About Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu is an extraordinary ancient stone city along the Inca Trail in Peru and forms one of the most famous historical sites in the world.
History of Machu Picchu
Believed to have been constructed by the Inca Yupanqui people sometime during the mid-fifteenth century for the then-emperor Pachacuti, the ruins of Machu Picchu sit high atop a granite mountain. The high standard of engineering and construction employed by the Incas, such as the fact that each stone on the site fits together seamlessly, accounts for Machu Picchu’s incredible state of preservation.
Believed to have a population of just under 1000 people, many of whom were immigrants, the site was primarily for the emperor’s enjoyment and pleasure. Past speculation has included theories such as that Machu Picchu was a mostly female city and that it was built as a last attempt by the Incas to preserve their culture. The former of these theories was due to the fact that, of the hundred skeletons found in Machu Picchu’s fifty burial sites, 80% were initially believed to be female, although this has since been disproven.
Animals were brought here for food and pelts – primarily llamas, alpacas and guinea pigs – and the surrounding terraces would have been used to grow food. These were an impressive feat of engineering given the site’s location: Machu Picchu’s location meant it received high levels of rainfall, so additional drainage had to be built into the soil.
The site was never discovered by the Spanish, and it was gradually reclaimed by jungle growth. It’s thought it might have been rediscovered in the mid 19th century, but the American explorer Hiram Bingham is generally credited with the site’s discovery in 1911. Bingham led several further expeditions to the site in the subsequent years, and excavations continued throughout the 20th century.
Machu Picchu today
The site is world-famous, and rightly so: even the most jaded traveller has their breath taken away by the city appearing in the clouds. However, Machu Picchu is increasingly at risk from over-tourism as up to 6000 visitors a day are now permitted to visit the site. Responsible tourism is very much key: if you want to visit, you’ll need to book a slot well in advance or risk disappointment.
The site is big and there’s plenty to explore – make sure you get the full view by climbing to Huayna Picchu. You’ll need to book in advance but the views are fabulous and help comprehend the enormous site and its layout. Other highlights include the Intihuatana stone, which accurately indicates the position of the sun, and the Royal Tomb, which had over 100 skeletons excavated from it.
Some of Machu Picchu’s most impressive structures include the semi-circular Temple of the Sun, the Temple of the Three Windows, the mausoleum and the upper cemetery. There are various trails around the site which are good hiking if you haven’t arrived via the Inca Trail.
As of 2019, you must enter with a guide – some might find it annoying but it’s actually highly beneficial in terms of understanding the importance of the site.
Getting to Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu is at the end of the notorious Inca Trail – a gruelling 40km hike up Andean mountains. It normally takes 4 days to complete, and you must have a permit. You can do this via a tour company or on your own. Many consider it well worth the effort: arriving at Machu Picchu for dawn is a magical experience and makes the trek seem extremely worthwhile!
It’s also possible to get the train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, which is the option most visitors choose – it will be busy, but it’s not physically taxing.
Discover the best Historic Sites in Peru, from Machu Picchu to the Nazca Lines and more, includes an interactive map of Peruvian cultural locations, landmarks and monuments.