts to further reinforce why you simply must visit the area at least once in your lifetime.

IT WAS HIDDEN AWAY ON PURPOSE


Inside Machu Picchu

The Incans feared the Spanish would find Machu Picchu and ransack it. To minimize the chances of being discovered, the Incans abandoned the city just 100 years after completing its construction, and burned the countryside on their way down the mountain. Their thinking, if the new-growth foliage could obscure their trails up and down the mountain, no one would naturally ascend the peak, and Machu Picchu would be hidden forever. The secret of the Incas worked…for about 400 years.


IT WAS DISCOVERED ON ACCIDENT

Acting on information from a local guide, early 20th century explorer Hiram Bingham discovered Machu Picchu while believing he was being led to the Lost City of the Incas - Vilcabamba. The true nature of the discovery was undecided until 1964, when an explorer named Gene Savoy was able to provide proof backing up Bingham's discovery and the secret of the Incas.


MACHU PICCHU MAY HAVE BEEN A RESORT


Ancient dwelling high up in the Andes

Several prominent historians feel the city was originally envisioned as a resort for the ruling families of the time. Machu Picchu is positioned high above the ancient city of Cuzco, which at the time was a bustling metropolis. The royal family would have likely used it as a hilltop getaway during the 1400s and early 1500s, and would have no idea that it would eventually become one of the most sought-after travel destinations in the world.


IT WAS BUILT BY MASTER STONEMASONS


Ancient wall in Machu Picchu demonstrating polygonal masonry, commonplace in Inca architecture

Or at least, master stonemason-level work is evident throughout Machu Picchu. The area is home to two major fault lines and as you would imagine, earthquakes are quite common. Since no iron tools, mortar, or wheels were used to construct the buildings throughout Machu Picchu, this means that stone masons had to precisely fit each stone against the next. What happens during an earthquake is nothing short of phenomenal. Researchers have shown the buildings essentially dance during the tremor, and the stones then settle back down exactly into place, all thanks to the way they've been fitted together.


YOU ONLY SEE ABOUT 40% OF THE CITY FROM THE GROUND


Local llama enjoying the grand Peruvian view

Though there are still discoveries being made today on this historic site, researchers have determined that about 60% of the total construction work in Machu Picchu is underground. The terraced hillsides hide an elaborate network of tunnels, rooms and foundational elements, and the architectural wonders that are hidden underneath the green grass on the surface are nothing short of breathtaking. As little as three years ago, a French explorer named Thierry Jamin found a door, shockingly undiscovered until 2014, that led to a royal burial chamber of the Inca ruler who designed and built Machu Picchu. This discovery literally opened the door to learn more about the Inca empire history.


YOU CAN SCALE A SECRET TEMPLE


Temple of the Moon at Machu Picchu

You'll have to bravely tackle the challenging trail up to the Temple of the Moon caves, but once you reach the top the experience is nothing short of amazing. Start by taking a trail on the left side of the Huayna Picchu Mountain. You'll ascend via a safe but slightly unnerving ladder system - one person at a time, until you reach the top. Most visitors accomplish this in about an hour, and the solemn experience at the top is worth the challenging jaunt up the ladder.

It may have marked the end of a pilgrimage: Archaeoastronomer Giulio Magli theorizes the trek from Cusco to Machu Picchu wasn't a mere journey up the mountainside. Rather it represented a ceremonial trip that followed the same path as the celestial trip of the first Incas from Lake Titicaca.

The journey to Machu Picchu is quite manageable these days. Easy international air service ferries travelers to Lima or Cusco, with the ancient city of Machu Picchu just a few hours away at that point. But the area itself holds so many other incredible wonders that it pays to create an itinerary that enables you to discover other intriguing locations along the way - for instance, discover the Galapagos Islands, Quito, or the Sacred Valley while en route to Machu Picchu.

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This corner of the world is filled with inviting people, enrichening cultural experiences, and some of the most scenic natural wonders imaginable. If you're interested in traveling to Machu Picchu, contact Ignacio, our Destination Manager for Latin America, for help in planning your trip.