Machu Picchu Machu Picchu is the most visited tourist attraction in Peru. It is 70 kms northwest of Cusco. Machu Picchu was constructed around 1450, at the height of the Inca empire, and was abandoned less than 100 years later, as the empire collapsed under Spanish conquest. The presence of numerous temples and ritual structures indicate that Machu Picchu held spiritual significance for the Inca. Over the centuries, the surrounding jungle grew to enshroud the site, and few knew of its existence. It wasn’t until 1911 that american historian and explorer Hiram Bingham brought the “lost” city to the world’s attention. Machu Picchu stands in the middle of a tropical mountain forest, in an extraordinarily beautiful setting. It was an amazing urban creation of 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. The space is composed of 140 constructions including temples, sanctuaries, parks and residences, houses with thatched roofs. Machu Picchu is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is Peru’s most visited tourist attraction (400,000 in 2003) and major revenue generator. A no-fly zone exists in the area. From the top, at the cliff of Machu Picchu, is a vertical precipice of 600 meters ending at the foot of the Urubamba River. Machu Picchu is located about 2,350 meters above sea level. All visits to Machu Picchu at some point leave from Cusco, which can be reached via a domestic flight from Lima, or international flight from La Paz, in Bolivia. Many tourists take morning train from Cusco (3.5 hours journey) explore the ruins for a few hours and return to Cusco in the afternoon. From Puente Ruinas station buses take tourists up the mountain to Machu Picchu. Thousands of tourists hike the Inca Trail – each year, a two to four day journey on foot from the Urubamba valley up through the Andes mountain range. They require travelers to be reasonably fit. The trip involves sleeping in tents. Bingham and others hypothesized that the citadel was the traditional birthplace of the Inca people or the spiritual center of the “virgins of the sun,” while curators of a recent exhibit have speculated that Machu Picchu was a royal retreat. All of the construction in Machu Picchu uses the classic Inca architectural style of polished dry-stone walls of regular shape. The Incas were masters of this technique, called ashlar, in which blocks of stone are cut to fit together tightly without mortar. How they moved and placed enormous blocks of stones is a mystery, although the general belief is that they used hundreds of men to push the stones up inclined planes. There are more than one hundred flights of stone steps – often completely carved in a single block of granite. It is unknown if the Incas left behind any documentation about building process because the writing they employed, called khipus, has not been translated. Llamas roam freely over the entire site. Llamas keep the grass tidy and are capable of reaching many spots inaccessible by lawnmowers or sheep. In 1913, the site received significant publicity after the National Geographic Society devoted their entire April issue to Machu Picchu. The only hotel is the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge. You pay US$715 (double), a hefty premium because of the location, location, and location. Guests of this hotel can enjoy the magnificent isolation of the sanctuary.
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